visitors since 4 oct 2008

Free Ranging The Dasht-e Margo (Desert of Death)

I’m back in my compound after attending a bunch of ceremonies in Zaranj marking the end of our efforts in Nimroz Province.  When we flew in last week the skies were dark and it rained that night.  The next morning was clear as a bell making for excellent photography and perfect weather for what turned out to be 15 hours of driving through the Dasht-e Margo (Desert of Death).  Our mission that day was the dedication ceremony for the Charborjak Irrigation system which we had built, mostly with shovels, wheelbarrows and lots of man power, over the previous 11 months.  We had originally scheduled the ceremony for the 5th of October but changed the date at the last minute.  On the 5th there was an ambush waiting for us; when we moved out last Thursday we were a mobile ambush looking for anyone who was looking for us.

The Provincial Governor of Nimroz Province is Al Haji Karim Barahwi and those of you who have read this blog know I’m a big fan of his.  He’s a graduate of the Kabul Military Academy and served in the Afghan Army as an officer until the Soviets invaded.  Governor Barahwi then became a Muj commander who fought the entire war without any help from the United States.  He was working out of Iran and obviously had a little help from them despite the fact that he is not too happy with Iran at the moment.  The trip he took us on was remarkable because we did not go the way we have always gone to Cahrborjak; we jumped the Helmand and moved deep into the desert where the Governor wanted to show us something.  This story is best told through pictures and I have around 1800 from that one drive alone.  So stand by for a story told the Marine way – lots of pictures, no big words, and no cussing.  I was an officer in the Marines and know that cussing is good for morale, but only enlisted men rate morale, so, only they can cuss with impunity.  Officers are supposed to find more appropriate language to record observations, write reports, etc…  My Dad reminded me of this fact due to my proclivity for inserting colorful language in my posts – which, for the record, I think is (word deleted)  but I’m trying to talk him into writing for the blog and therefore am compelled to entertain him.

We drove to the Governors compound where a large escort of various Afghan Security Forces and a dozen or so Baloch fighters who did not wear uniforms. All of the Afghans escorting us on that day were Baloch men from Nimroz Province

We drove to the Governors compound where a large escort of various Afghan Security Forces and a dozen or so Baloch fighters who did not wear uniforms waiting to escort us to Charborjak.  All of the Afghans escorting us on that day were Baloch men from Nimroz Province

We exited Zaranj and headed towards Charborjak on the Lashkary Canal road

We exited Zaranj and headed towards Charborjak on the Lashkary Canal road

I note the Lashkary Canal was dry - we just finished that project last year and I ask Bashir why the canal is dry - he claims to have no idea

I note the Lashkary Canal was dry – we just finished that project last year and I ask Bashir why the canal is dry – he claimed to have no idea

We entered the choke point of ambush ally spread put and moving fast

We entered the choke point of ambush ally spread out and moving fast

Moving out of ambush ally we passed the spot where the Highway Patrol Commander's truck was torched after the ambush last week

Coming out of ambush ally we passed the spot where the Highway Patrol Commander’s truck was torched after the ambush last week

And stopped on a plateau for what turned out to be a brief on the days route

And stopped on a plateau for what turned out to be a brief on the days route

Governor Barahwi walking along with the Provincial Chief of Police and Haji the Chief of the Highway Police and the man who fought his way out of the ambush last week is directly on the Governor's left

Governor Barahwi walking along with the Provincial Chief of Police and Haji Nematullah, the Chief of the Highway Police and the man who fought his way out of the ambush last week.  Haji Nematullah is directly to the Governor’s left

The ANSF convoy team - most of them are from the Zaranj QRF - gets the word from Gov Barahwi and that word is we are sending a small force up the regular route while the rest of us ford the Helmand and head out into the desert. We will ultimately arrive at the Charborjak site from the opposite direction and on the other side of the Helmand River then originally planned

The ANSF convoy team – most of them are from the Zaranj QRF – gets the word from Gov Barahwi and that word is we are sending a small force up the regular route while the rest of us ford the Helmand and head out into the desert. We will ultimately arrive at the Charborjak site from the opposite direction and on the other side of the Helmand River then originally planned

