The Momentum Is Not With Us

The 300 Marines of Task Force Southwest (TF Southwest) are on their way back to the Helmand province of Afghanistan to help stabilize the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in that part of the country. Based on the mornings news from the front it would appear they will be too little, to late.

Last night the Taliban staged an attack on the biggest base in the North of the country, Mazar-i Sharif, killing 140 young recruits who were in the base mosque for Friday prayers. How is it that an army, mentored by international military units for the past 15 years, cannot protect its young recruits from being slaughtered on its largest base? This is the biggest question of the day and one we can anticipate will never asked by our crappy corporate media or explained by the senior American generals in Kabul.

But it’s worse than that because Mazar is not in Pashtun lands and the Tajiks and Uzbeks who comprise a majority of the population up north fought the Taliban back in the 90’s as part of the Northern Alliance. The Taliban is a mainly Pashtun movement and seeing the franchise branch out into the Tajik and Uzbek communities is a sign that the momentum is not going our way. There have been individual northern tribal fighters in the Taliban before but if the non-Pashtun tribes are now majority anti government it would seem that the game clock is rapidly running out.

Standing in front of the Blue Mosque in Mazar-i Sharif back when it was safe to travel the north.

Into the fray the Marines now enter without supporting arms or other combat enablers. They are not going to fight; their mission is to advise and assist which identical to the German army mission that is on the very base in Mazar that was attacked last night. The Germans suffered no casualties because the international advise and assist teams are housed on secure FOBs inside the Afghan FOBs where un-vetted Afghan troops are not allowed to enter.

And therein lies the problem. Mentoring of foreign armed forces is best done with teams who both train and fight with them. Advising officers after mounting (literally) a combat patrol to take you from your office to their office is ridiculous. You cannot put lip stick on that pig. Can it work? Hard to see how at this point.

Which brings up the question of what could the commanding general, Army LtGen John Nicholson,  (no relation to Marine Corps LtGen Larry Nicholson who has been featured in this blog several times) be thinking when he asked for a few thousand more troops to help train the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)? That question was answered for me by BGen Roger Turner, the Commanding General of TF Southwest. He said the Afghan security forces in general and the Afghan army specifically have improved to the point that with a little extra mentoring and support they can turn to corner and become self sufficient.

Marines from TF Southwest heading into the Helmand. BGen Roger Turner is on right. (Photo by Cameron Glendenning)

General Turner, who I have known for a long time, is nobodies fool. He is a bright, tough and more importantly, intuitive combat leader. General Nicholson has been at his job for over a year and also has a stellar reputation. Both of these men have been handed tasks that, in my humble opinion, cannot be achieved. But I don’t know what they know and will give them the benefit of the doubt.

Mainstream press coverage of this deployment has been uniformly uninformed, as has has the normally more accurate alternative media. This story posted on Brietbart yesterday is a good example. Read it and think about what you know on the topic when you’re finished. Then scroll through any of the last 10 posts on this blog and you’ll see what I mean. Apples versus oranges.

There is no indication that the momentum in this conflict is shifting towards our side. It clearly belongs to the various groupings of Taliban, ISIS and the other armed opposition groups and drug running syndicates that flourish countrywide. And then there is the annoying fact that the picture being painted by the Resolute Support mission staff differs (dramatically) from reality. This backgrounder PDF released by NATO states the following about ANSF attrition:

Reducing attrition is essential for the long-term viability of the ANSF, especially with respect to retaining quality personnel. If total strength objectives are increased in the future, attrition must be reduced even further. Average monthly attrition rates are 2.6% in the ANA and 1.29% in the ANP. The ANSF’s goal is to reach an attrition rate of less than 1.4%. On average, the ANSF consistently gets 6,000-9,000 recruits every month

Those rates of attrition are (to be charitable) suspect. This week Steve Inskeep of NPR had an interview with the author of a new book,  Our Latest Longest War, LtCol Arron O’Connell, USMC.  This book may well be the best yet from the military perspective on the Afghan conflict and I cannot recommend it more highly. Here is a portion of the interview:

O’CONNELL: I believe we’ve been trying to help them out of the tragic story of Afghanistan for 15 years. Americans are big-hearted people. The United States is the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world. But there is still space to reason what the appropriate amount of blood and treasure is to spend on a mission that seems to be in stalemate at best, backsliding at worst.

I think we have pretty good evidence now, both from Iraq and Afghanistan, that the massive assembly-line attempt to produce capable, professional national security forces has not worked well, and it’s been at tremendous cost. And for all those who say we should just keep doing what we’re doing in Afghanistan, let me explain why that’s not sustainable. Every year, between a quarter and a third of the Afghan army and the police desert. Now, these are people that we have armed and trained. We’ve given weapons to them. We’ve given them basic military training. And every year, a third of them disappear.

INSKEEP: With the guns.

O’CONNELL: With the guns. That’s not sustainable for us economically, and it’s certainly not sustainable for the Afghan people to just fill the hills with armed militias.

That sounds a little higher than 2.6% per month no? And this is why I feel it imperative to go back and cover this deployment. There is too much blood and treasure riding on this mission to condemn it to the mediocre coverage of a biased and clueless main stream media.

If you have the means and are interested in the truth regarding the situation in Afghanistan then please take the time to visit the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page and donate. We all deserve the truth about what is being done in our name and the only way to get it is to send someone over there who understands what he’s seeing and has the depth of knowledge to give context and background to his reporting.

After making a generous donation it would be appropriate to say a quiet prayer for the men and woman of TF Southwest. Their going need all the good karma in the world to pull this off. And my money is still on them.

Dealing With Moral Trauma By Doing The Impossible

Moral Trauma is a new term for an old phenomena. A good definition of the term (from the VA) is:

In the context of war, moral injuries may stem from direct participation in acts of combat, such as killing or harming others, or indirect acts, such as witnessing death or dying, failing to prevent immoral acts of others, or giving or receiving orders that are perceived as gross moral violations

Moral Trauma is mitigated by victory. Victorious warriors have no problem understanding the purpose behind their sacrifices in combat; everybody understands what they were asked to do when they are on the winning side. Yet only a few can comprehend what was asked of warriors who have failed. The moral insult increases by orders of magnitude when the loss was inflicted not on the battlefield but by the gross incompetence of the ruling class in Washington DC.

American military men should be used to this by now as we have won every battle yet lost every war (except Grenada but that was a minor police action) for the last 72 years. Winners never react well to losing and the American military man is no exception. Some turn to the bottle or drugs, some become physical training fanatics pushing themselves to the limit in search of a good nights sleep, and some turn that disappointment into a drive to do the impossible.

Can one man, a military vet with zero movie biz experience, write, direct, star in and produce a movie that is actually worth your time to sit and watch? No, that’s impossible. Many have tried and all have failed. Until now.

