visitors since 4 oct 2008

You Can’t Handle the Truth

This morning I was doing something I ought not be doing, reading the news sites (guaranteed to fill my bitter heart with enough anger to subtract a few months from my life span) when I came across an article on the latest failure of female officers to pass the Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course. The article was written by Marine 2nd Lt Sage Santangelo who had just failed day one of IOC and despite the quality of her writing, impressive background, and obvious grit her conclusions about why she failed are wrong.  She failed because she’s a girl and girls do not, will not and cannot compete with boys in feats of physical strength and endurance.  Anybody who functions in the reality based world understands this but the military is not an organization that functions in the real world because the people who make the military a career are people of the lie.

Earlier this week CNN covered a new study released from the Army War College which stated, in unequivocal terms, that “US Army officers lie routinely”.  Check this out:

In other words, in the routine performance of their duties as leaders and commanders, U.S. Army officers lie,” reads the study, which was conducted by the War College’s Strategic Studies Institute.

The 33-page report, compiled following interviews with officers across the Army, concluded that the Army’s culture is rife with “dishonesty and deception” at all levels of the institution — from the most junior members to senior Army officials.

It’s not just the Army either; its the entire military. I wrote about this a few years back when I described in detail why our Afghanistan strategy would fail.

The resolute reluctance by the American government to deal with reality in Afghanistan is not the exception to a rule; it is the rule. The rule of the big lie which infuses our military from top to bottom. I remember vividly the first time I experienced it in the military. Former Commandant of the Marine Crops General Krulak was then the Commanding General in Quantico, Virginia where I was an instructor at The Basic School. There was a new class of Lieutenants on deck and the General had come to welcome them on day one of their 6-month course. The first thing he asked was “who here thinks that a female is incapable of doing anything and everything a man can do”? I almost had a heart attack when I saw some of my new Lt’s preparing to state the obvious fact that there is no way the female gender of the species can physically compete with the male gender in any endeavor that requires strength, stamina, or endurance. Fortunately the good General had paused for only a second before concluding with this warning “because if you do I’ll dismiss you from our Corps this very afternoon” (that may not be an exact quote but it’s close).

I tend to turn on Fox news at night for background noise as I fix dinner. For those of you who are not Americans Fox News is a conservative news service that serves a niche market in this country called 3/4 of the American people. There was a time when Fox news would calm me, allow me the comfort of knowing that, despite the unrelenting liberal propaganda of the main stream media, NPR, PBS, Hollywood, ESPN, and even the fucking National Football League, there were still a lot of people in this country who viewed the world with the same set of values and expectations I did.  But I can no longer watch Fox news because they are incapable of realizing our military is incapable of doing the missions they think need to be done. This leave me incapable of watching them because their reporting on the topic is complete BS and I can’t take any more BS even if its Meygn Kelly feeding it to me.

What can or should our military do about ISIS or ISIL or the ICEHOLES which we should be calling them? It could accomplish much if it went about it the right way but it can’t because reality is optional for the Pentagon today.  Sending in “trainers” to train up the “Iraq Army” is an option that has already proven itself to be futile.  The Shia fighters of the Iraq Army are not going to fight for the Sunni’s of Mosul and if they do they’ll be as hard with the Iraq Sunni residents of that city as they will be with the ICEHOLES assuming they are even capable of prevailing.  When we think about the confrontation of ICEHOLES vs the Shia dominated Army of Iraq or Syria the question should be “can’t they both win”? To sort of quote Napoleon; “The City of Mosul is not worth the bones of one Marine Corps M32 Grenadier”.


The only rational response to the ICEHOLES would be a vigorous program of punitive raids launched from the sea and returning to the sea and ones that are composed of trigger pullers with no lawyers attached. The pentagon will never consider that option: lawfare is now their standard operating procedure and lawfare, by design, defuses responsibility if things go pear shaped in order to protect the careers of Colonels and Generals who (in the old days) would be accountable for the performance of their commands. Protecting the careers of the “vested” in order to get along with all the other parasitic organizations that infect Washington DC is now job number one for the military.  Finding ways to effectively impose our political will on the countries enemies is for losers, the winners in our military get life long lucrative retirement benefits along with 6-figure paychecks from federal contractors upon retirement.