Our escorts head back to their trucks for the next stage of the trip

Our escorts head back to their trucks for the next stage of the trip

Once we crossed the Helmand we were in the bad lands of the Dasht-e Margo. There is nothing out there is this triangle of land that borders both Iran and Pakistan. The Taliban (and smugglers) move through this area regularly

After crossing the Helmand we were in the bad lands of the Dasht-e Margo. There is nothing out there in this triangle of land that borders Iran. The Taliban (and smugglers) move through the area regularly

Once on the other side of the Helmand we passed no less than 25 old forts and walled cities - they were literally dotting the horizon for miles and miles in this empty desert

On the other side of the Helmand we passed no less than 25 old forts and walled cities – they were literally dotting the horizon for miles and miles in this empty desert

About 90 minutes into the desert we stopped so Governor Barahwi could explain in great detail why this area was not under his control and what he needs to seal the area. Michael Yon video tapped the entire discussion and it is interesting. What the Governor needs is helicopters and a flying squad with soime Americans in it so they can fly around and pounce on anything moving through the desert. That's apparently what the Soviets did to him back in the day and he admitted that tactic had cost him a ton in weapons, vehicles and manpower

About 90 minutes into the desert we stopped so Governor Barahwi could explain in great detail why this area was not under his control and what he needs to fix that. Michael Yon video tapped the entire discussion and it is interesting. The Governor needs helicopters and a flying squad with some Americans in it so they can fly around and pounce on anything moving through the desert. That’s apparently what the Soviets did to him back in the day and he admitted that tactic had cost him a ton in weapons, vehicles and manpower

We headed back towards the Helmand - the old truck on the right was the Chicken Truck and carried all the food and drinks for our lunch

We headed back towards the Helmand – the old truck on the right was the Chicken Truck and carried all the food and drinks for our lunch

This is the first of about 15 times that the Chicken Truck got stuck in the sand

This is the first of about 15 times that the Chicken Truck got stuck in the sand

We had one armored HUMVEE with us and it didn't handle the sand any better than the Chicken Truck. The Toyota and Ford light pickups had no problems

We had one armored HUMVEE with us and it didn’t handle the sand any better than the Chicken Truck. The Toyota and Ford light pickups had no problems

We arrive at the ceremony site - you can see dust trails from the escorts who have been working the flanks and are just now crossing the Helmand. Which is dry downstream. Because we built a check dam that is apparently checking the entire river at the moment. I ask Bashir if maybe this dam had something to do with the Lashkary being dry and he said "maybe".

We arrive at the ceremony site – you can see dust trails from the escorts who have been working the flanks and are just now coming towards the Helmand.  Which is dry downstream. Because we built a check dam that is apparently checking the entire river at the moment. I asked Bashir if maybe this dam had something to do with the Lashkary being dry and he said “maybe”.  Five minutes after sending this picture in with my official report my email lit up like a Christmas tree.  Did you know that at Camp Leatherneck there is a PhD Hydrologist who is in charge of the lower Helmand water basin?  Me either, and she was pretty upset to see this dam, that she had no idea existed, plugging up the Helmand.  What could I say? It was in the proposal although to be honest this damn dam is much bigger than I thought it would be.  The Iranians are pretty upset about the water too and will make their ire known to all by launching missiles into a hamlet  just outside Zaranj later that evening.  That act caused the Governor to miss the morning ceremony the next day which is why I was sitting the following morning frozen in place as my bladder remorsefully filled from all the coffee I drank before I arrived.

And here it is - the Charborjak canal intake. Not bad for a cash for work program is it? Know how much water it takes in when running at full capacity? Six cubic meters per second. I had to find that and a lot more out about the project after receiving so many emails from agitated Americans who were trying to determine exactly what the hell was going on in Nimroz Province.

And here it is – the Charborjak canal intake our signature project for this year. Not bad for a cash for work program is it? Know how much water it takes in when running at full capacity? Six cubic meters per second. I had to find that and a lot more out about the project after receiving so many emails from agitated Americans who were trying to determine exactly what the hell was going on in Nimroz Province.

Governor Barahawi addressing the local folks who had made it out for the opening ceremony and the free chow which followed. This is a sparsely populated area which I bet you can figure out from the photo

Governor Barahawi addressing the local folks who had made it out for the opening ceremony and the free chow which followed. This is a sparsely populated area which I bet you can figure out from the photo

Some of the QRF troops hanging out while the Governor talks

Some of the QRF troops hanging out while the Governor talks

After speeches by the local politicians, a prayer by the senior mullah followed by our ops manager Zabi (his dad is the senior Mulllah in the province) singing an Islamic hymn which I didn't understand but Zabi can sing - I mean he is really really good and I've since found out quite well know for his voice.