I got an advanced copy of my friend Kerry Patton’s new film Dark of Light and was happy to review it because he’s a good friend and a poster boy for post traumatic growth. Actually with his work on the TV show Outsiders he’s now a straight up poster boy.

Kerry Patton in his role as Shane on the Outsiders. What did I tell you? Poster Boy material.

I wasn’t looking forward to doing this because I didn’t see how Kerry could, by himself, come up with a movie that was … you know…good. Love him like a brother mind you and I’d put lip stick on his pig in heartbeat but I don’t have to because Kerry done good. His movie spoke to me and like the last movie reviewed here; A War, I saw a message directed at those who served as well as their loved ones.

The movie is about a widower home from the wars and tending to his young daughter who is raising as a single parent after losing his wife to cancer. His daughter is raped and murdered which we are spared from watching on screen (vets of Afghanistan and Iraq are sensitive to the violation of children having seen too much of it). A quote by Kerry’s character that is featured in the movie trailer (and caught the attention of my Facebook friends) is; “what’s that mean Maggie…Justice”? That is a question as old as Western Civilization and one that any Afghan male would have no problem answering.

The main character in the movie is a former interrogator/translator who is carrying heavy weight from his time overseas and the subsequent loss of his wife and child.  How does he handle it? Alone, like we all do, because few know and fewer care about what happened to us or what we did in the war. As T.R. Fehrenbach observed: in the book This Kind of War (the best book ever about Korea as far as I’m concerned).

Americans, even when they are proud of them, do not like their legions.

This is something we vets know well which is why most of us never talk about our time in the wars. Kerry’s character doesn’t talk about it either as he seems to understand nobody really cares much and that he will have to deal with his demons alone. The lead character, when we meet him in the film, seems to be doing as well as one can expect. He has a young daughter at home and thus is in the enviable position of living with somebody whose  happiness and well being is more important than his own. That’s a good situation to be in as it prevents being visited by the demons of self pity.

He’s got a farm with ducks and chickens which is cool but requires a trigger warning. The protagonist keeps his chickens housed in an elaborate chicken FOB. This blog is named in honor of my chickens who staged a jail break (while I was overseas) from the chicken FOB I had built and migrated to the barn. I liked them better then – chickens should free range.  And for the record in real life Kerry lets the chickens free range during the day so he’s off my chicken free range shit list. Shoot I’m off track again…apologies.

Kerry and I last year in DC where we were attending the funeral of an old friend

Kerry’s character seems to be coping well, but he’s not really and you can see that when he goes out to do farming chores. He stares off into the distance with a haunted expression that many of us know too well. But that happens and the healthy man or woman who has served knows that time is the only thing that will dull this sense of unease at being in a place where we are safe. We don’t do safe, we are born to battle and many of us only feel safe when facing the dangers of war. Think about that; as weird as it sounds it’s true.

Then the ultimate moral transgression is visited upon our character with the loss of his daughter and he crumbles, turning to the bottle and allowing the demon of self pity to drain him of his vitality, health, peace of mind and personal honor. What is the balm for a man’s soul when this much tragedy has visited him in such a short span of time?  Badal.

Badal, which means both “revenge” and “exchange,” is the primary mechanism for settling grievances in Pashtun society, and as with almost everything, it is first and foremost a process for restoring honor.

Our Latest Longest War: Losing Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan University of Chicago Press.

When the law fails to deliver justice then doing it yourself is a staple of American movies. Taken comes immediately to mind but those big budget movies, although entertaining, are so far from reality that they should be classified as science fiction. Kerry Patton didn’t have the money or desire to do over the top special effects scenes; he has a good story. More importantly Kerry doesn’t need the ego pumping spectacle of beating 20 bad guys to a pulp using found objects and fists. Unlike a man who pretends to be other men for a living Kerry doesn’t have to prove he’s a bad ass to anyone. He’s telling a story and it’s interesting and it’s not about him or being a ninja freak who runs up triple digit body counts while tossing off cleaver one liners.

Our tribe can fight harder and better than any other tribe on earth. We can be implacable foes and many of us have killed and killed often in the course of our duties. But we’re not killers.

We also know what we don’t know and what Kerry’s character doesn’t know (after grabbing the man police think responsible) is if he has grabbed the right guy. As pissed as he is he’s not comfortable with what he is doing to his captive and what he’s doing isn’t nice. We all have brought a little of Afghanistan home with us but not so much that we think extra-judicial killing is acceptable after returning home. If forced to do it then stand by; we know what were doing but we’d rather live the American dream as productive citizens. In the end our protagonist knows what he’s doing and it is a beautiful thing to see.

Veterans (and those who support them) need to watch this movie to let the stoicism of Kerry’s character remind you that you have choice on how you shoulder the weight you are carrying. You can reach inside for what sustained you in battle to see you through until father time takes away your pain or you can fold up your tent, surrender to despair and spend the rest of your life feeling sorry for yourself. There are no other alternatives. For us life is now a counter ambush drill – assault through and live; assault through and die but assault through….there are no other acceptable options. We go forward or we perish.

And if you reach inside far enough you’ll discover you are capable of the impossible. Kerry Patton has done the impossible and the product is a good, solid, interesting, movie that is accessible to the public (because it’s good) and a message to fellow vets. Dig deep, do not give into despair and remember the virtues you leaned in America’s Legions. Virtues gained in war can translate into success at home. Let Kerry Patton drive that message home to support you as you support him. He’s a true warrior who in real life is also a good man with a large heart and I love him despite his chicken jail and all hair gel I’ve been told he now uses.

What Did I Tell You? Even More MOAB Madness

Afghan Security Forces (ANSF) have apparently reached the cave complex targeted by last week’s MOAB strike. There are no western (or local) reports from the bomb site but Tolo news (Kabul based Afghan news service) reported with some specificity on the casualties from the attack.

Five days after U.S Forces dropped its most powerful conventional bomb on a system of tunnels and caves used by Daesh in the eastern province of Nangarhar, a security source told TOLOnews that the majority of insurgents killed in blast were members of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and members of Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group.

As with most new ‘news’ out of Afghanistan FRI readers already knew this. But here’s something we didn’t know and it’s interesting. ANSF has had the time to identify bodies and nationalities; they found 12 Tajikistanis and 13 Indian nationals and a few Filipinos.

