Asking the Hard Questions About Afghanistan

Editors Note: This post is worth investing some time to digest. The author, Jake Allen, has an excellent, thought provoking, response to my latest post on Afghanistan. Jake, a former Marine infantry officer and a good friend asks the hard questions on our current efforts in Afghanistan. A mini bio for Jake is located at the end of this post.

Last week’s post by Babatim posed as interesting question “Will Security Sector Assistance Work in Afghanistan?” His observations on the current inadequacies as well as his prescribed solutions was certainly thought-provoking.

Sure, who could argue the merits of and need for basic military leadership and esprit de corps borne of shared commitment and sacrifice at the small unit level. Aligning ANSF with regional tribal leaders (warlords) would most likely be a tactical improvement to the current arrangement which clearly isn’t getting results. And, replacing the NATO military train and assist teams with private contractors, who might be willing to engage in combat, could reduce overall costs, although that’s debatable if, as Babatim suggests, tactical air support and other expensive support would remain part of the package. In any case, on its face, it all seems logical.

However, Babatim’s observations and suggestion, true as they may be, only prompt a much more important set of questions. Like, what would we achieve by changing our tactics this way? A decentralized Afghanistan run by dozens of autonomous regional warlords sounds a lot like Afghanistan in the 1990s. After 15+ years, thousands of KIA/WIA and over $800 billion taxpayer dollars spent is “rebuilding” Afghanistan in the image of its former self now the goal? I’m reminded of Sun Tzu’s admonition that, “strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory, while tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” After 15 years I think it’s safe to say we are at best on the slow path.

If this were truly a binary choice between using military or private contractors, then I support the later for all the reasons Babatim outlined and for one major one he didn’t. Transitioning to private contractors would help preserve the military’s reputation as they departed the stage. Let’s face it, General after General have devised plans that simply have not achieved lasting results. In truth, I place more blame on our elected civilian leaders and the State Department, but I’ll leave that for another post. In any event, if the military could be seen to be following orders to withdraw while handing the baton to private contractors it would largely give them the top-cover they need to execute a tactical retreat with their dignity intact. If all that ends up costing somebody less money, then so much the better. But question remains, why does that somebody have to be U.S. taxpayers who haven’t even been born yet? Why should future generations of Americans be forced to pay for new tactics, even at a lower price, when no real strategy for Afghanistan exists?

Let’s be clear, for Afghans, duping well-meaning but ignorant foreigners into funding their wars is the national pastime. The artistry and skill of separating foreigners from their money has been passed down from fathers to sons among regional tribal elders and modern-day politicians for millennia. Simply stated, this is what they do.

We should be asking, if these new proposed tactics, aligning ANSF with warlords and privatizing the train and assist missions are so necessary, beneficial and cost-effective why aren’t the warlords themselves willing to make the financial investment? After all, they will effectively be securing their own regional kingdom for future generations.

Or…maybe, just maybe, this is merely the next western tactic the Afghans are willing to go along with since old paleface is willing to pay for it. Sorry, but I’ve heard these shepherds crying wolf too many times before. I’m willing to wager that when the Taliban push these warlords too far they’ll find all the Muj they need without U.S. taxpayer money. As a matter of self-preservation, they’ll literally have the rest of their lives to solve the problem, or not.

Still, if it’s funding they so desperately need to pay the privateers’ invoices, why can’t the Qataris, Emiratis or Saudis pay for it? They have the money, whereas the U.S. doesn’t, and aren’t they equally committed to preventing the spread of Islamic extremism? No, both the Arabs and the Afghans know that only western powers fall for these scams.

If President Trump is the skilled negotiator he claims he should remind our Afghan counterparts and allies that the universe has a natural order. The fittest and most committed tend to survive. So, if it is the case that the Taliban simply have more “want to” when it comes to controling Afghanistan then there’s really nothing money can buy to square that circle. The Taliban’s moral will likely be 3 times greater than anything physical that can be purchased, and the results will be inevitable.

President Trump should tell our so-called Afghan friends that we are OK with that. Remind them that two previous presidential administrations have tried mightily for over 15 years to help the Afghan people and it hasn’t worked. We’re now ready to try something else. As the world’s greatest deal-maker the President should make it clear that the U.S. is open to negotiating with their vanquishers for a while to see if he can get a better deal with for the U.S. I mean, how much worse could that actually be? Probably not a whole lot worse and at least we could use the $45 billion earmarked for Afghanistan in 2018 alone to instead rebuild infrastructure in the U.S. The fact is, the U.S. doesn’t need Afghanistan nearly as much as they need us. We have all the leverage in any negotiation.

But as I said, our choices aren’t, or at least they shouldn’t be. There is a third way forward, and it’s one that has a chance of being successful. President Trump should form a team of advisors to develop an actual tangible goal and strategy to achieve it. The process goes like this:

First Level Questions: What is the end-game? What does “success” even look like? How do we measure incremental progress and ultimate success so that the American people, our Afghan counterparts and not least our enemies know that we’ve achieved our goal(s)? Maybe privateers are the correct means to the end. But WTF is the end? What is the Commander’s (in Chief) Intent and the Final Result Desired (FRD)? If we cannot do this then we shouldn’t stay in Afghanistan.

Next Level Questions: Is that FRD realistic and achievable? Do most of the Afghan people share in the vision? If not, then at best they are a passive terrain feature to navigate around and at worst they are an active force providing aid and comfort to the enemy. For the sake of argument let’s just assume that the FRD is overwhelmingly supported by the Afghans. What then is the estimated cost to the U.S. in terms of blood and treasure to achieve it? How many years, how many lives would we need to commit? How many billions of dollars of debt would we need to incur?

Level 3 Questions: Only after Levels 1 and 2 are complete can we finally ask ourselves: Is the cost to achieve that FRD worth it? What does the US get in return for our investment? If you think turning Afghanistan into a modern society would guarantee the security of our homeland you’re dead wrong. In the past 15 years, while we have been dicking-around chasing ghosts our enemy (Islamic terrorism) adapted and moved on. The enemy no longer requires remote “safe havens” in places like Helmand province to plan attacks on our homeland. And even if they have a few safe havens our current ability to detect and destroy them is light years ahead of where it was in 2001. So, ask yourself, what are we really getting in return for our investment?

But I doubt President Trump will form the committee or if he does they can’t or won’t clearly state a Final Result Desired. Not because the questions above are hard to answer, they aren’t. Rather the answers these questions produce cannot be sold to the American people which means new tactics are just the noise before eventual defeat.

Jake Allen is a co-founder and Managing Partner at the Mozayix International, a leading private security consultancy.  He has more than 15 years experience providing private security services in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Lebanon, Turkey and Ukraine.  Prior to his contracting career he served as an Infantry Officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Baghdad Back In The Day

Editors Note: This is there first of a series of reflections that may become a book. I could use some help with this project; if I made a decent start and have hooked you into wanting more, that would be helpful to know. It would also be helpful to know if the hook doesn’t have enough bait. Comments are most welcome – hitting the donation tab is even more most welcome as I have yet to find a publisher interested enough in the project to fund it. I appreciate any and all help I can get with this project.

I had just cracked open the first beer of the afternoon when I heard the rockets coming in. Wise now to the ways of war I stayed in my lawn chair on the deck of what was once a salt water pool where Saddam Hussein’s sons kept crocodiles that were fed with unfortunates who had crossed them. I was too far away from cover to make a run for it and in less time than it took to write this they hit. A thunderclap sounded from the American army camp next door and I watched a plume of dust and leaves shoot upward. The soldiers were up wind of us so the cloud of leaves and dirt started drifting over the wall towards the giant vat of chicken curry the Gurkhas were preparing for my going away party that night.

FOOKING HELL MATES STAND FAST bellowed my 2IC  a short unassuming Welshman who was famous for his undercover work in Ireland.  THAT’S 50 QUID WORTH OF CHICKEN DAMN YOUR EYES COVER THE POT; COVER THE POT QUCIKLY LADS. The 2IC was galloping around the pool to head the Gurkha’s off at the pass as they scrambled for cover. Being a Welsh lad he was slight of stature and appeared malnourished. I had asked him about that once sending him into a 30-minute harangue about the British but I couldn’t understand most of what he said. I gathered he looked malnourished because as a kid he had subsisted on chicken parama and chips which I have since learned was mystery meat hamburgers and french fries.