What about the Coptic Christians and Yazidi or Yazeezee or whoever those people are?  Who cares? They are not our problem; they can’t nuke us – Russia is our problem  and also where the true threat is today because they have nuclear weapons and a lot of them too.  Know why they’re a threat?  Because serious military powers do not like to be treated like second rate has beens.  Remember this bit of alternative universe news?  Dominate Obama starring down the beta male Putin?  You think that kind of ridiculous amateur hour bullshit is funny?  It’s not; this is how the lives of millions are forfeited over the personal vanity of so called “leaders” like Barak Obama who built his public reputation on a foundation of flat out lies. Think I’m exaggerating?  Have you read the news recently?  Have you noted that Russian nuclear capable bombers are buzzing the coast of England?  How about this bit of good news; Ukraine crisis: “One miscalculation and Britain faces an existential threat to our whole being“.

Dealing with The ICEHOLES would be (if we had a reality based military) simple.  ICEHOLE is a fourth generation threat but one that must maintain the integrity of the territory it has seized and the myth that its fighters are unbeatable in order to maintain its legitimacy. We could, with a series of long range battalion size raids, demonstrate that they cannot control their lands nor beat their foes. We could then post You Tube videos of us beating them like a drum just to rub it in on the medium that matters today.  Additionaly we could dump metric shit-tons of weapons and explosives on the Kurds, the Shia, the Sunni royal families etc… and let them murder each other to their hearts content.  Who gives a damn?  We have all the oil we need right here in North America and should no longer allow the house of Saud or any of those other scum bags (who have been funding the Jihadis since day one but get a bye for that from DC because they spread tons of money around to “all the right people”) to have any control over our foreign policy.  They are not now and have never been our friends; they created ISIS with their world wide deobandi mosque bullshit and can now reap the rewards from what they sowed.

The Pentagon  should be thinking about how to mitigate the problems we now have with the wounded bear that is mother Russia.  What is more dangerous or unpredictable than a wounded bear? Dismantling NATO, an organization that proved it can’t fight in Afghanistan, would be a good start. Preventing the idiots of Foggy Bottom from interfering in States that border Russia would be another good start. Russia may not be our BFF but there is no reason to make her an enemy either.

Which brings us back to the woman in the infantry nonsense.  It is impossible to introduce woman into the infantry without lowering standards while crushing the morale needed by our warriors to sustain themselves in battle. The Marine Corps is not about the whims Lt Sage Santangelo or any other woman and the fact that they can’t do what they really really want to do as Marines is irrelevant.  The standards would have to be lowered for woman to compete but even though that has yet to happen the damage to the Marine Corps is already done.

When I was a student at IOC and then an instructor at that awesome course there was no endurance challenge that dropped students.  The whole point of IOC back then was to create an environment where the student was hungry and his instructors were mentors, not evaluators.  We told the Lieutenants on day-one that there were no tests, no evaluations and that we were there to teach the men who wanted to learn and if you weren’t down with that to hang out in the back of the class and shut up.  The evaluation phase of their officer training was over, they had already been through almost a year of training at that point – they were no longer student Lieutenants, they were straight up real Lieutenants expected to learn the lessons being taught to them.

And what a course it was too; so popular that when we ran Lieutenants waiting in the Naval Aviation pipeline or those who were waiting to attend their JAG officer school through the course to help fill in the class size (in the early 90’s IOC classes averaged 35 Lieutenants and you wanted 41 or so for a full platoon) we had the problem of future pilots and lawyers wanting to drop their respective contracts to become infantry officers.  Headquarters Marine Corps went bat shit crazy over that; disrupting the Naval Aviator or Lawyer training pipelines was verboten.  Now HQMC has a class of officer that is not good enough to be an infantry officer so he has to be a Motor Transport, or Logistician, or Intel or some lesser form of Marine Corps officer….are you kidding me?

That is a fundamental transformation of how the Marine Corps officer class is supposed to function.  There is a reason Marine infantry officers are not allowed multiple tours in Force Recon. There is a reason that the Marine Corps breaks out its TBS classes into thirds and forces men in the top third into MOS’s (military occupational specialties) like Motor T and Supply that they don’t want, but those wise policies are now moot because the Marine Corps leadership is more than willing to perpetrate the big lie even as it corrodes the very foundation of their Corps.