When I was part of Ghost Team we had Filipino’s in every province we were working as financial officers. They were excellent company, honest to a fault and kind, gentle fella’s who were not interested in weapons, war and mayhem. It’s hard to imagine ISIS Filipino’s all the way in Nangarhar province…they just don’t seem to be that kind of culture.  I was once with my favorite finance officer on a road trip to Kabul when we rolled up on a hot ambush of then President Karzai’s brother and I thought “excellent get the camera in action…time for a Pulitzer” but this is how it turned out:

I was on the road that day too with my faithful finance officer Misael, who hails from the island of Mindanao but claims to be a Catholic and not a Abu Sayef member. When we turned a corner in the Tangi Valley and saw all the expended brass in the road, he ignored his collateral duty as photographers mate and wedged himself firmly under the dash board.   Misael has spent the last year in Kandahar and has developed an exaggerated sense of danger but I’ll get him snapped in soon enough. So there are only a few marginal pictures from a point and shoot camera due to the insistence of the ANP that we keep moving …  probably a good idea.

And that was the best I could do while still driving….these guys were just shooting (see the expended brass at their feet) but turned around when I stopped  the SUV to take the picture.  They weren’t impressed

Filipino Jihadi’s getting MOAB’d in Afghanistan…the world is truly a small place. And getting smaller too; looking at the list of the ISIS-K commanders the ANSF said were killed in the strike you’ll find:

Commander Mukhtar, retired Pakistani army officer

Commander Abu Bakr, Daesh’s chief of operations

Sheikh Weqas, member of Lashkar-e-Taiba

Commander Mohammad, an Indian national

Geeta, an Indian national

Commander Aftab, from Pakistani province of Punjab

Indians, Filipino’s, Punjabi’s and retired Pakistani army officers…that is a hell of a mix this late in the game.

But no reason to buy a lottery ticket right? Right! but this is; Police HQ Attacked in Kabul; 22 killed, over 100 wounded. Yesterday I wrote:

How will this attack affect ISIL-K? As I mentioned in the previous post they could very well shake off this attack and use it to prove how resilient they are in their propaganda. I’ll tell you the worst thing that can happen now is ISIS-K pulling off another spectacular suicide attack inside Kabul like they did last month.

The attack in Kabul last night was claimed (by the Taliban) to be the work of the Taliban but I’m not so sure about that. First reports on attacks like this are not always accurate. ISIS-K could very well claim responsibility for this attack and if/when they do we’ll see how effective the psychological component of the MOAB was on its intended audience. I don’t enjoy being correct (and I may not be about this attack) on my prognostications on Afghanistan but I usually am. I know the country which is why I want to go back and cover our continued efforts there.

Knowing I’m on some sort of streak I was just fixing to go out and get a lottery ticket when this popped up on the net:

Antifa girl is kicking my ass on the Go Fund Me front and that, my friends, is just not right. There may be many good reasons to dump 45k on this young unfortunate but none come immediately to mind. But having America’s reporter on the ground in Afghanistan telling you the truth about what the hell is going on there….one word friends; worthy. Yes, a worthy expenditure in support of truth, our troops and the new American way. The old American way involved getting all your news for the established media but those days are long gone.

Support free, independent, expert, Journalism by donating today to the worthy, yet getting left in the dust by #Moldylocks,  Baba Tim Go Fund Me page.

Mo MOAB Madness

This weekend I read a Macedonian paper to get a read on what India had to say about Pakistan’s involvement in the MOAB strike. An Indian paper to get a read on what Afghans not associated with the government thought about the attack and a Qatar-based Arab news network for the most even handed and comprehensive coverage of the incident and its aftermath.

India is claiming over 500 Pakistani nationals were killed in the attack. The Taliban said “using this massive bomb cannot be justified and will leave a material and psychological impact on our people” and Afghan journalist Bilal Salwary tweeted:

And that is a short summary of all the new news on the MOAB strike.

The New York Times published a piece on the visit of Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, President Trump’s national security adviser, to Kabul over the weekend confirming what we already knew about the request for more troops. Gen McMaster also:

… appeared to take a tougher line on Pakistan, which has been accused of using the Taliban as a proxy force and giving its leaders sanctuary. Many analysts, as well as some coalition partners, have been critical of the United States’ uphill struggle to persuade Pakistan to crack down on the Afghan Taliban leadership, which has used Pakistan as a base for its battles in Afghanistan.

We already know Pakistan’s Internal Security Service (ISI) drives the instability in Afghanistan and we already know the administration is tired of it. The last administration was tired of it too but who cares? There is not much we can do about it for the same reason Afghanistan can’t allow ISIS to gain a foothold in Nangarhar province. The supplies required to sustain (or commit more troops) have to come through Pakistan via the Khyber Pass.

Pakistan’s continued involvement in destabilizing Afghanistan is a problem that will have to be managed, not solved. And the problem is complex.

As covered in a previous post the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant Khorashan (ISIS-K)  was started by Pakistani Taliban who had fled from various tribal agencies in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier into Nangarhar province of Afghanistan. They were mainly Tehrik-e Taleban Pakistan (TTP) fighters (and their families) from the Orakzai, North Waziristan and Khyber tribal agencies.  But there were also fighters from Lashkar-e Islam; a group group led by Mangal Bagh who was described by the Long War Journal as a:

Robin Hood-like in character, claiming to mete out egalitarian social justice and rooting out crime, which to some extent is true. But he does this with an iron fist; any resistance is swiftly and permanently quelled. He has visibly reduced the criminal activities in the area, while also having a huge impact on decreasing drug trafficking in the area. At the same time he is engaged in a bitter ideological and sectarian struggle with a rival faction, a feud that has claimed many lives, and has blatantly and forcefully defied the state.

Armed Afridi tribal fighter outside one of their compounds in the Khyber Pass during the fighting between Lashkar-e Islam and the Afridi’s in 2009. Photo by Freerangeinternational

Mangal Baugh and his crew were courted by both tribal elders and the Afghan government as related in the excellent analysis of the organization by the Afghan Analyst Network:

 The Afghan government’s support to Mangal Bagh’s men is an open secret among residents of the Spin Ghar districts near the Durand Line. Residents from Achin recall the generous hosting of groups of long-haired Lashkar-e Islam fighters at the houses of Shinwari tribal elders, such as Malek Usman and Malek Niaz, in Achin. They had introduced their black flag to the area long before ISKP hoisted a flag of the same colour with different symbols and slogans. According to residents, Lashkar-e Islam’s flags were flying over many houses in the Mamand valley in Achin in the summer of 2014.

Mangal Baugh was killed by a drone strike in Nangarhar province on 22 July 2016. Since then his fighters have apparently gone over to ISIS-K which seems to enjoy the support of Pakistan’s ISI which is why Pakistan appears to be so upset about the attack.