Our project manager, a Rhodesian (they don’t like to be called Zimbabweans so we called them Zims) who had been in the Sealous Scouts, started yelling at us just as two more rockets hit home; one inside the other American army camp next to us and the other somewhere behind in an apartment complex outside the Green Zone. Those impacts were down wind so I paid them no attention focusing instead tracking the debris field that was heading in slow motion towards our giant pot of curry.

The 2IC had gotten his hands on three of my Gurkha’s including the Gurkha of Rap (his kill number, which were sewn on his uniform, was 123 and he was prone to rapping ‘I’m Gurkha 1,2,3 you better listen to me. If I see the flag black you know I’ll attack…..he couldn’t find a rhythm for kukri so he didn’t get far with his rap but he worked on it constantly) rallying the men back to the bubbling cauldron. They quickly stripped off their uniform jackets and fashioned some sort of web with them that covered most of the pot as the debris field lost momentum in the wind and crashed down onto of the curry cauldron.

GET A FOOKING SIEVE MATE FROM THE FOOKING DFAC the 2IC yelled to no one in particular; the Gurkha of rap sprinted off to the KBR DFAC (the dining facility was abandoned by the Kellogg Brown and Root cooks who deathly afraid of rockets) to find something to get the leaves and dirt out of the cooking pot.

The PM stalked up and started lecturing me in his sharp British schoolboy voice which meant he was pissed.

“Mate your supposed to set the example for the men and yet here you sit in the exact spot the last rocket hit, the one that killed four of your men mind you, as if the threat can be ignored”.

“Boss (that’s me being passive aggressive; Zims don’t like being called boss) I am in the exact spot of the last impact because we both know the Iraqis cannot, in a million years, hit this spot again. It’s math boss and I’m a Uni (college in commonwealth speak) grad who understands math”.

“What math”?

“The chance they can hit the same spot twice with a rocket – it’s a math problem that involves pi or something and when you’re working with pi the numbers you’re working with big numbers right”?

“Mate are you mental”?

“No boss, I just know math. It’s the same thing for lightning striking in the same spot…it just doesn’t happen”

“Mate do you know how many times lightening strikes the same spot on your Empire State building in New York?

“Do I want to”?

“0n average 25 times each year; the record for repeated strikes stands at 8 times in twenty minutes”.

The PM scowled at me and headed back to the CP to get a roll call. I smiled and thought about how much I was going to miss this.

I had been in Baghdad for just five months, entering the fray in the usual way for contractors back then. I had sent out my CV to every security company I could find on the net after watching my best friend in the Marine Corps interviewed on Fox News.  I couldn’t take being out of the game anymore so off I went to touch the elephant.

Two days  after sending my CV out I got a call from London; “Mate do you want to go to Iraq or Afghanistan”? After explaining the Afghan gig was voter registration and the one in Iraq was guarding the American embassy I chose Iraq. That job included arming authority and paid more. “Can you come to London the day after tomorrow mate to sign your contract”? I could and did; six days after sending my CV out to the security world I was in a C-130 that had launched out of Kuwait and was corkscrewing down to slam onto a runway at BIAP (Baghdad International Airport).

There were no customs to clear back then so contractors were met by drivers from their respective companies on the tarmac. My driver was a huge Fijian guy who, like most Fijians, had a perpetual pleasant smile. He grabbed one of my bags and walked me to his SUV where his brother was waiting. The brother (who also had a huge smile) reached into the back seat and came out with an AK 47 and three magazines. “Here you go mate” he said as he handed them over. I took them and looked at the brothers who were watching me like a pair of smiling hawks.

I locked the bolt to the rear, looked down the barrel, felt into the chamber for any excessive grit and ran the action a couple of times. I looked over each magazine for dings or deformaties, stripped a couple of rounds from them to check the tension on the follower springs, loaded them back up, seated one in the rifle, loaded it and put it on safe while placing the other two in my high speed 5.11 vest pockets. The vest was made for this don’t ya know.

The older bother remarked “I think you’re one of the good ones maybe”. I had no idea what he was talking about. He then handed me two M-67 fragmentation grenades telling me they may come in handy. I looked at them saying “you’ve got to be shitting me” which made them smile even more. I took the grenades, checked to make sure the thumb safeties were attached and the pins secure; both the spoons were taped down so I took that off before  putting them in my cargo pockets. The brothers looked at each other and nodded. I was sure the reason for handing me the grenades had little to do with an actual threat but I wanted to be ready just in case.

We mounted up and started on my first of many trips down route Irish; at the time the most dangerous road in the world. We did not have armored vehicles on this contract so the driver had his window down and a Browning pistol in his left hand. His brother had his window down with an AK pointing outboard. I put both the back-seat windows down so I could cover both sides of the vehicle. I asked why we didn’t have brand new armored SUV’s like the other companies had ; the younger brother turned to face me, “they’re target’s mate, death traps and you should never roll in one if you can avoid it.

Once past the security check point the driver put the throttle down and did not let it up until we entered the Green Zone.  I had  passed my first test by not being a whanker and knowing how to load an AK 47. Standards were not high in the industry back then.

The contract called for third country national guards (in our case Gurkha’s from Nepal; most of whom were not really Gurkha’s) and supervisors who could be American or Commonwealth citizens. We had Canadian’s, Brits, Welshmen (who claim not to be Brits) a couple of Irish guys but mostly the expats were South Africans and Rhodesians. I was one of two Americans.

The South Africans ran the show and they are an impressive lot. On my first morning a couple of them took me to the public affairs area to introduce me to two guys he said were retired Marines. This was my second test; they had several previous new joins who claimed to be prior American military but were so clueless about things military they were run off as frauds.

When we arrived at the PA shop it turned out one of the two retired Marines was my first rifle company commander. I had been a good infantry lieutenant; my old CO was excited to see me, I was in like flint. He had already told the SA guys about requesting a DD-214 from former American military but the Brits running the show would have none of it. Getting bodies on the contract was how they got paid and they didn’t want to slow their process down for a second.

Last night in Baghdad

Doing a good job on the Baghdad American Embassy contract was not difficult. The supervisors supervised or trained; the posts were manned by our Nepalese who had an internal chain of command that did all the detailed work of watch rosters and shift rotations. We had cell phones issued to us with US numbers (NYC area code) that allowed friends and family to call without incurring overseas charges. We had a large armory with weapons that had been gathered up by the military the year prior where I found a H&K G3 (7.62 x 51mm) with a folding stock. The markings indicated it had once belonged to the Pakistani army; how it got to Iraq was a mystery.

Having an American cell phone number was great fun because we’d often get unexpected calls from the states. I was on the range one Friday morning when my friend ‘The Big Guy’ called. We had been instructors at Front Sight, a firearms training center outside of Las Vegas. It was Thursday evening in the US so I knew he had probably been drinking before deciding to give me a call. I signaled the guys on the range pointing to the cell and telling them it was my buddy from the States and he’s on the piss. They moved in close and started cranking off rounds and yelling as I connected the call on speaker mode.

Me sounding tense “Lynch”

B.G. “ Hey man….what the hell is going on”… instant concern in his voice.

“… a little busy here brother hold on” I put the phone on a bench and cranked off 3 or 4 rounds yelling “somebody shoot that prick…I’m on the phone damnit”. I picked the cell up and said in a calm voice “Hey brother, little bit of an issue here but how’s it going back home”?

B.G. clearly upset “what’s happening Tim…holy shit are you Ok”?

Me “Of course brother….hold on a sec..” I dropped the cell and all of us started shooting and yelling as if we were repelling a human wave attack in Korea circa 1951. After shooting our magazines dry I picked up the cell. “We’re Ok Big Guy how are things in Vegas”?

But he wasn’t on the line, his wife was and she was pissed. “What are doing Lynch, where the hell are you”?

“We’re at the range  and um…..just having a laugh because ummm….”.

“You’ve got the big guy crying for Christ sakes Lynch, why would you do that to him? He’s been scared to death for you and you think it’s funny to do this to him?”

“Bonnie, love, we’re guys…this is what we do to each other when we care”.

“Bullshit Tim (at least she called me Tim) that’s it, you’re on a 2-week time out and the next time the Big Guy calls you’d better not even think about pulling another stunt like this”.

We were rolling; laughing so hard it hurt but I felt bad…for about 3 seconds. The Big Guy didn’t call again until Thanksgiving Day; I was walking out of the DFAC and as I connected the call a 122mm rocket slammed into our camp knocking me on my ass. We took casualties, lots of them, so I went into rescue mode and left the cell in the dirt where I dropped it. The State Department soon turned them all off anyway after the costs they had racked up made national headlines. I sent the Big Guy an email telling him I was OK and attaching one the the news reports about the rocket attack. Mrs Big Guy still put me on a year long time out.