The Marine Corps is an institution designed to fight; not to coddle the delusional ideas of our political and media elite.  Inshallah there are a few generals left in the Corps who remember this. Only the dead have seen the last of war; at some point in the future we are going to need warriors, not social engineers.


Last week I received and polite email from Professor Richard Macrory of the Centre for Law and the Environment, University College London asking me for permission to use some of my photos of the Gandamak battlefield in his upcoming book on the First Afghan War.  When most Afghan expats hear the name Gandamak the first thing they think of is the really cool bar and restaurant in Kabul. But not me, I think of the battlefield first them the bar because I have great memories of both.  I went back to look at my Gandamak post last week and thought that like most of my posts it was too long and covered too many topics.  So, I’m writing a do over to publish as a new post which will provide an opportunity to plug the blog on Facebook, drive some more viewers to the blog and (Inshallah) help persuade my new agent to hook me up with a contract.

Traveling into contested tribal lands is a bit tricky. I had no doubt that the Malicks would provide for my safety at our destination but I had to get there first. The time tested decision making matrix us outside the wire types use in situations of this nature is to look at what the State Department is doing  and do the exact opposite. The State Department insists on brand new armored SUV’s with heavily armed contractor escorts fore and aft. I went with an old beat up Toyota pick up, no security escort, local clothes and a local driver.  Given the amount of Taliban activity in the Southern Triangle that is the only reasonably safe way to get in and out of isolated villages like Gandamak.

The first of three downed bridges between Gandamak and Jalalabad

The first of three downed bridges between Gandamak and Jalalabad

The road into Gandamack required us to ford three separate stream beds. The bridges which once spanned these obstacles were destroyed by the Soviets around 25 years ago. We have been fighting the Stability Operations battle here going on seven years but the bridges are still down, the power plants have not been fixed and most roads are little better than when Alexander the Great came through the Khyber Pass in 327 BC. The job of repairing and building the infrastructure of Afghanistan is much bigger than anyone back home can imagine.  It is also clearly beyond the capabilities of USAID or the US Military PRT’s to fix given their current operational MO.  These bridges are still down (as of 2015) and may never be fixed in our lifetimes.

Also destroyed 25 years ago - how do we expect the farmers to get their produce and livestock to market over this? What the hell have we been doing for the past seven years? I watchd the tallest building in the world go up in Dubai, with about 300 other super sky scrappers over the past four years but we can't even repair a few stone bridges in seven; check that, make it 14 years?

Also destroyed 25 years ago – how do we expect the farmers to get their produce and livestock to market over this? What the hell have we been doing for the past seven years? I watchd the tallest building in the world go up in Dubai, with about 300 other super sky scrappers over the past four years but we can’t even repair a few stone bridges in seven; check that, make it 14 years?

It took over an hour to reach Gandamack which appeared to be a prosperous hamlet tucked into a small valley. The color of prosperity in Afghanistan is green because vegetation means water and villages with access to abundant clean water are always significantly better off than those without. You can see the difference in the health of the children, livestock and woman (which is the correct order of importance for the tribes.)

My host for the day was the older brother of my driver Sharif. When I first met Sharif he told me in perfect English “I speak English fluently.” I immediately hired him and issued a quick string of coordinating instructions about what we were doing in the morning then bid him good day. He failed to show up on time and when I called him to ask WTF it became apparent that the only words of English Sharif knew were “I speak English fluently.” You get that from Afghans. But Shariff is learning his letters and has proven an able driver plus a first rate scrounger which is a vital for the health and comfort of his ichi ban employer.

The Maliks (tribal leaders) from Gandamak and the surrounding villages arrived shortly after we did. They walked into the meeting room armed I had left my rifle in the vehicle which, as the invited foreign guest, I felt obligated to do but being without my flame stick wasn’t alarming to me.  Gandamak is Indian country and everybody out here is armed to the teeth.  I was an invited guest, the odds of me being harmed by the Maliks who invited me were exactly zero.  That’s how Pashtunwali works. The order of business was a meeting where the topic was what they need and why the hell can’t they get some help, followed by a tour of the hill outside Gandamak where the 44th Foot fought to the last man during the British retreat from Kabul in 1842 and then lunch. I was not going to be able to do much about what they needed but I could listen politely which is all they asked of me.  Years later I would be in the position to lend them a hand when they really needed it but at the time of this meeting my agenda was a tour of the Gandamak battlefield.  I have enjoyed visiting old battlefields since I was a kid and would go on staff rides with my father.  I especially enjoy visiting the battlefields that not many people can visit and to the best of my knowledge I’m the only westerner who visited the Gandamak site in the last 30 or so years.