Signs of recent attacks by Mangal Baugh’s Lashkar-e Islam on an Afridi compound adjacent to the Khyber Pass road in 2009. Note the half dozen RPG strikes along the front of the building. Photo by Freerangeinternational

Pakistani Taliban come to Afghanistan in flight from the Pakistani army. While in Nangarhar province they are courted by the government; probably because they would be causing cross-border mischief easily deniable by Kabul. Then they turn on the Taliban and declare themselves to be a franchise of ISIS. The government in Kabul reacts (I’m not sure when) by attacking them and then NATO starts to drone them but mainly it’s the Taliban who lead the fight against ISIS and even drive them out of the Mamand valley…..for a day. How the hell does the ISI figure in all this…it appears they have agents fighting with and supporting various Taliban mahez commanders and they had some with the ISIS villains too. ISI agent vs ISI agent – reminds me of Mad magazine,

Complicated right? And how does the Taliban shift so much combat and fire power into Achin district? A better question is how did so many militants and their families find and settle on so much land in Nangarhar province? It’s not like the local tribes are timid about defending their land. My guess is that the locals have lost too much manpower over all the years of fighting. I just don’t understand how Pashtun’s from the Pakistan side of the Durand Line can take so much land and power from tribes on the Afghan side. I guess armed tribal migration still happens in the modern world. When everyone is a renter use is solely according to possession. …which is an old world concept.

NBC news helpfully pointed out that President Trump was not consulted by Gen. Nicholson prior to the MOAB strike. That is technically true but irrelevant. The MOAB was already in Afghanistan and the criteria for using it as weaponeering solution would have been well established. Gen Nicholson is an American combatant commander of a NATO mission who has served in Afghanistan longer than any of his predecessors. He’s a smart guy and I can promise you, without having a news source to site, that he notified CENTCOM of his intention to drop the MOAB. The bomb is (obviously) too controversial for him not to do that. And if CENTCOM knew then Secretary of Defense Mattis knew too because that is how these things are done. That the military can now weaponeer solutions without micromanagement from the White House is a good thing.

It’s interesting that Afghanistan Security Forces (ANSF) personnel were moved back two kilometers from their forward line of troops (FLOT in mil-speak) and issued hearing protection prior to the strike. The MOAB was obviously a big impressive boom that must have been a real shocker for the people in the targeted area who survived the blast. ANSF has yet to close with the targeted area due to fighting on the route leading into the cave complex. That’s a series failure by both ANSF and NATO.

The MOAB would have cleared all IED’s within a kilometer or so of the blast and the Afghans have line charges to clear routes through mine fields too. They should have attacked and held the complex following the MOAB strike especially if they knew important leaders were meeting there. Dropping a big bomb and not using the shock it generates to clean up the survivors and sieze the targeted area is an amateurs mistake and both Resolute Support (NATO) and ANSF should be better than that by now.

How will this attack affect ISIL-K? As I mentioned in the previous post they could very well shake off this attack and use it to prove how resilient they are in their propaganda. I’ll tell you the worst thing that can happen now is ISIS-K pulling off another spectacular suicide attack inside Kabul like they did last month.

ISIS-K has obviously inherited part or is working with the old Haqqani (HiG) network. The Haqqani’s group was the only group that could consistently get inside the Kabul “Ring of Steel” and set up complex attacks. ISIS-K has shown they can do that too. If they pull off another attack they can boast that the only people impressed by our big bombs are us.

And for yet another example of how totaly worthless the American media has become we have this helpful segment from Fox news concerning how ISIS may respond to the MOAB attack. The news persons are operating with the assumption that ISIS is a connected, integrated, hierarchical organization which it most clearly is not. Thus every assumption they make in this piece is absolutely ridiculous. Watch it for entertainment value only as I swear these people do not have one clue about what they are talking about.

That silliness passing as news reporting is yet another reason why it is important to send America’s reporter back to Afghanistan. The fighting there is not over and we’re going to stay so it is important that somebody who knows what he’s doing return to cover this important story. Visit the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page today and donate to support professional reporting of this confusing conflict.

MOAB Madness; The Media Gets It Wrong Again

If I needed a sign to confirm my plan to return to Afghanistan was a sound one I need look no further than the coverage of yesterday’s MOAB bombing. It is clear that the usual ‘experts’ who comment on these types of events are clueless and that makes me wonder (yet again) just how much of the news we digest is factually correct.

The only Fox news show I’ll watch (occasionally) is Tucker Carlson but yesterday he struck out when he interviewed  an “army veteran” who claimed these tunnels were the same ones used by Osama bin Laden to escape in 2001. He then added some nonsense about the Haqqani group using them too before saying the MOAB was intended to “make ISIS fighters think twice about using such tunnels.” Everything the guy said was demonstrably wrong as is most of the reporting out today following up this story.

Osama bin Laden was trapped in the Tora Bora Complex in Khogyani district not the tunnel complex in Achin district which is at the head of the Mamand valley and the terminus for supply runs from across the border. It is also a training complex as well as a command and control node. ISIS has used this complex from day one because it is remote, easy to defend, fortified from back in the Mujaheddin days  and is a direct link (via donkey train) to the ISIS-K Pakistani homeland.

The MOAB will have a psychological impact on ISIS but that impact may or may not strengthen their resolve; it’s hard to say. What we do know is that militants in Afghanistan have been on the receiving end of unbelievable amounts of firepower for 16 years now and it does not appear to have affected their ability to replace casualties, motivate their fighters or stay in the fight.  ISIS can now claim that not even the “Mother of all Bombs” can hurt them and use the attack to drive recruiting through the roof. I don’t know how they’ll react and also know that nobody in the meida does either.

We do know that Islamic State of Khorasan (ISIS-K) is comprised mainly of former Tehrik-e Taleban Pakistan (TTP) militants from various tribal districts on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line. We also know they have been joined by Salafis from Kunar, Nuristan, Nangarhar and a number of other provinces.  What we don’t know (not that it matters) is how many militants were killed in the strike. The Independent Journal Review says over 100 people were killed based on a source who appears bogus to me, the Guardian says 36 were killed but doesn’t explain where that number comes from and the BBC is reporting dozens killed. All of these reports carry speculation about the number of civilians killed in the strike too which is something the press never speculated on when Obama was president but I digress.

The truth is we’ll never know how many were killed because their bodies are sealed inside the cave complex. That’s what 18,700 pounds of H6, (a mixture of RDX (Cyclotrimethylene trinitramine), TNT, and aluminum) delivered in an air-bust ordnance is designed to do. Were there non combatants present in the caves? There had to be a number of boys and old men who do the cooking, goat herding, water humping, firewood gathering and other housekeeping chores. But I wouldn’t call them noncombatants; young males and old men will always be co-located with Islamic terrorist fighters in the bush.