Around this time (the end of 2004) being outside the Green Zone became problematic for expats so our project manager put together a team to start bringing folks inside the wire. The various entities; engineering firms, other security companies, our companies country team, NGO’s etc…. couldn’t pay us for the service but the PM knew how to barter. Our armory grew, our ammo stockpiles grew, we accumulated ample stores of free booze and beer and the Nepalese were never without a goat to butcher up for curry.  Some things are better than money in a combat zone.

While doing this work with the South Africans and Zims I learned a valuable lesson on how to work in a hostile environment while avoiding the stupidity of an avoidable gun fight.  At some point in every move we would  run into a massive traffic jam. As soon as we stopped moving shooters would dismount to create a buffer zone, free of unknown pedestrians, fore and aft of our vehicles. The first time I did that I was paired with a South African named Jerri who was one of the more experienced (I learned later famous) former 32 Commando veterans.

We exited our vehicle moving onto a packed sidewalk, Jerry looked at me and said “lose the body armor mate you look like a Robo Cop, take a spare mag and put it in your back pocket”. I did as requested and walked back to the side walk. Jerry said “now smile man; In South Africa we always say be friendly to everyone you meet but always have a plan to kill them”.

I shot back “you don’t say that, General Mattis says that… why are stealing lines from my favorite Marine Corps General”? He replied they had always said that in South Africa and the line was stolen from them which I wouldn’t accept so we started arguing.

But we were laughing too which was the point and Jerri said in a low voice “see all the people smiling at us mate? They’re relaxing because we have big guns but don’t seem inclined to use them. Smile, keep talking to me and relax, confidence is a language all humans understand got it”?

It was true, the people walking down the street towards us smiled when they saw us teasing each other an laughing. “What are you looking for” I asked Jerri who never really looked at me when he turned his head to talk; he was obviously concentrating on what was showing up in his peripheral vision.

“We’re looking for any chap who glares at us mate”.

“What do we do then”? I was laughing still while asking this.

“I walk up and glare back, you cover our back; the lads will see us and reinforce if we need them and our glaring asshole Iraqi friend can lose face by backing down or go to guns. Makes no difference to me mate”.

“Remember this Timothy (they called me that to annoy me or when they were dead serious…just like my Mom) they have to make the first move. It’s bad for morale if you shoot a civilian who didn’t have it coming. Your General Mattis teach you that mate”?

The sidewalk was crowded, the people seemed amused at the two infidels who were teasing each other and laughing. Nobody gave us the stink eye that day or any day we were in the red zone walking our vehicles through a traffic jam.

Just after Christmas the PM told me that I’d be heading to Kabul to stand up the US Embassy security guard contract there. I would spend eight years in Afghanistan traveling to every province in the country. When Route Irish lost it’s designation as the most dangerous road in the world it was replaced by the Kabul to Jalalabad road;  I drove on it  several times a month for years, often alone. The lessons learned in Baghdad would serve me well in the years to come.

Will Security Sector Assistance Work in Afghanistan?

The Taliban has been busy reminding the United States and her allies in Afghanistan that the moral is to the physical as three is to one. They have done this by side stepping our Security Sector Assistance (SSA) efforts in the Helmand and Nangarhar provinces by hitting the Afghan state where it is weak. Launching two large attacks inside the ‘Ring of Steel’ of Kabul (attacking the Intercontinental Hotel and the checkpoint outside the old Ministry of the Interior) and hitting a western NGO (Save the Children) in Jalalabad, the capitol of Nangarhar province.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released a report last September revealing that 60% of the funds expended since 2002, some 70 Billion dollars, were spent on developing Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF). In this report he listed several reasons why our efforts have borne little fruit.

The U.S. government was ill-prepared to conduct SSA programs of the size and scope required in Afghanistan. The lack of commonly understood interagency terms, concepts, and models for SSA undermined communication and coordination, damaged trust, intensified frictions, and contributed to initial gross under-resourcing of the U.S. effort to develop the ANDSF.

Initial U.S. plans for Afghanistan focused solely on U.S. military operations and did not include the construction of an Afghan army, police, or supporting ministerial-level institutions.

Early U.S. partnerships with independent militias—intended to advance U.S. counterterrorism objectives—ultimately undermined the creation and role of the ANA and Afghan National Police (ANP).

Critical ANDSF capabilities, including aviation, intelligence, force management, and special forces, were not included in early U.S., Afghan, and NATO force-design plans

Providing advanced Western weapons and management systems to a largely lliterate and uneducated force without appropriate training and institutional infrastructure created long-term dependencies, required increased U.S. scale support, and extended sustainability timelines. 

To answer some of these shortfalls the US Army is developing Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFAB) that will be tailored to the mission and free up brigade combat teams. This idea, based on sound theory, will not work in practice. It won’t work for the same reasons it’s not working now; limited dwell time in country, high turnover of key personnel and the unwillingness to partner with host nation military units in combat.

Mentoring host nation military units does not take special classes on cultural awareness (although these help) or dedicated personnel; it takes the commitment to go into battle. It also takes sharing the same misery your local soldiers experience while demonstrating the leadership, tenacity and discipline required to prevail in the counterinsurgency fight.

As I pointed out in this post we know how to do it. Our problem is that we are too big and too complex organizationally to reinforce the limited success in the SSA mission we have achieved on the ground in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Former Marine and current Undersecretary of Defense Owen West wrote a book on how his team, and the ones that preceded him, did it in Iraq. American Spartan was another great book about a superb SF officer named Jim Gant who also broke the code on how to mentor in Afghanistan although he was not in the SAA role when he did it.

The Gant experience is important when dealing specifically with Afghanistan. As noted in the SIGAR report the central weakness of our Afghan assistance mission has been the inability of the central government to eliminate corruption and develop the efficiency needed to equip and maintain a professional military force. Jim Gant went into the most kinetic province of Afghanistan (Kunar) and stabilized a good portion of it by training up and directly supporting tribal militias. He accepted the reality that the central government will never control or be accepted by the hill Pashtuns living in the Hindu Kush.

The government in Kabul was established by and is currently maintained by the might of the American military (and her allies). We are westerners, we are not Muslims, we are attempting to create a system that is not organic to the people or region. It will not work.

The original Taskforce Southwest, with BGen Roger Turner at the helm has turned over with a new task force headed up by BGen Ben Watson. Turners Marines, who stayed inside the wire while mentoring ANSF, helped drive the incident rate down in Helmand province. They accomplished their mission and have brought some time and space for the Afghan army and national police. The big T Taliban have responded by hitting the Afghan government where its weak and where it hurts; inside the Ring of Steel in downtown Kabul. This is classical insurgent tactics; where the government  is strong they are weak; where the government is weak they attack.

We have spent 70 Billion and counting to stabilize a country that is so unstable that our own diplomats and military cannot drive 2 miles from the international airport in Kabul to our own embassy. And it’s straight shot, down one road.

The center of gravity for both the Taliban and the central government is the people of Afghanistan. The SIGAR report identified our early partnership with militias as having undermined the creation and role of the ANA and National Police. This may be true but it is also irrelevant. Ignoring the powerful regional warlords while trying to marginalize them has consistently failed.

The current hit film, 12 Strong, portrays two of them, Abdul Rashid Dostum and Atta Muhammad Nur. Dostum was given a place in the central government by Karzai (Deputy Minister of Defense) and is currently the First Vice President of Afghanistan. Both positions were designed to sideline him and he has spent years in Turkey to avoid prosecution for killing political rivals and the Dash-i-Leili massacre of 2000 Taliban in 2001. Atta Muhammad Nur has been the governor of Balkh province sine 2004. In 2014 the current president fired all 34 provincial governors but Nur has refused to leave office and remains there to this day.

Both Nur and Dostum can raise and field thousands of Mujahideen. They may not be the type of leaders we would like to deal with but we are already dealing with and supporting them in official capacities that limit them and that’s not helping us. I wrote here about Ismail Khan who controls the western city of Herat and why it would be a good idea to bring his Muj into the fight. There is also Abdul Karim Brahui, former governor of Nimroz province and one of the warlords who was effective against the Soviets and Taliban and has never been accused of human rights violations. That’s just four of the dozens of local leaders who could raise Muj forces.

