visitors since 4 oct 2008

Spiking The Ball One Year Later

Last night I was coming back from the Lebanese Restaurant located in the Wazar Akbar Khan section of Kabul.   Back in the day it had a full bar and open patio with large crowds of expat customers, but not these days.   Now you have to walk through a long blast proof hallway through a series of locked doors and that’s after being searched for weapons curbside.   They still serve great food and have a good double apple shesha mix, but now when the waiter takes your order he’ll wink and say would you like the red chai?   That’s code for red wine and it arrives in a teapot with tea mugs.   The days of having an open bar are behind us in most Kabul restaurants. As my good buddy, occasional driver, sometimes terp and all around elite Afghan analyst Cartman and I turned the corner at Finest supermarket we saw a company of ANSF cutting the road to the interior ministry and Serena Hotel.  The cops didn’t have riot gear but they did have their batons.    The only way Afghan drivers will pay attention to the police is if they believe failure to comply will result in a wood shampoo.   Last night it was clear the cops were ready to administer wood shampoos to anyone ignoring their road block.

Cartman’s phone rings and I hear a feminine voice of an international reporter who I don’t know that well.

“Boss, she wants to know if Obama is coming to talk to Karzai” said Cartman.

“Tell her it is a gross breach of etiquette for her to talk to an Afghan male who is not a member of her immediate family.”

“She said your blog sucks and to shut up because she’s not asking you”.

The question sure put what I was seeing in context.  The local cops don’t come out at night and cut roads unless something big is up.

It turns out the Commander in Chief was on the ground for a secret visit that obviously wasn’t too secret and one has to wonder if we might want to think of rebranding the Secret Service because they can’t keep a damn thing secret anymore.

The president was on the ground in Bagram Air Base pumping up the troops but (according to NPR) not spiking the ball again on the one-year anniversary of his gutsy call to send a crew of hardened sailors into Pakistan to whack OBL.   Recently the gutsy call of last year had been in the news…something about Mitt wouldn’t have made it and I guess there is a professional video of the VP making an ass out of himself describing how the difficult decision was made.   Mitt batted the sleazy allegations leveled at him out of the park and then the real story behind the decision to whack OBL came out and it looks to me like our POTUS came as close to voting present as is possible with a presidential finding.

Next thing you know we have a not so secret, secret visit where the Prez pumps up the troops and then last night sneaks into Kabul to ink a really, really, great deal with President Karzai.   But none of this had anything to do with the anniversary of killing OBL because the president said so himself .

The Taliban decided that, they too were not going to observe the one year anniversary of OBL’s demise by conducting another well planned, poorly executed, attack inside the Kabul Ring of Steel (my guys call it the Ring of Steal).   The tactics were standard; a VBIED at the gate, followed by a ground assault by gunmen disguised in burkas.  The target a bit ambitious, it’s called Green Village and is a privately owned FOB designed to provide ISAF level security.   The results were predictable, the attackers rapidly isolated, this time rapidly dispatched, their intended targets unscathed, a bunch of innocent civilians, mostly children, killed or injured.

Most international guesthouses in Afghanistan meet the UN Minimum Occupational Safety Standards (UN MOSS) but Green Village far exceeds MOSS because its intended clientele is the US Government, not stingy, tight wad NGO’s.   Opened in 2008 the place has never stopped growing, always at 100% occupancy it has great food, a decent gym, racquetball courts, a bar, pool, and all sorts of kiosks selling local goods and other stuff.   I don’t care for the place myself because its pre-fabricated, high-end feel combines everything that is wrong about our efforts and confines it in a small, artificially nice place.   We have called it menopause manor for years because of the unending stream of reporting, generated by the residents, saying the Taliban are targeting them.

This morning the Taliban were not able to talk their way past the gate guards so they blew their VBIED on the road at exactly the time when one would expect 200 to 300 school children to be walking by.