Weaponeering is the process of determining the quantity of a specific type of lethal or nonlethal weapons required to achieve a specific level of damage to a given target, considering target vulnerability, weapon effect, munitions delivery accuracy, damage criteria, probability of kill and weapon reliability. The  use of the GBU-43 MOAB yesterday was a weaponeering decision; nothing more. It may well have sent a message to other potential antagonists but was used because we wanted to destroy several metric tons of weapons and ammunition stored inside a cave complex.

There will be unintended consequences from the use of this weapon and one of them is this: the world just became a much safer place. I just finished an interesting book titled The Upcoming War With Russia, written by General Sir Richard Shirreff, the recently retired Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (NATO). The book is an urgent warning from a senior commander about an impending conflict with Russia and takes place in May through July of 2017. It starts when the Russians seize the Baltic states because they are convinced NATO lacks the will and combat power to stop them. General Shirreff cities the problems we are currently facing regarding aircraft and combat unit readiness (they are at the worst levels of my lifetime and damn near as bad as 1949) as well as the attitudes of our current political leaders as the precipitating factor in Russia’s decision to initiate hostilities.

The purpose of his book was to alert the reader to a real, no shit, existential threat and he was spot on with one exception. He anticipated that Hillary Clinton would win the election and American foreign policy would remain as fickle as it had been under Obama. The sales of his book will now plummet because in one bold move President Trump removed the greatest enticement to World War III and thus the purpose of the book.  America has returned as a legitimate counterweight to any nation seeking to overthrow the current status quo. We are leading from the front again and tolerating no shenanigans.

But just because we are great again doesn’t mean things are going to go smoothly from this point forward. We are in a real sticky situation in Afghanistan and if we do not radically change the approach we are taking there we’ll never leave, never make the place better, never stop the fighting and never stop the dying. The Marine deployment to Helmand province this spring is the first attempt by the United States  military to try something a little different. That deployment needs to be covered by somebody who knows what he is seeing and can understand context as well as the big picture.

You’ve got me to do that but I need you to help get me over there and in position to report. Please take the time to visit the Baba Tim Go Fund Me Page and support independent, honest, competent reporting from the front lines.

MOAB’ing ISIS in Afghanistan

Last Sunday (April 9th) CNN published a report of another American soldier killed in action while fighting in Afghanistan. The operator; Staff Sgt. Mark R. De Alencar, 37 from Edgewood, Maryland, a member of the 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne); was killed in while battling with  Khorashan in the Nangarhar province. Today the pentagon announced it had dropped the “mother of all bombs”, a GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) on Islamic State in Iraq and Syria-Khorasan province, or ISIS-K.

Readers who have followed our combat efforts overseas will remember the Khorashan Group as a fake news story  floated to justify the use of American tac air in Syria. During the summer of 2014, James Clapper, the US Director of National Intelligence for the Obama administration, released a dire warning about a new threat emanating from Syria called the Khorashan Group. A collection of 50 experienced, hard core former Taliban leaders in Syria specifically to develop external attacks, construct and test improvised explosive devices and recruit Westerners to conduct operations targeting the USA and Europe.

The Khorashan Group story was instantly outed on the internet. I was confused to see the ISIS group in Nangarhar province called  Khorashan; they have been there for years and I had never seen them called Khorashan before so I started looking into the ISIS problem in Nangarhar and found a hell of a strange story.

Free Range International on the Torkham border crossing in 2009

The current ISIS-K is not related to the former Khorashan group and probably got that name from the excellent Afghanistan Analysis Network (AAN). In July, 2016 Boris Osman of AAN published a report titled The Islamic State in ‘Khorasan’: How it began and where it stands now in Nangarhar. Boris explains in detail where ISIS came from, how they gained a foothold, why they remain and also why they are not spreading outside of Nangarhar province.  He also get’s the credit (as best I can tell) for the adding Khorashan to ISIS when referring to the ISIS movement in Nangarhar. The Afghan’s, like the Arabs, call them Daesh which seems easier to me but conflict analysts seem to like more specificity.

The ISIS-K designation makes sense when divorced from the bogus Khorashan Group of 2014. The definition of Khorashan (from the article linked above) is pasted below:

Khorasan is a historical term for areas populated by peoples speaking Iranian languages in northeastern Iran, the Transoxania part of Central Asia (Mawr-un-Nahr) and Afghanistan, mainly north of the Hindu Kush Mountains. In IS propaganda, it now comprises all of Afghanistan, most of Pakistan as well as Central Asia. Its reaches are felt as north as Kazakhstan and in eastern Turkistan.

That definition encompasses a wide range of tribes and peoples including Tajiks, Uzbecks, and the Hazara who do not normally cooperate with the largely Pashtun Taliban. Four main themes resonate throughout its propaganda: the duty of violent jihad, ISIS’s own legitimacy in fronting this cause, the trans-nationalism of its movement, and the discrediting of the “deviance” of its jihadi rivals. The propaganda is sophisticated and designed to affirm its legitimacy, and therefore “ownership” of the Afghan jihad.

This map of a proposed railway line (that will never happen in our lifetimes) also shows the critical Jalalabad – Torkham road

The most important road in Afghanistan runs from the Torkham border crossing in Jalalabad province to Kabul. Over eighty percent of Afghanistan’s trade comes across that border which is a direct link to Pakistan’s ports. In 2010 Pakistani Taliban, mainly from Tehrik-e Taleban Pakistan (TTP) started to settle in  Achin, Nazian, Kot, Deh Bala, Rodat and Ghanikhel districts. They invoked  Melmastia from the local communities saying it was their moral obligation to help their Pashtun brothers escape the Pakistani army which was mounting operations targeting the TTP in the Northwest Frontier.

Crossing into Afghanistan at the Torkham border crossing

Fast forward to 2014; the muhajerin (refugees) from Pakistan have continued to settle in Nangarhar but then the Pakistani army starts operation Khyber II and militants from the Pakistani tribal agencies flood across the border to get away from them. Mule trains full of weapons and ammo, some of them 50 animals long, arrive daily into the Mamand valley in Achin district along with hundreds of militants. Suddenly the muhajerin declare they are now ISIS and evict the Taliban from the districts they control but leave the Afghan security forces alone. The locals are happy because trade is moving, Taliban and government road blocks are down and nobody is shooting at anybody.

But then the Taliban attack ISIS in Nazim district and all hell broke lose with ISIS battling back hard and taking control of five districts by June of 2015. Then the Taliban call in their ” elite forces under brutal commanders from Loya Paktia and Loy Kandahar” and these guys infiltrate the Mamand valley (in Achin district) one night during Ramadan and (from the linked AAN article):

……. on 3 July 2015, local men (including those not usually sympathetic to the Taleban) and Taleban rose up together against ISKP, with calls by the Taleban via the mosque’s loud-speakers for all men of fighting age to come out and participate, or face seeing their homes burnt down. Taken by surprise, the ISKP fighters retreated from most of Mamand valley by the end of that day.