Trying to explain how the USG works to Governor Brahui in 2011

If the Afghan central government is not going to work (and it isn’t) then the only way forward is to incorporate ANSF units with the forces of regional warlords. The warlords bring a sizable chunk of the population with them; it’s that simple. The people are the prize and the central government doesn’t represent the people, regional warlords do because in Afghanistan that’s the way it is.

The US military could have worked wonders embedding with these warlords like they did in 2001 but that window has closed. The only rational way forward is to incorporate Mujahideen into the fight against the Taliban by using contractors for liaison and access to American enablers (Tac Air, Drone feeds, Artillery etc..). These contractors need to be already known to and accepted by the warlords (that pool of men is larger than most would suspect).

I emphasize rational because rational people care about how expensive things are and the US Armed Forces are too damn expensive. Check this article out about the new SF Battle Buggies. Contractors don’t need million dollar battle buggies – they’ll use the same beat up Toyota Hi-Lux trucks the Muj are using. We’re a cheap date and yes this argument is self serving; limit the selection pool to guys who are known and accepted by warlords and I’m back in the game (inshallah).

These are nice and I’m all for giving the men serving the best protection we have but it’s damn expensive. Contractors don’t need them…we’ll take the big paycheck (and adventure) instead.

I know my assessment and recommendations will fall on deaf ears just as the SIGAR report from last September did. That’s too bad because we’re still spending a fortune on a failed strategy. We’re still losing servicemen too because the Army is sending advisors into combat with the Afghans in Nangarhar province while the Marines are not doing that in Helmand province. If we had a competent press corps that would the story they would be out to answer. But that’s not going to happen so ‘we the people’ have little idea what exactly is happening with the cash were expending and troops we are sending to Afghanistan.

That’s a shame too because we made promises to the Afghans that we are not keeping. The inability to keep your promises is bad for individuals (see Jordan Peterson’s excellent 12 Rules for Life for a detailed explanation why) and bad for countries too.

Kill Shot – The Narrative Takes Two to the Chest

Last week Professor Jordan Peterson sat for a 30 minute live interview with journalist Cathy Newman on the BBC’s Chanel 4. The results were a stunning unmasking of the liberal narrative that dominates western culture today. It was the most important debate of my generation unmasking the hubris and fallacy of the left by a calm, collected, brilliant professor speaking substantive truth to privileged, dishonest power (hat tip to Paul Weston for the cleaver phrase).

If you are not one of the over 3 million people who have watched this interview on YouTube take the time to watch it now. It is remarkable.

Cathy Newman entered this debate without any idea on why Professor Peterson burst onto the YouTube scene just over a year ago. She expected to win this debate with the weak strengths of rhetoric and sophistry.  That is how the left always wins but winning has made them soft so she was unprepared for a concentrated dose of reality.

She walked into a buzzsaw of undeniable truth laid out by a man who has spent years thinking deeply about human motivations and interactions. Every time she tried to reframe a comment with one of her straw-men talking points Professor Peterson would respond with an argument she could not refute and, due to her liberal bias, could not accept. It is a beautiful thing to watch.

Here’a the Kill Shot:

Newman: Is gender equality desirable?

Peterson: “If you mean equality of outcome than almost certainly it’s undesirable…Men and women won’t sort themselves out into the same categories if you leave them alone to do it on their own accord. We’ve seen that in Scandinavia, it’s 20 to 1 female nurses to male nurses…and approximately the same male engineers to female engineers and that’s the consequences of free choice by men and women in the societies that have gone farther than any other societies to make to make gender equality the purpose of the law. Those are ineradicable differences. You can eradicate them with tremendous social pressure and tyranny but if you leave men and women to make their own choices you will not get equal outcomes.”

This answers, once and for all, both the how and why behind forcing women onto the infantry.

It is not bias against or animus for women that drives my insistence that they are unsuited for the role of direct combatant. It is love for and the respect of the role of women in society that makes the insanity of placing them in the infantry unpalatable. It is also love of and respect for the PBI (Poor Bloody Infantry) combined with (for men like myself) an intimate understanding of the physical, emotional and psychological toll infantry combat exacts on humans that makes the idea of subjecting women to the role abhorrent.

Think back to the senate confirmations of Secretary Jim Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joe Dunford. Do you remember the questioning from the distaff side of the chamber? Do you remember the concern of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand about the possibility of Secretary Mattis rolling back the recent policies forcing women onto the combat arms ? That was rhetoric and sophistry in action. It was the demand, by a clueless political class, for equal outcomes.

The Marine Corps, like all the branches of the armed forces, is helpless against the diktats of our ruling elites. They can’t sit down and spend 30 minutes dismantling liberal dogma on live TV. They fought back against Ash Carter and the idiot Ray Mabus the only way they could, by launching a detailed experiment on the performance of mixed gender infantry units. The results were unequivocal; mixed gender units performed poorly, women Marines were unable to meet the physical demands of infantry combat. Even if they could hack it the critical topic of how infantry Marines socialize to develop the cohesion required to sustain themselves in combat was ignored.

Yet our political elites, using the blunt tools of rhetoric and sophistry, ignored the Marines findings. They chose to use tyranny to force their preferences on the military because there have been no consequences (at least ones visible to us) from their contemptuous treatment of Marine leaders and ignorance of historical precedents. That has all changed now. Every day a million more people watch the video linked above. Every day dozens of YouTubers critique this remarkable debate and they are uniform in their admiration for the remarkable Jordan Peterson.

This is what a kill shot looks like on the internet

The media minders of the narrative reacted to this devastating defeat exactly as one would suspect. The rolled out the victim card claiming, without any evidence whatsoever, that Cathy Newman had been subjected to such ‘vicious misogynistic abuse and nastiness,’ that Channel 4  hired a “security specialist” to “review the threats”.  A careful analysis of twitter comments by the blogger hequal showed the following:

Non-sexist violence aimed at Newman or her supporters: 2

Sexist violence aimed at Newman or her supporters: 0

Non-sexist violence aimed at Peterson or his supporters: 8

Sexist violence aimed at Peterson or his supporters: 55

As media critic Stephen Knight pointed out “these findings raise some inconvenient questions for those who like to play victimhood Olympics in order to detract from genuine criticism”.

Will this debate change the trajectory of the politically correct dogma which infuses our political class? It might but that could be little more than wishful thinking on my part. I can accurately predict what will put a nail in the ‘women in the infantry’ coffin. A real shooting war with a near peer adversary. And history tells us those kinds of events happen when you least expect them to.

Is Kabul Safe for Foreigners? Hard Man Vs Grey Man

Last week an article popped up from Swedish journalist Franz J. Marty titled What Living in Kabul is Really Like.   Frantells us Kabul is perfectly safe which is in stark contrast from the recent Laura Logan report on 60 minutes. From his article:

I don’t live in a highly secured compound. When I move around town, I usually walk. Only if it is too far will I take a car, and then certainly not an armored one or one of the expensive taxis for foreigners. …. I don’t eat in guarded, expensive restaurants as other foreigners do. I choose tiny, shabby local places, or carts selling food in the street. I live more or less like an average Afghan. So I dare to say that I have a pretty good image of the daily life in Kabul.

When I was living in Kabul  I could have wrote that same paragraph but for different reasons. Given the deadly attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul yesterday it is important to describe why a city that is safe for a Swedish journalist is not safe for anyone else, even a guy like me who has spent years living there and knows the place better than any city in my home country.

The first thing to understand about safety in an unstable, war torn city like Kabul is that you have only two options;  Grey Man or Hard Man.

The main threat to foreigners in Kabul comes from kidnappers who know they (and middle to upper class Afghans) will bring in a good amount of ransom. The secondary threat comes from Afghan security forces who have a nasty habit of shooting or arresting foreigners when they’re pissed.

Swedish journalist Nils Horner was shot in head from point blank range in the middle of the day by men who appeared to be NDS agents. American Louis Maxwell, a former sailor who was working  for the UN, was executed by Police in Kabul. He had just fought off a Taliban attack on the UN guesthouse he was guarding, was badly wounded and had his high end G36K rifle laying next to him when the police showed up. One of the responding Kabul PD officers shot him in the head and ran off with his rifle – which has never been recovered.

Louis Maxwell with his H&K G36K. This guy was a true American hero although very few remember him.

The two strategies to mitigate risk available to foreigners are Hard Man or Grey Man. During the years I spent in Afghanistan I was forced, by genetics,  into using the hard man option. I’m 6’2″,  weigh 220 lbs and am fit. I have good genes which, when combined with a life long habit of physical training, is a considerable blessing. Except when it comes to working outside the wire in places like Kabul. There my appearance is a considerable liability because I stand out.