After speeches by the local politicians, a prayer by the senior mullah followed by our ops manager Zabi (his dad is the senior Mulllah in the province) singing an Islamic hymn which I didn’t understand but Zabi can sing – we cut the ribbon and opened the gates.  As the senior American present I had to relinquish my camera so I asked Mike if I could use some of his pictures for the post.

After the ribbon cutting the Chicken Truck swung into action and we sat down on the VIP rug for an hour or so to eat lunch and drink warm soda. I haven't been this sunburned in a long time but it was still an enjoyable afternoon

After the ribbon cutting the Chicken Truck swung into action and we sat down on the VIP rug for an hour or so to eat lunch and drink warm soda. I haven’t been this sunburned in a long time; note how I’m trying to keep the scarf up over my beet red ears, but it was still an enjoyable afternoon.

After lunch we headed back across the Helmand towards the desert

After lunch we headed back across the Helmand towards the desert

But we didn't go into the desert hugging the bank of the Helmand instead which is why the Chicken Truck and Hummer got stuck so many times. There really isn't a road here at all - just sand and every few miles a dirt poor small village

But we didn’t go into the desert hugging the bank of the Helmand instead which is why the Chicken Truck and Hummer got stuck so many times. There really isn’t a road here at all – just sand and every few miles a dirt poor small village

We crisscrossed the Helmand about 5 or 6 times

We crossed the Helmand about 5 or 6 times

We ran into these boys at one of the fords. They are miles from anywhere and as I look at this pic I wonder what people back home will make of it. Kids alone in a desert riding donkey's and without safety helmets!!!!!

We ran into these boys at one of the fords. They are miles from anywhere and as I look at this pic I wonder what people back home will make of it. Kids alone in a desert riding donkey’s and without safety helmets!!!!!

On this side of the river the villages are small and dirt poor

On this side of the river the villages are small and dirt poor

Along the way back to Zaranj we stopped at the village where Governor Barahwi was born and raised.  It was slightly bigger than this one.  We also stopped at the village of the ANP soldier who was killed in the ambush last week.  We did not take pictures in either place and we hung out in the village of the ANP soldier for a good hour or so too, paying respects as it were.  It was a great day and my camera battery died after I took this picture so it is time for analysis and commentary.

The kerfuffle over the dam being built is an interesting contrast between two styles of doing the “build” part of the current Afghanistan plan.  There are direct implementors like us who take USAID money and use it according to the priorities of the Provincial and District governments.  We did not build anything new – we restored a check dam and a major irrigation intake that had been destroyed back in the 80’s. We used the same plans and the same engineers who built those irrigation systems back before the Soviets arrived and depopulated the rural areas of southwestern Afghanistan.  The provincial irrigation department coordinated with their national level counterparts in Kabul on every step of this project and sent in regular progress reports.  We also employed every man who could handle a shovel in the district for almost a year which is the whole point to cash for work programs.

The dozens of very senior, highly credentialed people who reacted with great emotion boarding on distress when they found out about this project are the other side of the coin.  These are people who have been given a great deal of authority yet have no responsibility for tangible on the ground results.  They never leave the FOB’s and never see anything of the country except what they can see while flying over it. There is a PhD hydrologist working for the USG and also coordinating with a British subject matter expert to come up with the Helmand Water Shed Master Plan.  I am sure they are professionals who take their work seriously and spend 12 hours a day on the computers doing I have no idea what.  But, good intentions are meaningless and the hundreds of millions of dollars being spent to bring people like that to Afghanistan and keeping them here for a year might as well be thrown into a rubbish bin.  Do they honestly think that when we leave here their “master plan” will be worth more than a cup of warm of spit?  How can smart people be so stupid?