Could you imagine that? Every mosque in the valley telling the locals to come fight the Daesh (which is what they call ISIS-K) or else? I would have loved to have seen that and now at the head of that same valley we dropped a  MOAB on the caves where those donkey train loads of weapons were stashed. But how the hell does the Taliban shift elite forces around the country? I have some experience moving truck loads of armed men around Afghanistan and even when it was legal it was hard to pull off. It’s impossible now (for us foreigners) but the Taliban did it.  Plus where was the Afghan Security Forces and Resolute Support in all this?  They have been targeting ISIS-k with drones in the past and have fought them before and are apparently fighting them now.

Afghanistan, a country I honestly love, is a weird damn place where the most improbable things like the population of an entire valley; reinforced by elite Taliban units from Kandahar and Paktia, stage an uprising and drive out a powerful foe in one day; happen as a matter of routine . Amazing.

This is a reminder that we are not done in Afghanistan. We will be sending the Marines back this spring to the Helmand province. My goal is to cover that deployment with a month-long embed but I need your financial help to pull that off. Please visit the Baba Tim Go Fund Me Page to support quality journalism from the front lines.

Full Mission Rehearsal

Task Force Southwest (the 300-man Marine Corps unit deploying to the Helmand province this spring) had a Full Mission Rehearsal exercise at Camp Lejeune, N.C. that ran from February 27th – March 3rd. I was able to attend the first two days of the exercise (as an embedded reporter) with the Afghanistan National Police (ANP) training team who will be working out of the provincial capitol of Lashkar Gah. It was time well spent with a diverse crew of experienced Marines.

By diverse I mean they are from a variety of military occupational specialties (MOS’s) and they are volunteers. As mentioned in a earlier post one of the rules for embedded journalists is to not use the name, age and hometown of Marines in our reports. This is a force protection measure designed to prevent cyber stalking and/or cyber bullying of Marines and their families. That’s a legitimate concern these days so I won’t be focusing on individuals in this or future posts.

The ANP training team will be working with the ANP 505th Zone National Police in Lashkar Gah. The ANP team is heavy on officers, most of them experienced captains or majors who have deployed to Afghanistan. Even the Physicians Assistant attached to the team has over 12 months experience working with Afghan Security Forces (ASF) in Tarin Kot, capitol of Uruzgan province which was serious Indian Country.

Large pre-deployment exercises for Marine Corps units are designed to make the various subordinate headquarters work through their standard operations procedures (SOP’s) for contingencies they anticipate encountering while deployed. They do this using the communication equipment they are deploying with and under the control of their higher headquarters (BGen Roger Turners command group) which will be located at Camp Shorabak (30 miles away). These exercise can be boring as hell if the exercise control group is off it’s game but that no longer seems to be a problem.

Afghan role players (acting as the 505th ANP headquarters) getting briefed on the days events.

The exercise control folks are now contractors who run exercises for a living and they were excellent at keeping the problem running smoothly and inserting serious events (like a VBIED blowing up at their front gate) when they were least expected. Contractors are a significant improvement for designing and running exercises of this type because there is no military occupational specialty (MOS) for conducting training exercises but you still need experts to do it correctly.

Military theorist Carl von Clausewitz said “everything in war is simple. But the simplest thing is difficult”.

He was describing friction as it relates to military operations and that was the goal of the full mission rehearsal; gum up the works with serious problems and see how the various command groups handle solving them. It’s not the most exciting evolution to watch and it is also not that fun for the Marines who are working through the problems but it’s important to do. Operations centers need to remain calm and focused when under stress and the only way to get them there is to stress them during their pre-mission training.

An old concrete building at Davis Airfield  (a WWII era landing strip converted into a training area) served as the headquarters building for the ANP training team.

Experienced military professionals can tell how good a unit it is within minutes of watching their tactical operations control (TOC) in action.  But as a member of the press I wasn’t allowed inside TOC’s so I watched the problems play out from the medical spaces. I saw what I expected to see which was a group of experienced Marines working through problems in real time. Friction makes that hard  to do when all the communication nets are involved (and some go down when the exercise controllers want to add stress) and I’ve seen command groups melt down with helmet fires under similar stress.  The ANP training team did fine; they didn’t get too excited and never got far behind the event horizon by failing to maintain good situational awareness with their higher headquarters.

I found a corner on the second floor above medical that had not been claimed by Marines and slept there too. I knew to roll up my sleeping bag and mat and to keep my ruck packed during the day (so I didn’t stand out like a pouge) and it wasn’t long before I was making friends and chatting with the team.  I liked them too – a good crew with a positive attitude and great stories from their prior deployments to Afghanistan. Plus I slept like a baby in my little corner on the second deck. I’m always awake before dawn and had a rental car staged at the airfield so I skipped out every morning for coffee and an egg sandwich. Talk about living the high life!

My best guess (and this is just a guess) is Task Force Southwest will head into the Helmand to help with the training and  coordination but remained confined to the bases they will be  working from. The 215th Corps of the Afghanistan National Army and the 205 Zone of the Afghan National Police are taking a serious beating while not getting their share of combat enablers like Tac Air (Afghans use the A-29 Super Tucano which is a good ground attack platform) which it seems are being concentrated in the east to battle an out break of The Daesh (ISIS) in Nangarhar province (where we lost another special operator last night).  It appears (again to me) that the 215th Corps and 205th Zone are fighting a holding action designed to keep the Taliban focused on Helmand while the central government in Kabul tries to consolidate its control of the strategically critical eastern provinces.

If my guess is true then this deployment will be a lot of risk some potentially long term gain making this one of the more unique deployments in the history of the United States Marine Corps. This is why I feel it needs to be covered correctly. Please help make this month-long embed with TF Southwest  happen by stopping by the Baba Tim Go Fund Me Page. This deployment is too important to be ignored….

 

Washington, D.C.

I was in the nations capitol to see my good friend Eric Mellinger retire after a distinguished 30 year career as an infantry officer in the United States Marine Corps.  I wasn’t the only one making a long trip for a short ceremony; men who had served with Eric came from all over the country to pay their respects to a Marine we admire and love like a brother. Which not like a man loves a woman; we might be modern day Spartans but we’re not lifestyle Spartans. People from all over the world read this blog and I don’t want to cause any confusion on that point.