The hard man approach in Afghanistan included being obviously armed. I carried at  1911 pistol (.45 caliber) and used an OWB (outside the waistband) holster so my concealed pistol wasn’t that concealed. I was always alert and aware of my surroundings. I walked with my head up, shoulders squared, while employing  my most effective weapon when dealing with Afghans on the street; a big, warm, friendly smile. Looking relaxed, confident, friendly and calm were essential to my ability to successfully travel into every corner of Afghanistan.

From 2005 to 2008 the average Afghan in Kabul had no issues with foreigners walking around the city. If you spoke a little Dari and people regularly saw you out and about even the street urchin problem (following you everywhere while aggressively begging)  could be avoided. But what I could never do was attempt to blend in and go Grey Man; I’m too big and my languages skills were never good enough to go full Grey Man.

Grey Man involves blending into your surrounding environment and not standing out. It requires the  wearing local clothes and near perfect language skills.  To pull it off in Afghanistan you had to be shortish, skinny and limber. Walking gaits stand out, a western gait was easy to spot.  Very few men were able to mask their western heritage well enough to pull off a full Grey Man in Kabul.

The atmospherics for westerners started changing in Kabul around 2010. It might have been earlier but I wasn’t living in Kabul from 2008-2012 so my finger was not tightly on the pulse there. The first change was that all the high end restaurants prohibited firearms. The Gandamak and L’atmosphere had always made patrons check their guns at the door which is one of the reasons I didn’t frequent them. By 2010 every restaurant catering to Westerners did the same (except certain Chinese places).

The weapons ban was part of the effort by then President Karzai to force every expat outside the wire to either get back inside the wire or pay him for security. He was aided and abetted by the UN who always had great security in part because they carved out an exemption for themselves. It is interesting to note that Louis Maxwell was killed while guarding a special election monitoring unit from the UN sent to Kabul to oversee the 2009 elections.  They pulled out after the attack but before the elections. Louis’s hometown (Miami, Florida) newspaper wrote an article about his murder here  where they accused Karzai of directing it.

In 2012 I moved back to Kabul where foreigners were prohibited from owning a weapon. Security contractors could carry company registered weapons on duty but even that was risky. The Karzai government would routinely confiscate weapons and radios from contractors who had the proper paperwork authorizing them. I know of at least one incident where they did the same to American army soldiers who were wearing civilian clothes on duty (there were  a few outfits in Kabul authorized to do this) and they even impounded their armored vehicle. By the time the army got the radios, weapons and vehicle back the run flat inserts had been pulled from inside their tires.

I still walked around in Kabul that year mostly because I hated being cooped up inside our living compound. I wore local clothes in an attempt to blend in but that was useless. I was unarmed and felt like a target. I could not shake an inner voice that reminded constantly walking around was not a good idea. I know my posture changed, my shoulders slumped, my stride was different smile was long gone too because my level of confidence had plummeted and that is an important data point.

We have a mechanism in our brains that runs on serotonin and tracks our status constantly. The higher our status the better our emotions are regulated. As serotonin levels increase we feel more positive emotions; as they decrease less positive emotions. When I was living in Jalalabad a journalist once asked me if I was afraid of the Taliban. I smiled and told him something like “in this part of the country I’m the apex predator; I’m not afraid of anything”.

I honestly felt that way too and I say that knowing it is total bullschumer. I might be big and I can shoot like the professional, high end instructor I once was but to think that somehow made a lone American an Apex predator was ludicrous. But I felt that way which was why I was so positive and why I always smiled and why the Afghan security guys at every checkpoint (except for damn NDS one outside Kabul) loved it when my simple ass pulled up with my big smile, chattering away in atrociously poor Dari or Pashto like I knew what the hell I was doing.

Baba Tim bringing quality submachinegun training to the people back in the day. This photo showed up in tactical magazine last year and I have no idea who took it but I know why it was used….Baba T could hit on the shooting demos; shoot a few thousands rounds, week in and week out, for a couple of years and you could too.

I had gone to a modified Grey Man posture in the badlands of Helmand, Nimroz and Kunar provinces. I dressed in local clothes, drove old local beaters but I was heavily armed (pistol, rifle, frag and smoke grenades). I also was under no illusions about fooling anyone once I stepped outside my vehicle. Afghans cannot wink and I cannot squat on my heels which means my gait is different from an Afghan’s gait.

The ability to wink, I suspect, is just a cultural artifact. I’m sure Afghan kids have mastered the technique by now. What I found interesting was winking at Taliban who rolled up on project sites in an attempt to intimidate us made them furious. But we were armed and they weren’t so they had to take it which meant a loss of face for them that amused the Afghans working for us. They would laugh out loud during these confrontations; Afghans are brave like that.

I suspect that Franz Marty is a shortish, skinny man fluent in Dari who has developed the ability to walk with an Afghan gait. If so he is an exceptional Grey Man and that is a high compliment. The only other westerner I know who could pull off that level of Grey Man is my best friend and Free Ranging partner Shem (a.k.a. The Bot)  who was the best operator I ever saw in Afghanistan.

Having the ability to use the Grey Man technique at that level allows for the Neurochemical  regulation system to run at full capacity. A westerner who can pull off that level field craft knows he is doing something that very few of his fellow humans can do. He is, in the world of the outside wire westerner, a high status man.

There is a high degree of safety when one is able to become part of the herd. This is why Zebra camouflage works so well and why fish look the same as every other fish of their species and why they swim in schools. Men who stand out for any reason; too fit, too tall, too fat or too small cannot blend in well enough to pull off the Grey Man.

For women going Grey Man in the Muslim world is out of the question. Unescorted women stand out, trying to slip by wearing a burqa is problematic due to gait and the Islamic version of T&A. T&A in Afghanistan means toes and ankles and I became an expert at judging what was under the blue burqa by looking at women’s feet. When asked by other westerners what I was looking for I always answered “dudes”.  I never expected to find any but it was such a cool answer I had to use it.

Franz Marty was writing about the Kabul he sees today but that is not the Kabul any other Westerner is going to find if they venture back to Afghanistan. His observations are interesting but they are also dangerous; nature is not fair and she does not endow many men with the skills needed to go Grey Man in Kabul.

All Franz has to worry about is being in the wrong place at the wrong time so his personal risk is low. It sounds like he avoids places frequented by other Westerners like the Intercontinental Hotel (I’ve stayed there many times over the years) which also significantly decreases his level of risk.

Any attempt by another Westerner to emulate the system Mr. Marty is using in Kabul would be suicidal. There may come a time when westerners can again go to Afghanistan and roam that beautiful country without too much drama. I’d love to do it myself but doubt that time will come while I’m still alive to see it.

Laura Does Kabul and Rocks It

One of the most popular posts I wrote while in Afghanistan was Laura Does The Special Forces and it was not a flattering review of Ms Logan or the Special Forces. It’s time for another review of Ms. Logan’s work on 60 minutes and this time she hit the ball out of the park. It was outstanding and you should take the time to watch her segment below.


Many years ago a 60 minutes report like this would have caused a major reaction with the American public and our do-nothing shysters in congress. That time has long past which is mostly a good thing but not in this case. The course we are taking in Afghanistan will not work and this 60 minute report made that painfully obvious.

The report starts with the flight from Kabul International Airport to the US Embassy which is a trip of less than 2 miles by road. Laura points out that no US official or military member travels on the road in Kabul. The American leading our effort, army general John Nicholson (not to be confused with Marine general Larry Nicholson who kicked the Taliban’s ass in Helmand back in the day) replies that force protection is his number one mission and that it’s safer to not use the roads in Kabul.

Several points to make here starting with the fact that the helicopters being used are contractor air. Because the evil Eric Prince isn’t providing these aircraft nobody seems to mind but I’ll tell you this; they are charging a hell of a lot more than Blackwater ever charged the government and you can take that insight to the bank. The second observation is it is much safer for the Afghans to not have American military convoys on the road for reasons I have described about a dozen times over the years. Another obvious point is that if, after 16 years, we have gone from a Kabul where all foreigners were welcomed (which is how it was for at least the first 10 years of our involvement) to a city where no foreigner can travel anywhere without taking significant risks what does that tell you? Tells me we aren’t winning.