The Helmand River Valley will never reach its full potential unless every farmers field is dug up, the clay removed, and proper drainage put in its place.  We discovered that back in the 1960’s when Lashkar Gha was called “Little America” and the State Department was trying to salvage the disaster that was the original Hellmand River Valley project run by the engineering firm Morrison Knudsen.  Since the completion of that project local farmers have irrigated their fields by flooding them. The NGO I work for tried to introduce drip irrigation to the local farmers years ago but they pulled the hoses out of the ground and started using them to tether sheep and goats.  The only way to water a field is to flood it; everybody knows that, and that is exactly what the farmers told the men who showed them how to use drip irrigation 8 years ago.  You cannot force change on Afghan farmers any easier than you can force change in Americas’ two-party political system.  Proving that drip irrigation is efficient and works better turned out to be completely irrelevant; if proving yourself right mattered the entire Helmand River Valley would be using drip irrigation and about 1/3 of the water they are currently using to water their crops.

Not that using less water is a big deal because, as any Afghan sod buster will tell you, that just means more water for the Iranians.  Water is a zero sum game for Helmand Valley farmers; changing that mind set is not going to happen in my life time….or yours.

Last year Michael Yon visited our Nimroz projects and put up an interesting post called Please don’t forget us.  He was writing about a massive women’s training program we ran that year because Zaranj has a more Persian culture, woman can drive in Zaranj, work outside the home and attend training courses without any problems.  We tried to do an even bigger woman’s training program this year but we’re rejected.  The woman had already been forgotten and this year’s crew in Kabul wanted “capacity building” which is the new buzzword on the FOB’s.  For 1/10th of the cost of keeping just one hydrologist in this country for a year, and I’m talking the million bucks of life support and security costs, not the salary or cost of mobilization which would easily add another million to the sum, for 1/10th of that we could have trained 300 woman and sent them on their way with the tools they needed (Sewing Machines, beauty salon equipment, wool and weaving boards etc..) to start their own business.

I know I sound like a broken record.  It just seems like it is always one step forward and two steps back around here.  My PM Bashir is now gone having moved on to bigger and better things.  I’m right behind him as my time living here is rapidly coming to an end.  The people of Zaranj have already been forgotten and are now on their own.

It doesn’t have to be this way and probably will never be this way again because we can’t afford to spend  2 billion dollars per week (according to last nights 60 minutes segment) to field an army of fobbits.  We have no business foisting a “watershed master plan” on the Afghans – it’s their country, their river, and their breadbasket and when allowed to do so they will build things back to the way they were.  It may not be optimal, there may be inefficiencies in the system that a PhD hydrologist could fix (if she had freedom of movement and actually spent time on the river) but who cares? What is going to remain when we leave is an Afghan system, built by and for Afghans and to be honest, I have no idea why we think we should be bringing all these “subject matter experts” over here in the first place.  Who are we to dictate to them how to manage their own natural resources?  We should send all the hydrologists back to America to aid in a gigantic shovel ready program I’d like to see started called “Get all our oil from Alaska and the Western States Project”.  There is where we should be spending 2 billion a week and we’d even see a return on our investment.  How strange would that be?

Cold Turkey

I have picked up and then discarded several bad habits over my lifetime but the one I’ve had the longest and the one that has proved almost impossible to quit is my lifelong addiction to reading the news in the morning. It started (as bad habits often do) with my father. He returned from a difficult year in Vietnam to be stationed at the Marine Corps Headquarters in Washington DC. We lived in Annapolis and the commute (back then) was reasonable but required a 0500 departure and that meant he couldn’t read the Washington Post in the morning with breakfast. Then a colleague told him how to get the WaPO early; “That’s easy Jarv, get Tim a route delivering the WaPo and there’ll be a bundle outside your house by 0300 every morning”.

I came home from school one day and found a brand new bike sitting in the drive way.  It was big too with large baskets on either side of the rear tire and one on the handlebars too. I was born without a magical thinking gene so I viewed my new bike with mixed feelings until my Dad got home that evening to explain.  He told me he needed to read the paper before heading off to work and the only way to do that was for me to have a paper delivery route and he found one just 5 miles away and signed me up. He added that as a token of his appreciation I don’t have to pay him back for the new bike. That’s the origins of my news addiction and I have fed it daily for 47 years.

I remember listening to Terry Gross of NPR interviewing some famous Hollywood producer back in the 90’s and the producer said something I have never forgotten. It went something like this; “I went to my doctor about this profound depression that had settled over me and his advice was simple. Do not drink any alcohol; none…ever and do not watch or pay attention to the news”. The producer went on to say that he has never been happier since following that advice.