Colonel Eric Mellinger USMC addressing the crowd at his retirement yesterday. Good friend, fearless patriot, proud American

Eric is not your average Marine Corps Colonel; as a field grade officer he has bounced between commanding (multiple times) at the battalion and regimental level and running the operations for senior Fleet Marine Force commands. He’s been a player for his entire career and like many senior officers in the Corps today he got on the fast track when he was selected to serve as an instructor at the Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course in Quantico, Virginia. I knew a healthy percentage of the Marine Corps fighting generals would make it point to attend his retirement and I wanted to get their take on the upcoming deployment of the 300-man Task Force Southwest to the Helmand province in Afghanistan.

I was not disappointed; there were a couple dozen general officers and senior colonels at Eric’s retirement ceremony which was held at the Marine Corps Barracks in Washington DC. My friends Dave Furness,  Paul Kennedy,  Mike Killian, Brad Schumaker (who I hadn’t seen in 25 years)  and  Larry Nicholson were all there. Long time FRI readers will be familiar with these Marines (except  Brad) and for those of you who aren’t hit the hyperlinks on their names to read posts about them during their tours in Afghanistan. The reaction I got about the upcoming deployment of the Marine task force was unanimously less than enthusiastic.

Lt General Larry Nicholson, retired Colonel Mike Killian and I at the post retirement reception

There was a time when the Marines, after many months of hard fighting, had the province locked down. In 2011 I could travel from Lashkar Gah to Khanishin without drama. North of Gereshk was too risky for our crew but local commerce flowed without too many problems and the big towns of Naw Zad, Musa Quala and Sangin (not shown in the map below) were solidly under ISAF /Afghan Security Forces (ASF) control.

This is a map depicting Operation Khanjar which started on 2 July 2009. This is a good map of the southern Helmand province and the entire area was secure by 2011.

The Marines gave the Afghans the security space they needed by beating the Taliban like a drum and driving them out of the province. Those who remained ditched their weapons and went along with the program. There were always pockets of resistance but they were small and the level of violence manageable. The commanders I spoke with felt they had done what was asked of them. They gave the Afghans the security space they needed to sort themselves out. The Afghans blew it because they were selfish, greedy, stubborn and refused to cooperate among themselves. The Marines I talked to feel no obligation to go back and try again; the Afghans had their chance already and can now enjoy the bitter harvest of their failure to do what they said would do.

When I asked my friends their thoughts about my planned embed with Task Force Southwest (the Marine unit heading back to the Helmand province) their reactions were mixed. Most supported the idea but my closest friends were strongly opposed. They felt the risk was too great, for a story nobody cares about and it was time for me to move on to other things.

Helmand province in 2015 – the Taliban now control the south too

My experiences in Afghanistan were different than my Marine Corps buddies. I was there a long time, made some really good friends but more importantly  my team and I saw the results of our efforts at formal dedication ceremonies of the district irrigation systems, municipal stadiums as well as the roads, school and bazaars we built. We had a hell of run.  We knew we helped and received the gratification of having Afghans tell us how much they appreciated what we had done.

I guess I’m a bit stubborn myself because I think there is a story in the Marines return to Afghanistan and I invested too much into the place to simply walk away. But I will not be able to embed to cover this story without the generous support of people who, like me, feel it a travesty to abandon the Afghans to fate.  If you have the means and interest please take the time to visit the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page to make a donation.

Did We Lose Sangin District to the Taliban?

Taliban Take an Afghan District, Sangin, That Many Marines Died to Keep” said the New York Times a few days ago which, in classic demonstration of poor headline writing, turned out to be technically not true. Located further down in the Times story was a quote from an Afghan National Army (ANA) spokesman who explained what they had moved from the district center to a new base.

 “It is not true,” Maj. Gen. Dawlat Waziri, the spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, said of the reports of Sangin’s fall. “We relocated an army battalion in Sangin, we moved them to a newly built garrison. Whenever we move our forces in Sangin, they claim that they capture Sangin.”

Long War Journal’s Bill Roggio’s pointed out the obvious which is if the Taliban control the Sangin district center then they control the district.  With an ANA battalion somewhere in the district the central government can claim some degree of control  but in reality the tribes control Sangin and have ever since the Marines left. According to the standard Afghanistan counterinsurgency narrative  it would appear the Taliban now has the momentum it needs to prevail in it’s confrontation with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GoIRA). But appearances are deceptive in Helmand province.

What is happening in Sangin district has little to do with the Taliban movement and everything to do with incessant inter-tribal conflict to control land, patronage and the lucrative poppy trade. The quote below from a Marine who served as an embedded trainer to the ANA sums the situation up well.

“The issues in Sangin are so much deeper than Taliban versus ANA,” one of the last U.S. Marines to serve as a combat adviser in the district, Dom Pellegrini, told Checkpoint, using the acronym for the Afghan National Army. “Those categories aren’t at all adequate to describe what was going on, and I’m not sure I ever figured out what was going on. It was a drug war, I guess.”

In 2011 the Marines were able to bring one of the tribes, the Alikozai, into the government fold. Bill Ardolino writing at The Long War Journal examined this development in detail at the time concluding:

Thus, this reported alliance with the government and the Marines in Sangin may represent less of a watershed political breakthrough and more of an accommodation with a minority of the district as they seek advantage in a bloody tribal grudge match.

The Alikozai tribe gained power and influence after siding with the government in 2011;  Helmand expert Mike Martin described what happened next in this 2016 Washington Post article:

Many in the local government and police hailed from one local tribe, the Alikozai, which historically had battled for drug profits with the neighboring Ishaqzai tribe. The Ishaqzai, predictably, threw in their lot with the Taliban.

“The police in Sangin are a drug militia belonging to one tribe, and the Taliban are another drug militia. Whoever controls the Sangin bazaar is able to tax the drug crop. Hence why people fight for control of the bazaar,” next to which FOB Jackson was located, Martin said.

The Ishaqzai had thrown their lot in with the Taliban back in 2006 which was when the other big tribes around Sangin including the Alizai and Noorzai did the same. They joined the Taliban after the provincial governor at the time, Sher Mohammad Akundzada, (a leader in the Alizai tribe) was sacked (at the insistence of the British) due to his participation in the opium trade. Sher Mohammad Akundzada was President Karzai’s brother-in-law and was key to holding the fragile Durrani tribal alliance that Karzai was using to hold the southern portion of the country together. At the time of his sacking Akundzada said he was being forced to turn his 3000 man militia over to the Taliban because he could no longer pay them. The Durrani tribes in the Helmand then started to turn on the Karzai government to protect their land and booming poppy trade.

Sher Mohammad Akundzada elected to the Meshrano Jirga (House of Elders) in 2010 and now living in Kabul.   Photo by Richard Mills

The Helmand tribes turned to Taliban funding networks (Quetta shura, or Peshawar shura or the Haqqani network) to gain the resources required to fight the government and ISAF but they never ceded operational or tactical control to those networks.  They fought for the survival of their tribes in a province that produces 90% of the world’s illicit opium supply turning Helmand into the most dangerous province (measured by ISAF casualties) in Afghanistan.