But General Nicholson says that we are winning. He tells Ms. Logan straight up that we’re killing Taliban leaders by the score and that they now have a choice to either come to the governments side or die.  He goes on to say that there have been no attacks on our homeland from Afghanistan over the last 16 years and implies that if we leave Afghanistan that “International Terrorists” will take over the country and our homeland will be at risk.

This is madness disguised as conventional wisdom. Guess what? There has never been an attack on our homeland from Afghanistan. The 9/11 hijackers weren’t from Afghanistan and if you wanted to attack the city where they organized that would be Hamburg, Germany. All Afghanistan did was harbor bin Laden and we let him get away when the risk adverse Pentagon took over the original entry operation and prevented Delta (and a young Marine brigadier named Mattis) from smoke checking his dumb ass in 2001. What was their excuse back then? Force protection.

In the eyes of the modern general force protection trumps the mission as a priority in the American military. So does the imperative of foisting female machine gunners on the infantry. Do you know what a machine-gun section does in combat? It humps ammo, heavy 7.62mm ammo, along with their heavy gun and its tripod (which is heavy) and the traversing and elevation mechanism (which isn’t that heavy) and spare barrels and their own rifles…

Sorry, got a little off track there.

If there is anyone in America who thinks we did Afghanistan a favor by listening to the highly over-rated Colin Powell and staying in that country I can assure you that you’re wrong. A trillion later, an unknown number of Afghan and international lives later, who knows how many arms and legs lost later; our military is still there and in the hermetically sealed Kabul military headquarters there sits a four star general who  says (and might even believe) that the Taliban now has two options, die or capitulate.

Nicholson went on to claim that if we lose in Afghanistan “It would embolden jihadists globally”. I don’t think that is remotely true after the Axis of Adults crushed ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Laura Logan pressed the general hard and then moved up the road to the Presidential Palace to press Ashraf Ghani, the leader of the so called ‘Unity Government’.

Lara Logan: Your soldiers and your policemen are dying in unprecedented numbers.

Ashraf Ghani: Indeed.

Lara Logan: How long can that be sustained?

Ashraf Ghani: Until we secure Afghanistan.

Lara Logan: How long is that? How long until you secure it?

Ashraf Ghani: As long as it takes. Generations if need be!

Lara Logan: The U.S. isn’t going to be here for generations.

Ashraf Ghani: We will be here for generations. We do not need others to fight our fights.

Lara Logan: People in this country say that if the U.S. pulled out, your government would collapse in three days.

Ashraf Ghani: From the resource perspective they are absolutely right. We will not be able to support our army for six months without U.S. support, and U.S. capabilities.

Lara Logan: Did you just say that without the US support your army couldn’t last six months?

Ashraf Ghani: Yes. Because we don’t have the money.

We have spent over a Trillion dollars on Afghanistan but they don’t have any money. Do you think a Trillion more will help? Do you think killing Taliban is the answer? Do you think mentoring the Afghan army from inside secured bases and then sending them out to get chewed up is the way forward?

We know how to mentor foreign troops plagued by low skills and low morale; our current Undersecretary of Defense for Special Operations wrote a book on it and you know what he said? You have to live with and fight with them to get them up to standard. That was why the Prince Plan made sense.

The only rational way forward is to allow the Afghans to solve this problem the Afghan way. General Nicholson said he’s giving himself two more years for his plan to work. I don’t what he’ll be saying in January 2020 but do know this much; there will be no significant changes to the situation in Afghanistan.

Atrocity in Afghanistan

Yesterday news broke of what appears to be a cold blooded shooting  by a US soldier of an Afghan truck driver. The story was first reported by politico and the short segment featured below was apparently part of a 3 minute video titled  “Happy Few Ordnance Symphony,” that was briefly posted to Youtube this week.

Speculation in the press is this incident occurred recently in Nangarhar province which is the only part of Afghanistan where US forces are operating outside the wire. I don’t think that’s the case as it is very rare to have snow in Nangarhar province and the portions that do see some snow would by in the Spin Ghar mountains where there are not any good hard ball roads.

If I were to hazard a guess I would say that this film was made on the ring road between Kabul and Ghazni….probably in Wardak province. That would mean the tape was shot before 2014.

I have written dozens of times about the unnecessary deaths US and NATO forces inflicted on civilians due to their tendency to shoot up cars that come too close to their convoys. This force protection measure was an attempt to stop SVBIED’s; the vehicle variant of the suicide bomber phenomenon.  This post on the Raven 23 travesty contains several links to my previous posts on this topic.

The press always points to Raven 23 (the Nissor Square shootings) as the behavior of trigger happy contractors while studiously ignoring the hundreds if not thousands of examples of military convoys doing the exact same thing. Having had two vehicles shot out from under me, one by the British Army and one by the American Army (both incidents happened in Kabul) I am very touchy on this topic.

But what happened in all the examples I cite above and what you see in the video pasted above are two different things. The video depicts a gratuitous assault (and possibly a murder) on the part of an American serviceman. The problem is that there are anomalies in the video which are difficult to account for.

The weapon used in this shooting is an M4 Benelli tactical shotgun. That is a semiautomatic shotgun and when fired it should automatically eject the spent shell. In the video we see some gas escaping the barrel as it is apparently fired into the cab of an Afghan truck. What we don’t see is any recoil or the automatic extraction of the spent shotgun shell. That’s a little strange and I’m not able to explain why that happened.

It could be a non lethal round was fired at the Afghan driver which may account for the light recoil but I thought even non lethal rounds generated enough energy to cycle the action. I could be wrong but if that is the case then we are not witnessing a cold blooded murder but a really stupid assault on an innocent civilian. I hope that proves the be the case.  If that kid fired buck shot from the M4 he killed that driver. You can see where the round impacted on the drivers window; there is no question buck shot would have resulted in a fatal wound.

My problem with the force protection measures used by ISAF military units in Afghanistan was that they not only killed civilians but they were also poor tactics. The gunners in those incidents could not have identified a threat, oriented on it and put enough fire on those vehicles to be effective. It was an OODA loop issue. I also think the Blackwater guys involved in the Nissor Square shootings reacted with excessive force. My problem there was they were prosecuted for doing exactly what the military did in similar circumstances.

When you’re operating in Afghanistan or Iraq where the battlefield is full of non combatants sometimes you have to suck up incoming, hunker down and drive like hell to get off the X. It;’s not fun and I’ve done it often enough to know what a raw deal it is. But it is what it is; I would not shoot at random civilians anymore than I would shoot at ISAF soldiers who fired on me. It’s not a rational response or legal option.

One of the reasons I’m an advocate of the PMC model is that contractors, despite the common perception of the media, are much less likely to drop the hammer on people than the military. Contractors don’t have the protection afforded military personnel by status of forces agreements. They are on their own and have to answer to host nation authorities when they use deadly force.

What we see in the video above has nothing to do with force protection. It is a straight up atrocity, an unlawful use of force and the soldiers involved should face the full force of the law for their criminal action. It is also a huge setback to America in our effort to get Afghanistan under control so we can leave. The prize now, as it has been all along, is the Afghan people. And the Afghan people are not going to forget this video anytime soon.


Armed and Dangerous: Should a Principal Carry in Afghanistan?

The new Secretary of the Navy caused a minor kerfuffle last week by carrying a sidearm while touring Afghanistan. Richard Spencer is a former Marine aviator, finance executive, and vice chairman of the nonprofit Marine Corps Heritage Foundation. He is a welcomed relief to the naval services after the hyper political reign of Ray Maybus. While on a tour of Marine units in Afghanistan he was photographed  wearing a sidearm which lead to all sorts of speculation in the press and in the PMC community.

Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer speaks with Marines and sailors assigned to Task Force Southwest at Camp Shorab, Afghanistan, December 23, 2017. Photo provided by US Marine Corps

The photo above caused CNN correspondent Barbara Starr to tweet  “Can someone explain why the head of our Navy is wearing a sidearm?” That is a question that is much deeper than the ensuing debate answered. Allow me to explain.

Most people would assume that secretary Spencer would have adequate training to carry a pistol due to his prior service in the Marine Corps. This is not true. Every Marine officer is required to pass an annual pistol qualification but qualification with a pistol is not the same as training. Unless a Marine officer is assigned to a special billet, or is a master boondoggler,  he will not receive the training needed to employ a pistol effectively from the holster under duress.

My industry friends like Tom Williams, who has a ton of PSD team leader experience, are unanimous in their opinion that a principal (in this case the SecNav) should never be armed. He hasn’t trained with or know the drills of his detail and thus a liability even if he has expert combat pistol skills – which he doesn’t because a quick read of his resume reveals he is not master boondoggle material.

