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 attacked from the opposite direction.

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 pinned the attackers down at the start of this incident yesterday afternoon. When I climbed up Bibi Mahroo Hill this morning all the shooting (and there was a lot still going on) was being done by the ANSF. When a brick wall is all that separates you from the exploding RPG’s, anti tank rockets and heavy machinegun fire; the concussive effect from the over-pressure are 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 had been terminated.

These attacks, like those before them, accomplished very little tactically but then again they don’t have to. Just mounting the attack is a victory for insurgents with the only audience that counts: the people of Afghanistan. Tactical victories are physical victories and at this point in the conflict physical victories don’t count only, moral ones do. The Taliban are fighting against infidel invaders and a corrupt central government. They are gaining the moral high ground with the Afghan people by standing up to the worlds most powerful military and an unpopular central government.

Watching the action from Bibi Mahroo Hill
Watching the action from Bibi Mahroo Hill

So we now have another problem. Not the attack; it accomplished nothing except to demonstrate the insurgents’ ability to stockpile weapons and ammunition inside the most secure parts of Kabul. That takes time, money and access; whoever they paid for the access is the problem and those kind of problems are endemic in Kabul.

Here are the latest casualty figures for this series of attacks from Reuters;

Afghan security forces have killed 32 gunmen and arrested one more in operations to stop coordinated attacks by Taliban fighters that hit the capital, Kabul, and three other provinces, the defense 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 an amazingly low count. 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 tornadoes deep in the heartland.  As dawn breaks across my homeland the scenes of devastation are dramatic but the casualties so far remarkably low. When a sudden serious storm breaks in Kabul it’s a tornado of steal and there is one unwinding now in Kabul right down the street from me.  In Afghanistan tornadoes are not a problem; spectacular Taliban attacks are there is a series of them in progress. So far we have reports (via UN and media) of attacks in Zanbaq Square, Qanbar Square, (both in Kabul) the ISAF logistics base a few miles east of downtown and the Parliament. There are also reports of attacks on the PRT’s  in Jalalabad and Logar, the police headquarters in Paktia and Kandahar. With the exception of Kandahar all these targets are in the East; exactly where ISAF is claiming they will concentrate their attention this fighting season.

The problem with announcing your plans long before commencing an offensive is that the enemy gets a vote too.  And the enemy has decided to preempt ISAF with an offensive of their own.  As usual, the attacks are rather spectacular and for a change well coordinated. Tactically they will fail. The attackers will inflict whatever minimal damage they can with small arms, explosives, and RPG’s and then die in place. Afghan security forces have locked down Kabul and no doubt the other sites too and can now afford to take their time clearing out the villains.

The fighting is one block over to the right as you look down the street in this picture. The traffic is pretty light but has not stopped as people try to get around the police barricades that have isolated the attackers. You can't see them but there is a group of school girls clustered at the corner at the right end of the street peering down the road towards the fighting - the ANP escorted them down the road a bit after this photo was taken. A steel tornado is ravaging the downtown just a few hundred meters away while these local people are trying to find their way home. People can adopt to most anything
The fighting is two blocks over (to the right) as you look down the street in this picture. The traffic is pretty light but has not stopped as people try to get around the police barricades that have isolated the attackers. There is a group of school girls clustered at the corner at the end of the street peering down the road towards the fighting, probably trying to decide what to do – the ANP escorted them down the road a bit after this photo was taken. A steel tornado is ravaging the downtown just a few hundred meters away while these local people are trying to find their way home. People can adopt to just about anything.

Wind tornadoes strike with little warning; steel tornadoes strike with no warning. We were exiting a local bank when the shooting started. It was close to us but you get that around here sometimes. A few rounds fired from one weapon is not a reason for alarm and when Haji and I heard that we thought nothing of it. As we headed back towards the safe house we were surrounded by frantic armed men, some in uniforms some not, some carrying M4’s, others sporting AK’s.  They were the security detail for a senior Afghan official and trying to clear the usual traffic jam in order to get their charge off the street and into a secured location. To the perceptive man on the street, frantic high-end Afghan security guards are as sure a sign of heavy winds inbound as a tornado siren would be in the Midwest. My driver Haji jan (former old school Taliban who has been with me for 5 years) looked at me and said, “trouble.” I looked back at him and said, “no shit.” We both smiled because there was nothing else we could do until the traffic jam cleared up.