This is a picture from 2005 of kids waiting for their school bus on the corner of Jalalabad Road and the Green Village road.  There are hundreds more children walking to schools along that road every morning now.  At least one of those killed and many of the wounded today were school children.

This is a picture from 2005 of kids waiting for their school bus on the corner of Jalalabad Road and the Green Village road. There are hundreds more children walking to schools along that road every morning now. At least one of those killed and many of the wounded today were school children.

The VBIED was followed up by three-man assault force who approached their objective wearing burkas, and started battling with the Serbs and Nepalese guards from the Green Village guard force.  At some point I guess they took the burkas off;  it would be weird for Taliban dudes to attack in burkas. The optics would be all wrong.

Anyway, one of the three attackers blew himself up, another was gunned down and the third made it into the laundry building which is still well outside the blast walls of the main camp.     The Kabul PD Critical Response Unit took the last one out soon after arriving on the scene. This was a typical Taliban attack good planning, excellent operational security, poor execution coupled to a complete disregard for collateral damage.

The planning was pretty impressive because Green Village is the only privately run FOB in the country that houses ISAF contractors and troops. It would be, by far, the easiest ISAF FOB in the country to attack; if you could sneak a battalion of infantry into Kabul.  One VBIED and three suicide bombers is not really an attack; it’s a statement. Like the last attack in Kabul it was successful only because it happened. The tactical failure of the assault force is, as it always is here, irrelevant.

Here are, in my humble opinion, are the take-aways’ from this latest attack.

The President’s schedule was compromised to the mainstream media.  The planning for his visit was excellent; in around 2000 out by 0400; that scheduled allowed the downtown to be cleared and the President to meet with Karzai with minimal disruption to local residents.  But I knew he was coming before he arrived because the MSM phone call put what I was witnessing downtown into context.  It appears I wasn’t the only one in on the secret.

This dispatch came in from Taliban central on twitter today:

Al Farouq spring offensive will be launched on May 3 all over Afghanistan.   The Taliban said the code name came from Islam’s second caliph, Omar al Farouq known for his military advances in Asia and the Arab world during the seventh century.

The announcement comes hours after Taliban insurgents armed with guns, suicide vests and a bomb-laden car attacked a heavily fortified compound used by Westerners in Kabul, killing seven people and wounding more than a dozen.

The militants claimed the attack in defiance of US President Barack Obama’s call that the war was ending during a visit to Afghanistan on the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death on Wednesday.”

Did the Taliban launched one of their pre-planned attacks a day early because they discovered that Obama was in Kabul?  The attack happened two hours after the POTUS left and that means two hours after all the elite police units in the capitol went off duty after being up all night because he was here. That’s a pretty impressive reaction time by the Taliban and it demonstrates the danger of allowing administration operatives to leak details of Presidential trips to preferred members of the MSM.

The reaction to todays attack by the people inside Green Village was also impressive when compared to the attack on ISAF HQ last fall.  None of the residents, many of whom are EUPOL police officers or ISAF troops and therefore have weapons, ran out to the walls to start shooting wildly in the general direction of attack.  They let the guard force do its work which, I understand, is a drilled SOP at Green Village. This reinforces the point that there is nothing, not one damn thing, big government can do more efficiently and effectively than the private market and that includes repelling ineffective insurgent attacks on FOB’s hosting government troops.

The Afghans are hosed; the agreement Obama came into Kabul to sign last night is long on promises but short on specifics.   The level of funding for ANSF he is promising has to be approved every year by congress and what are the chances that they decide to cut it at some point in the future?

Our involvement in Afghanistan is not going to end well.  I predict we will pull all of our military out in 2014 just like we did Iraq in 2011.  There will be no “force enablers” and, unlike Iraq, there will be no massive international Private Security Company presence to enable continued reconstruction.  We will pull all our forces out and with them will go all the reconstruction and when that happens the world bank will no longer support the Afghani.  The Afghani will then free fall just like the Zimbabwean dollar while the country erupts in civil war.