Thomas is in this case is wrong (which I say in jest by the way as he is a close friend).  Before I explain the genius behind the SecNav carrying heat around the Helmand let’s review the why behind personal security details because they are now in vogue. Everybody who is anybody wants one which is strange because they rarely work.

Let me ask you – name an instance where a PSD detail stopped an assassination. I can think of only one and goggling the question is worthless as the results focus on JFK conspiracy theories, other presidential shootings and fake news from the legacy media about how evil guns are.

The one example I can think of happened in Afghanistan and involved an attempt, in 2002, on President Karzai. At the time his security detail consisted of SEAL’s and although they killed the gunman who was setting up to shoot Karzai they also killed one of Karzai’s favorite aids who had already jumped on the shooter. It could be argued that the aid stopped the assassination attempt and the subsequent shooting by the SEAL’s was overkill but, in the context of this post, that’s splitting hairs.

SEAL Team members moments after smoke checking the assassin (and everybody near him) during the attempt on Karzai in 2002

One thing most people don’t think about is that finding a highly trained, dedicated, assassin is rarer than finding a diamond hidden in a goats ass. It can happen but I never heard of a good example. Your average VIP/celebrity, trained on a steady diet of Hollywood movies and Brad Thor thrillers, probably doesn’t realize the threat comes from goof balls, not scary professionals.

Bill Lind contends the world ended on June 28th, 1914 when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated at the hands of Gavrillo Princip. Princip is a typical assassin; a loser who was part of a plot with other losers who screwed up their simple plan. One of the other assassins in the group, a nineteen-year-old student named Nedeljko Cabrinovic,  had thrown a grenade at Archduke Ferdinand’s vehicle but failed to account for the fuse delay or the speed of the vehicle and it detonated four cars behind his target.

The exact same thing happened to me when I was cruising through Shah Joy on my way to Kandahar during one of my bootlegging trips. I was going about  40mph when I see a guy step out of a crowd in the bazzar, look at me and then throw a grenade at my truck. I hit the gas and watched the thing go off in my rearview – it knocked some locals down too and I was amazed anyone would be so stupid as to think a grenade thrown at a moving vehicle would somehow impact the vehicle.

And speaking of stupid – check out young Master Cabrinovic who, after realizing he had failed and the crowd was about to close in on him, swallowed a cyanide pill that had been in his pocket for weeks and had deteriorated so much that it only made him throw up. Being dedicated the kid went to plan B  jumping off a bridge into the Miljacka river to drown himself but the water was only 4 inches deep… can’t make this kind of stuff up.

Princip, armed with  a pistol and stationed further down the motorcade route, realized the plan had failed and went down a side street to a sandwich shop to get a bite to eat.  Meanwhile Archduke Ferdinand insisted on being taken to the local hospital to pay his respects to the folks injured by the grenade attack but his driver got lost and he ended up on the same side street as the sandwich shop where his car stalled right in front of Princip. Does this, the most important assassination of the last century, sound anything like the plots you have read about or watched on the big screen?

Princip fired two rounds from a FN model 1910 pistol from 5 feet away striking the Archduke in the neck (hitting his juggler) and his wife in the abdomen (hitting something vital there too because she died minutes later). Although he was only 5 feet away he was shooting a 9x17mm round (essentially a .380 ACP we shoot the 9x19mm parabellum round which is a little bit mo better) so those two hits were lucky (or unlucky depending on how you feel about Austrian royalty). 99 out of 100 times that round fired at that distance by a poorly trained shooter would not result in a fatal wound.

Point is your average assassin team is little better than a insane clown posse squad.

What about your average protection detail?

So there I was, hanging out at the American embassy when the guard force got the word to clear the streets, President Karzai’s motorcade was coming through. Being the PM on that contract I figured I didn’t have to clear the street so I went out the sidewalk to watch. Rolling in front of Karzai’s vehicle were two Hummers from the DynCorp protective detail and to my utter astonishment there were American guys leaning out of the rear windows with their rifles on their shoulders aiming in at anyone who was on the side walk. Once the left the embassy that would have been about 3,000 or so Afghans. They didn’t aim in at me so I guess they weren’t total jerks but what kind of tactic is that? Talk about bad optics, talk about a failure to understand the basics of an OODA Loop.…to this day the image fills me with wonder at how goofy men can be given a rifle, a boring mission in a foreign country and no adult supervision.

Back in the heyday of overseas contracting (2003 – 2006) when the money was good and the jobs plentyful there was more of this kind of foolishness going on than you would believe. Many of the PSD jobs went to the lowest bidders who were often Brit’s or Aussie’s or Kiwi’s and these are not countries where men can train with or even own firearms. The only two companies I saw out there who did pre deployment training and developed solid SOP’s were Backwater and Triple Canopy. Everybody else was making it up as they went along.

Tom Williams worked for Blackwater back then so when he starts ranting about live fire training and IA drills and putting the principal inside the diamond he’s on the money. My buddy Frank Gallagher also worked for BW and wrote a good book (with John Del Vecchio) about his PSD time called The Bremer Detail: Protecting the Most threatened Man in the World). Now that I plugged this on the blog I’m going to have to get a copy and read it. I normally avoid books on boring topics and nothing is more boring than PSD work, which why I never did it. However it is true that both Frank and John are cool cats so I know the book will be worth the time and encourage you too to score a copy soon.

Having said that let me say this; your  average PSD team has little to no collective training, and little to no ability to stop an insane clown posse assassin if the crazy dude has worked his way in close proximity to the principal.

The SecNav was visiting Marines in Afghanistan where the threat to him would not be Bernie Sanders supporters (like it is in the US) but Afghan troops loyal to the Taliban who would willingly sacrifice their own lives to take out an American VIP. What’s the best solution for that scenario? Don’t look like a VIP which is why it was good, non – linear, almost master boondoggler level thinking to wear a sidearm so he looked like he was part of the PSD team and not the principal the PSD team was guarding.

I would have given him a rifle too but no rounds. In that respect I agree with My buddy Tom – I don’t like having people with loaded guns around me when I don’t know their capabilities.

And there you have it; another CNN generate mystery solved with a history lesson bonus.

A Reason for Optimism with Our Afghanistan Effort (Not What You Think Addition)

There have been several news items on Afghanistan that call for some optimism. Task and Purpose published this long piece by former Ranger and current journalist Marty Skovlund and it’s a great read. Marty also has done the War College Podcast and other media where he anticipates our continued involvement with the Afghans for decades to come.

Task Force Southwest is heading home after a successful deployment (they did not lose any Marines) and Vice News caught up with them before they left. You can get a good feel for what they’ve accomplished in the video below:

It is clear that the Marines in Helmand have stabilized the Afghan National Army in just as the Army has in Nangarhar province. Yet none of this has changed my opinion that it is not going to work and that we are wasting time, money and lives on a forlorn hope.

Last week former Marine Owen West was confirmed as assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict. His nomination had been held up by democrats who objected to this eminently reasonable article he published, in conjunction with his father Bing West, concerning women in the infantry.

Owen was a talented infantry officer who also served in the reconnaissance community before leaving the Corps for Goldman Sachs where he became the most badass banker on Wall Street. Owen remained in the Marine Corps reserves and did two combat deployments to Iraq. He also became, like his father,  a successful writer publishing two thrillers as well as an account of his time as an advisor to the Iraq Army.  That last book is the biggest reason for hope I have seen to date concerning our efforts in Afghanistan

The Snake Eaters: Counterinsurgency Advisors in Combat is one the best accounts on the Iraq conflict I have come across. I’m not alone in that assessment; check out the review from his new boss:

“Stunning in its portrayal, this highly personal book conveys a tremendous sense of time and place, set in a wickedly complex war zone that our young men faced in a foreign land, coaching a foreign force, in a type of combat foreign to those who have forgotten that war is ultimately a human endeavor. Vivid and honest, it holds true the real lessons of counter-insurgent war and is essential reading for those who seek to understand what we demand from those we send to fight for us.” — General James Mattis.