When I wrote the last post, I asked the question, “to what end?” when discussing the soon to be launched ISAF offensive. I don’t care how many “leaders” are killed in night raids nor how many insurgents are rolled up in this pending offensive. Does anyone honestly think it will make a difference?  I don’t. The Taliban seem to be able to penetrate the Kabul “Ring of Steel” at will and I bet, based on the amount of shooting I’m hearing, they stockpiled ammo and weapons inside the downtown area just like they did for their last attack inside Kabul.  Can ISAF stop it? No, it has nothing to do with ISAF; it’s an Afghan problem and only they can fix whatever it is that is dysfunctional enough to allow HIG and Taliban militants to launch operations inside Kabul at will. I’m getting the feeling that these “spectacular” attacks in Kabul are the new normal. It’s going to be a long summer.

Great photo from todays attack by Reuters
Great photo from todays attack from Reuters

The Afghanistan Live Blog from Al Jazeera has the best coverage and is updated frequently.  You can find it here.

Operation Magistral

There was an article on Afghanistan last week that got my immediate attention.  The article had a one day life cycle and I have not seen any follow ups which, given the content, is surprising.   I am not referring to the change in  night raid policy – I couldn’t care less about night raids because tangible results after years of doing them are nil. The argument for them is that the tactical situation on the ground would be much worse without them. I’m not seeing how it could get much worse.

The big news (for me) was an article running titled Details Emerge on Coming U.S. Offensive in Eastern Afghanistan. One can only hope it was another April Fools prank because I cannot believe we would do something so utterly pointless.  Here are the alleged objectives:

A senior U.S. government official in Kabul, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the new troops will have three primary missions. First, they will work to expand the so-called security bubble surrounding the Afghan capital, which has been battered by a spate of insurgent attacks in recent months. Second, they will try to better connect Kabul with the key southern city of Kandahar, a hotbed of resistance that NATO forces largely reclaimed last year.

The third mission will be the most important, the most complicated, and potentially the most dangerous. The troops, the senior government official said, will move toward the Afghan-Pakistani border as part of a broad push to reduce the numbers of anti-government fighters, weaponry, and bomb-making material flowing in from Pakistan, where militants operate freely from large safe havens.

Extend the “security bubble” from Kabul to Ghazni, clear route one from Kabul to Kandahar and then turn east and clear all the Taliban from the border provinces of Paktya and  Khost with 5000 extra paratroopers?  That’s not going to happen. That plan is not only DOA; its crazy.

Late in the Soviet Afghan War the Soviets tried the same kind of Op for probably the same reasons only they had 28,000 men trying to clear a tiny piece of road running from Gardez to Khost. The Soviet Offensive was called Operation Magistral and if you’re a gamer and have played The Battle For Hill 3234 you were playing a game based on a battle from Operation Magistral. It took two months for Soviets and their Afghan partners to get to Khost and the offensive was conducted in November through January – the non fighting season when the weather is cold, the snow deep and most of the Muj fighters still sitting out the winter in Pakistan.

The Southeast Region - the next offensive is supposed to clear all of this
The Southeast Region – the next offensive is supposed to clear all of this with the forces on hand plus an extra 5,000 troop mini surge.