By relocating the ANA Kandak that was in Sangin outside the district center GoIRA has removed itself from the middle of a tribal civil war fueled by poppy, power and position. The Taliban are not going to come in and seize the district because the “Taliban” are already live there; it’s their district.

There is no reason to rush back into the district center to re-claim it because the government has never really held it to begin with. The Marines heading to Helmand province this summer know the history of the tribes, the players involved and what’s driving the cycle of violence province wide. But knowing the root of the problems and being able to address those problems is a problem.  A problem because it requires lots of coalition building, chin wagging and horse trading among the tribes but very little (if done correctly) shooting.

Solving that kind of problem is one of the challenges facing Task Force Southwest but (ideally) one that requires expert language skills, political juice and the kind of credibility that takes years to establish. Task Force Southwest needs a Pashto speaking diplomat, who is known to the tribes, and has the proper authority for deal making. They may have one for all I know as the Department of State would normally contribute appropriate level personnel to a Task Force of this nature.

They could also use an Islamic Chaplin but the military doesn’t have many of them which is a pity. The only untainted line of communication to the common people in Helmand province is through the Mullahs who are independent of the tribes because they come from outside the tribal system. It is the common farmer who benefits from stability (and who must, by now, be sick of war) who will listen to arguments from the Mullahs. Taking your case directly to the people is another way to bring pressure on both tribal and government leaders to do the right thing. That type of effort would require an American Chaplin (with serious Islamic Scholarship credentials) coordinating with the senior Mullahs. I’ve heard of at least two who fit the bill over the years but do not know if they remain in the service. If they do the next TF Southwest rotation should include one.

Alokozai tribal militia fanning out on patrol in support of GoIRA security forces in Sangin, January 2017; Photograph by Watan Yar/European Pressphoto Agency

Did Afghanistan lose Sangin district to the Taliban? No; they simply moved their army out of the way of the tribal infighting which they should have done when the Marines pulled out in 2014. Is it there a chance the Marines will be able to decrease the level of violence in Sangin district? Probably not; they are other issues closer to the capitol of Lashkar Gah they are going to have to focus on first.

The situation on the ground  facing Task Force Southwest is complex and given our past inability to develop capable, cohesive, proficient Afghan Security Forces, seemingly hopeless. The Marines think they are going to deliver positive change in Helmand province and by stiffening the Afghan Security Forces. I’m not sure how that will work but know what the Marines know and also know they are not, as an institution, comfortable with failure. If they think they can make a difference then my money is on them.

This is going to be the most important yet least covered combat deployment of a generation. You can help ensure this high risk deployment is covered honestly and fairly by supporting independent, expert combat journalism…. donate today at the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page.

Marines and Social Media

I was able to embed with Task Force Southwest for the first two days of their full mission rehearsal exercise last month. Embedding as a journalist with the Marines was a new experience for me that required signing  a dozen waivers acknowledging (among other things) that I knew the ground rules.

Guess what the most interesting ground rule was? No identification of Marines by name and if I had photograph of a Marine with the name tag on his uniform visible it had to be obscured before being published.

Major Kendra Motz, the public affairs officer (PAO) for the Task Force, explained the concern was potential cyber stalking and/or cyber bullying of the Marines and their families through social media accounts. I had asked specifically about using the name, age and home town of the Marines because that’s a  staple of military journalism.  It humanizes the story and reminds fellow citizens that the men and women serving are people just like them.

I was surprised by the new policy but recognized instantly it was a prudent measure. Given the Marines United  scandal the Corps is currently enduring an operational measure designed to prevent exposure of deployed Marines to potential abuse on social media is interesting.

One could make the argument Marines shouldn’t be on social media. Tier One operators aren’t on Facebook; it might be time the rest of the armed forces to do the same. Given the viciousness of trolling from all sides of the political spectrum as well as the weaponization of social media by groups like Daesh (ISIS); banning Marines from using social media makes sense. But passing regulations that you anticipate will be widely ignored makes no sense. And I haven’t any sense on the feasibility of a social media ban in today’s Marine Corps but would be thinking about it were I tasked with finding potential solutions.

Marines United was the topic of an almost two-hour podcast from All Marine Radio with the Legislative Assistant to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Brigadier General Dave Furness. For readers new to FRI Mike “Mac” McNamara is the host of All Marine Radio and he worked for Dave when he took Regimental Combat Team 1 (RCT 1) to the Helmand province in 2010.

Dave, Mike and I outside the CP of RCT 1 on Camp Dwyer, Helmand province

Dave, Mac and I taught at the infantry officer course together in the early 90’s and have been good friends ever since. The Helmand deployment was the third combat deployment where Dave and Mike served together so as you can imagine they are tight.

The program linked above is fascinating, informative, and at times damn funny. It is a rare thing to listen to a general officer giving you the same brief he gives congress members. At the 1 hour 19 minute mark Mac transitions into a discussion about the barracks. What they are talking about is how much control Marine commanders enforce on their Marines during their off duty hours. BGen Furness reviews the barracks have changed from the open squad bays that we had as platoon commanders to the high raise dormitories of today’s Corps.

This is a topic of heated debate these days; open squad bays were not popular with junior Marines but they made the maintenance of good order and discipline easy. The modern barracks are nice providing Marines a degree of privacy and control of their living spaces never available in the past at the expense (apparently) of good order and discipline. Dave and Mac are adamant that discipline saves lives on the battlefield and they connect that discipline directly back to how and who runs the barracks. They have the statistics from their last combat deployment to back that up and it is a fascinating discussion to listen in on.

As Dave got going on the barracks being a key indicator of unit discipline Mac goads him by saying it’s not that way now and Dave goes off like a firecracker. I had tears in my eyes I was laughing so hard because I knew Mac had done this on purpose. Dave Furness is not only a good friend but an interesting, articulate guy who can tell some stories but who also has a critically important job which he remembers at the 1 hour 45 minute mark.  He must have looked at a clock and realized he was behind the power curve for the day when he suddenly said (clearly alarmed) “Hey I’ve got to go! I’ve got a job to do……”It’s hysterical radio and one of the reasons I’m enjoying being a fan of this unique venture .

The Girlfriend has a PhD in organizational leadership and she listened to the barracks discussion twice – taking notes both times. I urge all who have an interest in leadership to listen to this podcast; it’s an education in how to achieve excellence at the lowest levels of an organization.

The Go Fund Me campaign is off to a great start and I appreciate the support from the best friends a man can have. I still need a little help to make it to Afghanistan to report the story of Task Force Southwest. Please  take the time to support straight reporting from the front lines by donating to The Baba Tim Go Fund Me page.