I figured out the do not drink alcohol part after returning from Afghanistan and finding myself on the verge of homelessness. When life throws you some nasty curve balls the first thing that should be jettisoned is all alcohol consumption. It’s hard to do but you either do it or become a loser; there are no other alternatives. But quitting the news? It was once unthinkable; who wants to go through life not knowing a damn thing about what is happening in the world? But now it’s a piece of cake because the news we are being fed by the establishment media is demonstrably fake. It will cause immense cognitive dissonance if you believe what you are being fed because it is false. Witness the election of Donald Trump.

Last May writing in the  Ramsdell Brief I predicted that Donald Trump would win the presidential race and I explained why. I never doubted the outcome from that point forward with one exception. That was when I visited my parents for a week in October and watched Fox News with them. My folks had dialed back their Fox News consumption to just an hour in the evening and were rewarded with the unsettling premonition that our country was about to elect a candidate we felt to be the most corrupt person to ever run for the office. That cost my parents their peace of mind for a few months but as I reminded them on the 4th of November that was their fault for watching FOX and believing the narrative over their own lying eyes. The eyes revealed a groundswell of support and enthusiasm for The Donald and zero support for Clinton with the American public. It was clear as a bell but to the legacy media Tump’s win was a shocking surprise….even after Brexit.

I was not alone in predicting the obvious; many others such as Bill Mitchell at Your Voice Radio provided consistent, accurate analysis showing there was no (legal) way for Clinton to win. The results were a devastating blow to liberal progressives who have reacted with their usual vindictive name calling, mass hysteria and physical assaults of Trump voters. Families (including mine) have been ripped apart over members voting for Trump. This is a typical example written by a member of my family in response to my post-election schadenfreude meme postings on facebook;

All you do is spread hate and evil and white supremacist-ism.

Taking such a strong position on a topic you have done little to no research about is the definition of insanity. My family members are not insane so how is it that I and many others find ourselves in hot water with those we love over who we supported in a Presidential election?

The Main Stream Media Narrative, reinforced by academia and the entertainment business, have successfully presented a unified narrative to the public that is based in a liberal progressive agenda not on facts. It is the unified nature of this agenda that is troubling. The Jurnolist scandal demonstrated how news topics and spin are coordinated within the legacy media and the troubling story about CNN providing Hillary Clinton her debate questions before the debate demonstrates the brazen nature of this corruption.

What do you think had more potential to swing our recent presidential election? Providing one candidate her questions prior to the Presidential debates or some allegedly Russian connected hacker hacking both the RNC and DNC databases but releasing only John Podesta’s emails via Wikileaks? That is the story behind the current “Russia hacked the election” mania sweeping the main stream media today. The fact that the RNC was not hacked and knew that because they had called in the FBI last fall to determine if they had been hacked is irrelevant. The fact that John Podesta had fallen for a simple phishing scam due to miscommunication with his staff is irrelevant.  The legacy media does not traffic in fact; it traffics in fear.

Here’s something you don’t see everyday. A famous news reporter (ABC’s Martha Radditz) being told the truth about our efforts in Afghanistan (she reported not one word of my excellent analysis all of which has come to pass just about as I predicted) while being photobombed by the best OGA agent America produced in the last decade.

I can tell you that almost every legacy media story that came out of Afghanistan was essentially BS. Those who know the country well and were on the ground with the Afghans operating essentially as “effects based observers” knew this to be true which is why I started this blog. Am I saying all the media reports of the last decade out of Afghanistan were fake news? Of course not but that’s the point. I’m saying they were BS but calling them “fake news” is impossible because these stories contained facts while covering the political angles behind our involvement thus causing an Infinite-Regress Problem when it comes to “fact checking”.

Megan McArdle, writing in Bloomburg,  explains the problem well;

The currency of politics is what we might call “dubious statements” — things that have some basis in truth, but which, through sins of omission or commission, are spun into better support for one’s cause than the original material really offers. They are not as clearly false as, say, me claiming to be the Queen of Slovenia. But they are biased. Correcting for that bias is a tricky business, because of course, the fact-checkers themselves have biases.