 

The Gardez to Khost highway - this tiny part of the Southeast Region
The Gardez to Khost highway – this tiny part of the Southeast Region took the Soviets 2 months to clear using 28,000 troops

Number comparisons between Soviet forces back in 1987 and American forces now are irrelevant. The Soviets had to dig out the thick belt of heavy weapons the Muj used to fortify the Satukandav Pass (30 km east of Gardez) using infantry fire and maneuver. Americans have drone pilots back in Nevada who could sort that out. Any Taliban fortifications uncovered by our side would get plastered by rockets and 2000lb JDAMS. That’s why the villains now use IED’s and when they do fight they do so in areas where there are lots of civilians so they can drop their weapons blend back into the normal pattern of life when hard pressed. The area between Highway 1 and the Pakistan border is huge and has heavily populated flat lands with lots of mountains in between.  It is not the Helmand Province where the Marines were able (with twice the manpower) to dominate the lower Helmand basin in large part because terrain, vegetation, and population density favored their direct fire weapon systems. That still took years for them to accomplish and I don’t want to get into what that effort cost in casualties because it is too damn depressing. It’s depressing because those sacrifices gained nothing that will last.

The reason I bring up Operation Magistral is not to point out the Soviets had 28,000 men and still got their asses kicked – they didn’t. The Paratroopers from the 82nd who are scheduled to conduct this offensive (if it happens as outlined in the article) won’t get their asses kicked either. But they’re going to take some casualties and they are going to inflict much more than they take and my question is to what end?

Brother _B_ and I were chatting on Skype earlier trying to figure out why ISAF would launch an “offensive” in a such a heavily populated area .  _B_ figures its to demonstrate the “capabilities of the Afghan Army we have been mentoring while creating space to withdraw”.  I agree – that is the classic reason to do this kind of operation but it also showcases the Pentagon’s steadfast refusal to deal with reality. The whole American COIN concept is predicated on having a legitimate host nation partner and our ability to build host nation security forces. We don’t have a legitimate host nation government to partner with and have failed to build meaningful capacity in the Afghan Security Forces (ANSF).

Bother _B_ and I know how this so-called offensive is going to end – we’re going to lose soldiers while killing scores of Pastun tribesmen and dozens of civilians. The second we pull out, the turf will go right back into the hands of the local Taliban and/or Warlord. That  is exactly what happened when the Soviets pulled out of the same area after inflicting a good thumping on the Muj back in 87. This planned offensive may well be the craziest idea floated by the American military since Operation Eagle Claw.

Crazy seems to be a theme lately because guess what those crazy Afghans are up to now? They’re threatening Hillary Clinton’s legacy! This is from the linked article;

Clinton embraced the cause long before the first U.S. troops landed in the country, and as secretary of State she has brought Afghan women worldwide attention, political power and unbending promises of American support.

“We will not abandon you,” she pledged.

First; yes, you will abandon them, you already have in most of the country.  Second, what the hell does Hillary Clinton’s “commitment to women” have to do with the foreign policy of the United States of America? I’m all for helping Afghan woman and have done more than my share of projects in support of that effort. But I was working for an NGO which is the only appropriate vehicle for that kind of change. NGO’s work from the bottom up and can ignore or avoid corrupt officials if they are smart enough to understand cultural dynamics. Why is the office of the Secretary of State now a platform where liberal ruling class elites can indulge in imaginary pet projects designed to build a political legacy? Billions of our dollars and the lives of thousands of our fellow citizens hang in the balance in Afghanistan but the issue is Hillary Clinton’s legacy? The State Department had a lot to do with starting and shaping this conflict (if you break it you own it) while also underhandedly creating the dysfunctional central government by foisting their favored candidate and the SNTV voting system on the Afghan people.  Nobody seems to remember these facts nor the myriad unintended consequences of allowing senior people to dabble in the Great Game and leave others to contended with the fall out. The lessons that normally accompany abject failure are being swept under the rug instead of being mined how to not make the same mistakes in the future. Hillary Clinton’s legacy my rosy red ass….I’ve got her legacy right here;

I do not care for people who create tales of martial exploits in order to win high office because it reinforces the sad fact that they think the rest of us are stupid
I do not care for people who create tales of martial exploits in order to win high office because it reinforces the sad fact that they think the rest of us are stupid

Now that I got off my chest let me throw in some more pictures and get back on track. Check out the photos below:

The US Embassy entrance in 2005
The US Embassy entrance in 2005 looking towards Massoud Circle

 

School in nangarhar in 2005
Public school in Nangarhar Province 2005

 

The front entrance to the Embassy gate
The US Embassy entrance in 2012 looking from Massoud Circle back towards the gate; note the difference in security set up

 

Public School in Nangarhar 2012
Public School in Nangarhar Province 2012

Shortly after the first set of  pictures above were taken ISAF decided that we were going to do COIN and emphasize protecting the people. Every year since then the Taliban and other insurgent groups have grown stronger while not much has changed for the average Afghan. Yet ISAF and the American embassy have never stopped putting up more walls, more wire, and adding more movement restrictions which isolate diplomatic and aid staff even more than before.  Security for me but not for thee is what I had to say about this back in 2010, and not much has changed since. Admitting this seems to be problematic even for  the practical people of Australia. From the linked article:

Australian officials have rejected a report commissioned by the government agency AusAID that is critical of the security assessment in Afghanistan, insisting it be rewritten to match upbeat claims of dramatic progress.

What can you say about that bullshit? What I’d like to say to any Australian government representatives reading this post is that The Bot and I can do a 3 year Provincial security assessment, in any province mind you, for 2.5 million (Australian dollars please – they’re worth more than American dollars) and we’ll have teams on the ground in every district bringing in the ground truth within 96 hours of signing the contract. But we don’t do re-writes; that may seem a disadvantage based on the article above but look at this way: save a million here and million there and before you know it you have a huge budget surplus and are then politically strong enough to take the truth straight.  And that’s how you should want your security assessments….right?

Let me predict something and I know I’m right so don’t even think about emailing me asking to bet…you’ll lose. There will be no offensive by ISAF in eastern Afghanistan this year or next year or any year. The conventional military has done all they can do and it is time for them to leave. They think their fighting big T and little t Taliban but they’re wrong. What they are fighting is a Afghan insurgency because the Afghans don’t like foreigners and they don’t like the government in Kabul no matter who is charge. They know and have known for years that the only way to get a fair settlement in a land dispute or any civil law matter is to take the issue to a Taliban judge for adjudication. We have screwed this up so badly words are not adequate to express my level of disgust with what we have wrought on the Afghans.

 

Return to Kabul

Kabul is currently a tense place. It has had periods of unrest many times in the past (the 2006 riots that erupted after American soldiers caused a multi-fatality motor vehicle accident springs instantly to mind) but Kabul isn’t experiencing unrest – it’s tense like a tight spring. The endgame is near, internationals are no longer welcomed in most parts of the country and barely tolerated in the rest. Armored SUV’s, still the only way most internationals will travel in Kabul, are routinely stopped and the legally licensed weapons of the international security consultants confiscated. On a technical note every weapon owned and licensed to PSC firms are now illegal because the Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF)  was supposed to take over the security duties from international PSC’s last month and that’s not remotely close to happening. For those who do have APPF guards on their compounds the word is the guards have no weapons and are not being paid by the APPF leadership. This is a surprise to who? Nobody that has clue about how these things usually work out in Afghanistan I can assure you.

The locals in Kabul are concerned about what will happen when ISAF and the international community pull out. They are also disgusted with the US, ISAF, the UN, the big international reconstruction firms and the Afghan politicians who are looting the country. Who can blame them? I’m disgusted with the American politicians who are looting my country too. Over here the mob is inflamed by Koran burning and rouge shootings. In America the mob is inflamed by a media manufactured “racially motivated” shootings.  The New York Times prints articles about corrupt officials in Kabul and ponder aloud why they remain at liberty.  I’d like to know why Jon Corzine is still at liberty; he stole 1.6 billion dollars from his investors making the millions his Afghan counterparts are pocketing pale in comparison. But we know why these men are free – politically powerful members of corrupt political machines never face the consequences of their actions.

With Kabul so tense we are spending most of our time in the compound tracking atmospherics with our local national staff.