What’s this have to do with Afghanistan? I’m not sure because I don’t know how much weight the assistant SecDef for Special Forces has in the big scheme of things. What I do know is that Owen West believes our current approach in Afghanistan is wrong. Check this out from the introduction of The Snake Eaters:

Only an advisor’s aggressive willingness to share risk—his performance under fire—with local troops gives him credibility with and influence over them. This gap in understanding is not limited to civilians. Our generals are uncomfortable prescribing advisors as a solution to these twenty-first-century wars. Advising a foreign military requires nontraditional training that takes years; soldiers need a wonk’s cultural awareness, the rudimentary language capability of a border cop, a survivalist’s skills, and the interpersonal savvy of a politician. Military hierarchy is built on control, so it feels unnatural for the leadership to dispatch these small bands of advisors, who on paper cannot give orders, to live among foreign, sometimes hostile soldiers in an effort to stabilize their countries.

Living with the troops and leading by example…..where have you heard that before? Not just in this blog; every legitimate resource on getting host nation armies from the third world into the fight says the same thing. We knew this a century ago when we were fighting in Banana Republic Wars. Now the belief that technology has changed the dynamic of counterinsurgency warfare has reduced our efforts to unsustainably expense parodies of an effective military solution.

The Snake Eaters details this without the rancor. It tells the story of a small group of untrained reservists controlled by a clueless higher headquarters who are thrust into the most deadly town in Iraq. Not every team member is a hero but the deadwood is replaced rapidly, those who see the mission through are classic representations of American  fighting men. Some our career officers who step up and out of constricting formal roles associated with their rank and experience. Some are non conformists who learn the local language and advocate for the local people. All who remain display the two traits most important in the counterinsurgency battle; physical courage and placing the mission ahead of all other considerations.

The Iraqi’s they mentor run the gamut from cowardly sycophants to incredibly brave professionals. Ironically the Iraqi officer who holds the Americans in complete contempt is the favorite of the American advisors. When you are deep in the shit performance is all that matters but not enough American units have found themselves deep enough in the shit to have learned this basic rule of war.

Every institutional problem I have bitched about for over a decade on this blog is validated in the book. Placing force protection ahead of mission and the un-stabilizing effects of  SF night rains that can destroy in a few hours trust that took months of blood, seat and tears to build are just two of those problems that are covered in detail. This is the first military book I’ve read that relates directly to the experiences I and my small group of Free Ranging friends had in Afghanistan. Take a couple of minutes to hear Owen explain the book to get a feel for why I’m raving about it.

The American military has some serious, fundamental issues that need to be sorted out. The Marine Corps aviation in on it’s knees and currently unable to generate the sortie hours required to maintain proficiency with its fixed wing fighters. The Navy cannot drive its boats but worse yet it can’t even recognize an impending collision soon enough to sound the appropriate alarms; the ones that would have forced men from their bunks so they don’t get crushed and drowned when their ships hit gigantic civilian tankers. The Air Force can’t retain pilots; the Army can’t retain talent yet in the face of these problems our politicians are forcing women on the infantry and transexuals into the force structure.

Countering these powerfully negative trends is the most qualified Secretary of Defense and the most powerful Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the history of our country. They are on record as opposing social engineering they know will weaken combat power yet seem unable to put a stake through the heart of PC centric change.

Add to that an Assistant Secretary of Defense who not only knows, but has proven the risk adverse, reliance on high tech, Kabuki theater of advise and assist while leading from behind will not work.

Will this make a difference? I don’t know but sure is interesting.

Do We Still Drug Test General Officers?

Yesterday an article showed up in the press consisting of an interview with one of the general officers stationed in Afghanistan. He made a series of statements that were so delusional that were he a junior enlisted man he’d be subject to mandatory drug abuse screening.

The article can be found here and is titled US General on Trump’s Afghan strategy: ‘This will be a very long winter for the Taliban’.  It is hard to know where to start; literally every claim made by the general is factually wrong, supremely stupid, and just embarrassing for the home team.

So let’s start with the who; Air Force brigadier general Lance Bunch:

BGen Bunch – Air Force Academy grad and career fighter pilot.
My friend Colonel Eric Mellinger, USMC, is also an Air Force Academy grad: does he look like the kind of guy who would try to sell you a bill of goods? I include this to preempt acquisitions of Air Force bashing by my Hollywood buddy Kerry Patton. It’s not the uniform; it’s the man; right Kerry?

Lance is was promoted to BG last summer so he is a junior one star. Brigadier general is an awkward rank just like 2nd Lieutenant is for the company grade and Major is for the field grades. Combine the awkward rank with the fact that Air Force pilots are not known to be authorities on ground combat matters and you could forgive Lance for being a bit naive. But we’re not talking naivete or garden variety obsequiousness; we’re talking crazy:

“The Taliban strategy is moving backwards. As they are unable to conduct offensive combat operations, they have transitioned back to high-profile attacks, assassinations and kidnapping for ransom, all of which indiscriminately target the Afghan people,”

“We are able to go after their [Taliban] weapons cache sites, their revenue generation, their C2 [command and control] nodes, all the areas where they thought they were safe and they are no longer so,” Bunch said. “It has definitely been a game-changer, and the Taliban is definitely feeling it.”

In just three weeks, U.S. and Afghan airstrikes, coupled with Afghan special operations raids on the ground, have eliminated 25 Taliban narcotics processing labs, destroying an estimated $80 million in drugs, and denied the Taliban more than $16 million in direct revenue that is passed on from local drug kingpins, the U.S. military said.

Come on man. The Taliban control’s more districts today than they have since ejected from power in 2001. We have spent 16 years going after command and control nodes; that is what the night raid program was all about.  That is why year after year officers in Afghanistan have crowed about intercepting panicked phone calls to Taliban central in Peshawar or Quetta from ‘commanders’ on the ground freaking out about getting whacked. Yet every year the Taliban gets stronger, every year they gain more ground, every year the moles dig deeper while every year we say this is the year we whack them for good.

Where do you think the Taliban converts dry opium to heroin? Around the highly contested, kinetic towns like Musa Quala or across the border in Pakistan or Iran? All the ‘drug labs’ reportedly destroyed were in northern Helmand near Musa Quala, Sangin and the Kajaki Dam. Recognize those names? Do you want to give odds that the Taliban are not so stupid as to try and use this area of the country to convert opium to heroin knowing the Americans consider these towns free fire areas?

Air campaigns are only as effective as the intelligence they base their targeting on. Identifying drug labs and drug shipments requires solid human intelligence; trying to unmask them using signal intelligence or drone based pattern analysis is nearly impossible. This is why, after 16 years of fighting in Afghanistan, we still air strike wedding parties we mistake for Taliban.  We don’t have good human intelligence but for some reason believe we can cripple the drug business by taking out laboratories in Afghanistan despite knowing that most of them are across the border in Pakistan?

Another article from Afghanistan caught my eye yesterday puts this “game changer” crap in proper perspective. The Walking Dead; published in Foreign Policy, was an excellent, original, investigative piece on the Afghanistan Army’s treatment of its wounded soldiers.  Written by Maija Liuhto, a journalist from Finland, (home of the White Death winter campaign and the White Death sniper….Finns are cool) it is not a pleasant read.

A bullet pierced his stomach, and he lost a lot of blood, he says. “My friends wanted to come and help me, but I told them not to because it was an open area and they could easily get hit, too.”

Jawad had to use his shirt to tie the heavily bleeding wound. In the end, it was civilians who helped him get to a clinic. Jawad belongs to the Hazara minority not native to this area. He does not speak Pashto, the dominant language in the south and east.

Jawad, 20, stands on the runway waiting to be loaded onto a medevac flight at the Tirinkot Airbase in Uruzgan Afghanistan on May 4th 2017. Jawad was ordered to rescue injured soldiers when he was shot. He insisted on getting on the flight himself despite that his wound was still bleeding. Photo by Ivan Flores

Afghans are tough people; look at the picture above. An Afghan cop gets shot in the stomach, is treated with a crummy ace bandage and some 4×4 gauze and hours latter is standing on a runway bare chested and pissed off waiting to get evacuated to Kandahar for definitive treatment. It’s not the Afghan grunts who are failing; its their leadership, which is evident by the excellent reporting in the article linked above.

I feel compelled to say this again; the Pentagon’s plan is not going to work. We are supporting a central government that is not legitimate in the eyes of the Afghan people. As soon as we go the government will be forced to settle things the Afghan way and the best they can hope for is Ismail Khan or a few more like them are around to help.

The handful of grunts and operators still on the ground in Afghanistan need to trust their general officers. Blatant cheerleading consisting of the regurgitation of ridiculous talking points from the alternative reality that is Bagram is not helpful. It is indeed going to be a long winter in Afghanistan for somebody and odds are it’s not the Taliban.