Sharif's Great Great Grandfather and son waiting on the Brits to make it down from Kabul

Sharif’s Great Great Grandfather and son waiting on the Brits to make it down from Kabul

As the Maliks arrived they started talking amongst themselves in hushed tones and kept hearing the name “Barak Obama.” I was apprehensive; I’m surrounded by Obama fanatics every Thursday night at the Taj bar. It is unpleasant talking with them because they know absolutely nothing about the man other than he is not Bush and looks cool. They are convinced he is more then ready to be president because NPR told them so. Pointing out that to the NGO girls that Obama can’t possibly be ready to be the chief executive because he has zero experience at executive leadership is pointless and I did not want to have to explain this to the Maliks. They have time and will insist on hashing things out for as long as it takes for them to reach a clear understanding. I have a wrist watch and a short attention span; this was not starting off well.

As I feared the morning discussion started with the question “tell us about Barak Obama?” What was I to say? That his resume is thin is an understatement but he has risen to the top of the democratic machine and that took some traits Pashtun maliks could identify with so I described how he came to power in the Chicago machine. Not by trying to explain Chicago but in general terms using the oldest communication device known to man a good story. A story based in fact; colored a little with little supposition, and augmented with my fevered imagination. Once they understood that lawyers in America are like warlords in Afghanistan and can rub out their competition, ahead of an election using the law and judges instead of guns they got the picture. A man cold enough to win every office for which he ran by eliminating his competition before the vote is a man the Pashtun’s can understand. I told them that Obama will probably win and that I have no idea how that will impact our effort in Afghanistan. They asked if Obama was African and I resisted the obvious answer of who knows? Instead said his father was African and his mother a white American and so he identifies himself as an African American which is confusing  because most black Americans identify themselves as African American but they have little if any concept of Africa where as in Obama’s case he really was an African and American and must know something about Africa because he didn’t know shit about America.  I had succeeded in totally confusing my hosts (and myself) and they just looked at me for a long time saying nothing.

What followed was (I think) a long discussion about if Africans were or were not good Muslims. I assume this stems from the Africans they may have seen during the Al Qaeda days. I think the conclusion was that the Africans were like the Arabs and therefore considered the local equivalent of scumbags. They talked amongst themselves for several more minutes and I heard John McCain’s name several times but they did not ask anymore about the pending election praise be to God. They assured me that they like all Americans regardless of hue and it would be better to see more of them especially if they took off the helmets and body armor because that scares the kids and woman folk. And their big MRAPS  scare the cows who already don’t have enough water and feed so scaring them causes even less milk to be produced and on and on and on; these guys know how to beat a point to death.

Maliks of Sherzad district

Maliks of Sherzad district

We talked for around 35 more minutes about the anemic American reconstruction effort, their needs, and the rise in armed militancy. The American military visits the district of Sherzad about once a month and remain popular with the local people. They have built some mico hydro power projects upstream from Gandamak which the people (even those who do not benefit from the project) much appreciate. The US AID contractor DAI has several projects in the district which the elders feel could be done better if they were given the money to do it themselves but despite this DAI is welcomed and their efforts too much appreciated. When I asked who had kidnapped the DAI engineer (a local national) last month and how we could go about securing his release (which was another reason for my visit) they shrugged and one of them said “who knows”?  That was to be expected but I felt compelled to ask anyway.

The elders explained, without me asking, that  they are serious about giving up poppy cultivation but they have yet to see the promised financial aid for doing so.  Thus they will grow poppy again (if they get enough rain inshallah). They need a road over which to transport their goods to market. They need their bridges repaired, and they need their irrigation systems restored to the condition they were in back in the 1970’s. They said that with these improvements would come security and more commerce. One of them made a most interesting comment and that was something to the effect of “the way the roads are now the only thing we can economically transport over them is the poppy.” A little food for thought.