The Koran Burning Apologies

It was not the apologies that were so bad it was how they were made and what was said. Some regular Joe’s in Bagram made a mistake and placed Korans into an incinerator. Local Afghans saw this and, with the help of the soldiers, rescued the material. That’s the story – there is nothing else need be said and here’s why. We have an 11- year track record in Afghanistan of not only respecting cultural mores and traditions but of bending over backward to show that respect. Any accusation or remark by a senior Afghan official that we disrespect Islam or the Koran should have been met with an explosion of righteous indignation. And I mean eyes bugged out, frothing at the mouth explosion of spitting right back at them the years and years of evidence that such a charge is out of line. If there is nobody at the ISAF HQ capable of doing that maybe we should consider forgiving the considerable tax debt of NBC news commentator Al Sharpton and send him over here to deal with the press.

Messaging

ISAF

The Taliban kick our ass every day on twitter - that's Big Army IO for you and that is yet another indicator that our military may be good at a lot of things but winning wars is not one of them
Social media is not a game for big bureaucratic PC centric battle staffs because even illiterate tribesmen can make them look stupid

 

The Mask of Command; Modern Marine Corps version
The Mask of Command; Modern Marine Corps version

 

Pasted above are two recent examples of ISAF messaging; the first is self explanatory, the second un-explainable. Let me take the second first and, to make it fair, let me stipulate the following. I’ll ignore the color of the Shalwar Kamise (the senior guy should be in all white) and ignore the man dancing (the senior guy doesn’t dance – he has subordinates that he can make do that) and focus on the venue. Locked deep inside the most secure base in Southern Afghanistan, behind multiple secure entry points is a prefabbed trailer with pictures of the Prez and the Queen and no doubt President Karzai along with some local textiles hanging on the walls and probably a bunch of Afghan rugs the Marines paid 18 times too much for and its called the Afghan Cultural Center. The Commanding General wanted to thank the Governor of Helmand for all the great team work that has made his year-long tour so successful and he does this inside a gigantic Marine base where he established some bullshit “cultural center”?  You know what that makes him look like in the local context?  Weak.  If he wanted to put on local clothes and spend the night man dancing to thank the governor for such a great year on the ground he should have had the balls (and G2) to go to the Governors compound.  At least he would have been in a real Afghan room listening to real Afghan music while eating real Afghan food and most importantly demonstrating some confidence in all the improved security that was the cause of this silly celebration in the first place.

The Big Picture

Is there a reason for us to stay in Afghanistan?  No there’s not but I’ve been saying that for years.  Should the military be packing up and going home?  They are – it is going to take until 2014 and probably well beyond just to retrograde all the equipment and personnel from theater and I doubt there is much they can do to speed the process up. Should we stop doing night raids?  Yes – I’ve been saying that for years too and I don’t care how many phone conversations of panicked Taliban ISAF intercepts or how many senior guys they kill because it doesn’t matter. Every month the Taliban spread, every month the number of successful IED strikes goes up, every month more Afghan government officials are assassinated. If these are indicators that the night raid tactic is working what are the indicators that it’s not?  I think the reason we do night raids is because we have a huge, expensive, special operations apparatus that specializes in night raids.  When you’re a hammer every problem looks like a nail right?

April Fools

But night raids aren’t my problem today…this is and I took a screen shot just in case the story disappears from the web as fast as the stories about Obama sending one of his kids, with a dozen of her friends, and two dozen Secret Service agents to Mexico (on our dime) did.

If this isn't a joke us internationals in Afghanistan are in big trouble
If this isn’t a joke us internationals are in big trouble

Breaking News: Ban on full-face veils instituted in Afghanistan may be the only hint of good news I’ve seen from Afghanistan this month.  Somebody here has developed a serious sense of humor combined with an understanding of irony and fooled the western media with a fake news story. If (and I can’t see how) but if, the central government tried to force Afghan women out of the Burka the appropriate Immediate Action Drill for all foreigners would be to head to the Kabul airport and fly out with the clothes on your back. Any attempt to go to ground in a safe house or delay your departure a day or two would be suicidal. That’s how disruptive the topic of women and their place in society is in Afghanistan.