 The exceptions are easy to spot because they are written by reporters with obvious background expertise. The best legacy reporter to cover our military involvements of the last 15 years is C.J. Chivers of the New York Times. Mr. Chivers, a former Marine Corps infantry officer, focused on the weapons and tactics employed by our adversaries as well as writing detailed portraits of Americans in battle without attempting to fit them into a political narrative.

Reporters the caliber of C.J. Chivers are rare which is a requirement for The Narrative because people with integrity and character do not traffic in fantasies like the Russian’s hacked the election and stole it from Hillary. But that’s the current Narrative so now we have an outgoing President expelling Russian diplomats over something we know to be a blatant lie and none of the legacy news coverage will focus on the fact that the entire story is not based in one iota of fact. It’s fake news

But not as fake as the white supremacist allegations being wielded around willy nilly in the press and on social media. Have any of you ever known a white supremacist? I remember one from back in 5th grade. He was an old white man who may have been blind but was clearly crazy and he would sit out of his front porch (he lived next door to my friend T J Parker)  and lecture us boys on how all the blacks should be sent back to Africa and that they were evil incarnate on and on and on. We thought he was crazy and could not believe that adults talked that way. Even as children we never took that kind of talk seriously and I know of no one since who would.

I asked one of my kids when we were talking about the Trump victory if she could imagine what would happen if some stranger went up to an Islamic woman and tried to take her hijab off in front of me? She conceded that it would not go well for the assailant in that scenario but insisted I’m not the typical Trump supporter. I say I am.

I say you can not punish people for being Muslim because all peoples who can contribute to our economy and want to join us are welcome. I also say Islam has no rights here and is not welcomed to carve out spaces for itself in the United States. The Narrative will allow this exact thing to happen in the name of diversity as it already has in France, England and Sweden.

Let us hope and pray that the Narrative continues to be diminished by the arrival of adults on the national stage. But I won’t know because I’m quitting the news fix and fixing to Free Range again.

Happy New Years to all who read this blog regardless of color creed or origin and hang tight. Change is coming and change is hard.

The Schoolgirls of Kandahar

To celebrate Renee Montagne’s last week hosting Morning Edition, we listen back to some of her favorite stories, including a piece about schoolgirls in Kandahar, Afghanistan. This story originally aired Nov. 25, 2010. I heard this story the other morning and despite my satisfaction with the results of our presidential election and the fact that […]

Dawn Dreams About an Impending Nightmare

I’m sitting on my deck drinking coffee as the sun comes up. The sky is softening with all the variations of reddish yellow (I can’t really see them all with my red/green colorblindness but can sense they are there) start creeping up from the dark horizon. A song is stuck in my head and I […]

Synergy Strike Force

I was doing some research for a writing project and came upon this description of one of the Synergy Strike Force operations buried in a post about the fighting in Marjah. My friends Dave Warner and Baba Ken were a near constant presence at the Taj over the years I was there and for a […]

Shoot Back

The gun control farce playing out post Orlando is a perfect example the federal government refusing to acknowledge the real threat while focusing on a non-threat. The attack in Orlando did have something to do with guns. That, of course, is a somewhat superficial statement but thinking it through leads to another fundamental conclusion. The inability […]

Fourth Generation War Comes To America: What Are You Going To Do About It?

Orlando is not the first mass shooting by a so called ‘Lone Wolf’ Islamic Jihadist in America; it’s the seventh in recent years but this one is different. The knee jerk reaction from the political left and their media enablers has (unbelievably) gained traction in the establishment media. The Orlando massacre has nothing to do with […]

All Marine Radio

All Marine Radio has been on the air for two weeks now and has some cool content. Mike McNamara does three hours a day with a guest on for an hour at a time. Last week he had both myself and Brigadier General David Furness, USMC on for an hour each and although Dave and […]

The Inchon Dwyer Group Goes Live

The Inchon Dwyer Group went live today with the All Marine Radio component of the All Warrior Radio Network up and running at allmarineradio.com. Back in 2010 I had a chance to visit the 1st Marines (call sign Inchon) at Camp Dwyer and wrote about my good friend Mike ‘Mac” McNamara and the 1st Marines […]

The Chim Chims Speak

The Chim chims are intel weenies as regular readers of the FRI blog have probably deduced.  They are all former members of our Armed Forces, they are all working in their field of expertise today with traditional Pentagon contractors and none of them is involved with this supposed “contractor spy ring.”  Despite this they have […]