At the conclusion of the talking part of the meeting the senior Maliks and I piled into my SUV and headed to the Gandamak battlefield.

The Last Stand of the 44th Foot

The Last Stand of the 44th Foot

The final stand at Gandamak occurred on the 13th of January 1842. Twenty officers and forty five British soldiers, most from the 44th Foot pulled off the road onto a hillock when they found the pass to Jalalabad blocked by Afghan fighters. They must have pulled up on the high ground to take away the mobility advantage of the mounted Afghan fighters. The Afghans closed in and tried to talk the men into surrendering their arms. A sergeant was famously said to reply “not bloody likely” and the fight was on. Six officers cut their way through the attackers and tried to make it to British lines in Jalalabad. Only one, Dr Brydon, made it to safety.

The Gandamack Hill today

The Gandamack Hill today

Our first stop was to what the Maliks described as “the British Prison” which was up on the side of a pass about a mile from the battlefield. We climbed up the steep slope at a vigorous pace set by the senior Malik. About halfway up we came to what looked to be an old foundation and an entrance to a small cave. They said this was a British prison. I can’t imagine how that could be – there were no British forces here when the 44th Foot was cut down but they could have established a garrison years later I suppose.  Why the Brits would shove their prisoners down inside a cave located so high up on the side of a mountain is a mystery to me and I doubt this was story behind what looked like a mine entrance to me.  It was a nice brisk walk up the a very steep hill and I kept up with the senior Malik which was probably the point to this detour.

Enterance to the "Brit Jail

Entrance to the “Brit Jail


Heading up the slope to the Brit jail

Heading up the slope to the Brit jail – not an easy walk

After checking that out we headed to the battlefield proper. We stopped at the end of a finger which looked exactly like any other finger jutting down from the mountain range above us. It contained building foundations which had been excavated a few years back. Apparently some villagers started digging through the site looking for anything they could sell in Peshawar shortly after the Taliban fell and people poured into their ancestral homes from Pakistan with little money and no work. The same thing happened at the Minaret of Jam until the central government got troops out there to protect the site. The elders claimed to have unearthed a Buddha statue there which they figured the British must have pilfered in Kabul. By my estimation there are 378,431 “ancient one of a kind Buddha statues” for sale in Afghanistan to the westerner dumb enough to buy one. The penalties for stealing ancient artifacts are severe; messing around with that stuff is not something reasonable people do in unstable third world lands. Nor is buying fake “one of a kind” Buddha statues.

I do not know where these foundations came from. Back in 1842 the closest British troops were 35 miles away in Jalalabad and there are no reports of the 44th Foot pulling into an existing structure. We were in the right area – just off the ancient back road which runs to Kabul via the Latabad Pass. My guides were certain this finger was where the battle occurred and as their direct ancestors participated in it I assumed we were on the correct piece of dirt. I would bet that the foundations are from a small British outpost built here possibly to host the Treaty of Gandamak signing in 1879 or for the purpose of recovering the remains of their dead for proper internment.

Site of the final battle

Site of the final battle

Foundation from an unknown building on Gandamak Hill

Foundation from an unknown building on Gandamak Hill

The visit concluded with a large lunch and after we had finished and the food was removed our meeting was officially ended with a short prayer. I’m not sure what the prayer said but it was short. I’m an infidel short is good.

Man I love Kabuli Pilau - and eating with my hands

Man I love Kabuli Pilau – and eating with my hands. Mehrab Siraj, a close friend and the Manager of the Taj guesthouse is sitting to my right

The Maliks of Sherzad district never received the attention they wanted from the US Government or the Afghan authorities.  Instead the Taliban came to fill the void and started muscling their way into the district back in 2011.  By early 2012 things were bad enough that my old driver Shariff called me to see if there was anything I could do about getting the Americans to help them fight off the encroaching Taliban fighters.  I was in the Helmand Province by then dealing with my own Taliban problems and could offer him nothing. That bothered me then and it bothers me now but that’s life I guess.

In August 2012 my old friend Mehrab was gunned down by Taliban outside his home.  By then several of the men I had shared a pleasant lunch with back in 2008 had also perished fighting the Taliban. Gandamak is now Taliban territory, the poppy now the main source of income. It will be a long time before a westerner will able to visit the old battlefield again.

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