I have made many grim predictions on this blog over the years, my take on the so called Arab spring comes immediately to mind, and I always use the caveat that I hope I’m wrong.  So, I hope I’m wrong about Afghanistan’s future, but I doubt it.

All Clear

At 0630 this morning, Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in the form of the Kabul Critical Response Unit (CRU) finished off a crew of villains who had been fighting for the past 16 hours.  These guys, most likely HIG militants, had barricaded themselves in a building under construction next to the Azizi Bank located on Zambaq Square, which is right next to the diplomatic quarter.  This is the same tactic they used in the attack on the diplomatic quarter last September, but this time they fired from the opposite direction.

The location and approximate range fan for yestedays attack on the diplomatic quarter.  Deeper in this range fan (but well within Machinegun range) are the US Embassy, ISAF HQ, and Camp Eggers

The location and approximate range fan for yesterday's attack on the diplomatic quarter. Deeper in this range fan (but well within machinegun range) are the US Embassy and ISAF HQ.

At dawn the villains were still active in the 3rd and 4th floors (counting top down).  ANSF was hitting them with RPG's and rockets about every 45 seconds followed up with automatic weapons fire

At dawn the villains were still active in the 3rd and 4th floors (counting top down) from this building. ANSF was hitting them with RPG's and rockets about every 35 seconds, followed up with automatic weapons fire

Heavy Machinegun fire following up a rocket strike
Heavy Machinegun fire following up a rocket strike.  Camp Eggers is just off to the left of that building, Wazar Akbar Khan, where many expats live, is in the foreground.

ANSF had pinned the attackers in that building from the start and by the time I was able to climb up Bibi Mahroo hill to get a look at the site, the fighting was all outgoing.  The attackers may have still been firing AK’s at that point, but I could only confirm that they were taking all the incoming rockets and heavy machinegun fire while returning little of anything.  When a brick wall is all that separates you from the effects of RPG’s and rockets, the pounding your body takes from the overpressure is brutal.  I doubt that the villains were in any condition to offer effective resistance by the time the CRU went in to finish them off.  At 0630 local time, the scene was declared secure and ANSF announced that the insurgents involved in other attacks in the city had also been terminated.

These attacks, like those before them, accomplished very little tactically.  But they don’t have to accomplish much of anything.  Just mounting the attack is a victory for insurgents with the only audience that counts: the people of Afghanistan.  It may seem weird, but tactical victories are meaningless now for all sides of this conflict.

Watching the action from Bibi Mahroo Hill

Watching the action from Bibi Mahroo Hill

So we now have another problem.  Not the attacks – they accomplished nothing, as they usually do, except to demonstrate the insurgents’ ability to stockpile weapons and ammunition inside the most secure parts of Kabul.  That takes time, money, and access.  They had to pay for that access and whoever they did pay – that’s the problem.  But it’s not an ISAF problem; this problem belongs with the Afghans.   The latest casualty figured via Reuters;

Afghan security forces have killed 32 gunmen and arrested one more in operations to stop co-ordinated attacks by Taliban fighters that hit the capital, Kabul, and three other provinces, the defence ministry said on Monday.  Eight members of the security forces have been killed and 44 others, including five civilians, wounded, Mohammad Zahir, Kabul CID chief, said on Monday.

Given the amount of ordnance the insurgents fired off that is amazing.  This  isn’t the last time Kabul is going to be targeted; we’ll be in the hot seat again soon.  For now the local people are going about their business hoping that the next time insurgents decide to make a statement their luck continues to hold.

Storm Warning

America is currently experiencing some monster tornados deep in the heartland.  As dawn breaks across the land, the scenes of devastation are dramatic, but the casualties so far, remarkably low.  Modern early warning systems have a lot to do with that.  When a sudden serious storm breaks in Kabul, it is a tornado of metal, […]

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EFP’s

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Free Ranging Balochistan

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 […]