To those westerners the treatment of Afghan women is so uniformly dismal that it is unbelievable. You want to see the ANP respond to a police call with true alacrity? Phone in a report of an un-escorted teenage girl talking to a male who is not her relative. I’ve seen that kind of call play out in the past and it’s not pretty. In fact here’s a story from yesterday about just how strongly locals feel on the issue:  Boy and Girl killed in Afghanistan acid attack ‘over friendship’. But to Afghans the treatment of women in this country and boys who befriend them outside the conventions of social mores, is the way it is supposed to be because it’s the way it has always been. That will change when the Afghan people want it to change and there is very little any one person or country can do to speed that process up.

How woman are treated in Afghanistan may be something are progressive leaders believes worth fighting for but it’s not. You cannot change 6,000 years of cultural practice by force because cultures double down on themselves when under attack from outsiders. But that’s just reality which seems optional with our senior leaders at times.

That fake news story would be hysterically funny but it could also set off violent rioting that would target westerners. Let’s hope it disappears fast.

A New Strategy!

President Obama has released his new plan for the military which I agree with but not for his stated reasons for developing a new strategy.

First allow me to present ten years of NATO in Afghanistan in three pictures:

Ten years ago Afghans were thrilled to see us and thought that finally they could live in peace and develop their country
Ten years ago, Afghans were thrilled to see us and thought that finally they could live in peace and develop their country

 

Five years ago they watched us flounder - we stayed on FOBs and shoveled cash by the billions into the hands of a corrupt central government that we insisted, despite clear evidnece to the contrary, was a legitimate government that had to be supported at all costs
Five years ago they watched us flounder – we stayed on FOBs and shoveled cash by the billions into the hands of a corrupt central government that we insisted, despite clear evidence to the contrary, was a legitimate government – one that had to be supported at all costs. We raided their homes at night and shot up civilians who got too close to our convoys, we paid for roads that did not exist and, because of the “force protection” mentality, most Afghans thought our soldiers were cowards because they never came to the bazaar off duty and unarmored to buy stuff like the Russians did.  In fact, every bite of food our soldiers consumed was flown into country at great expense.  In a land famous for its melons and grapes our troops ate crappy melon and tasteless grapes flown in by contractors from God knows where.

 

Now they want to shoot us in the face. Except for the klepocratic elite who want us to give them billions more and then shoot us in the face.
Now, they want to shoot us in the face. Except for the elites who want us to give them billions more and then shoot us in the face. Photographs taken by my son Logan during Eid 2010 – took a sim round in the hand to get them too.

There it is; Afghanistan is toast, and what the last 10 years has taught us is we cannot afford to deploy American ground forces. Two billion dollars a week (that’s billion with a B) has bought what?  Every year we stay to “bring security to the people,” the security situation for the people gets worse – deteriorating by orders of magnitude. Now we have a new strategy  that is  identical to the “strategy” that resulted in a hollow ground force getting its ass kicked by North Korea in 1950; a mere five years after we had ascended to the most dominant military the world had ever known. Here are the main points:

The strategy announced Thursday foresees a smaller Army and Marine Corps, far less appetite for wars like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, greater emphasis on special operations forces and intelligence-gathering, and shifting focus to China and the Pacific.

The new strategy was necessitated by the need to cut military spending by at least $480 billion over the next decade and the winding down of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The only effective weapon we have ever deployed to Afghanistan is cash money but, in typical Washington fashion, that money has disappeared and nobody seems to know how that happened or where it went. The Afghan government is operating under the assumption we are going to continue throwing cash at them forever and thus will have troops in the country indefinitely. The Taliban think we’ll stay forever to harvest all the rare minerals buried in the desert, as if we could possibly mine 2 billion a week worth of rare minerals to cover our burn rate. The Iraqis now know that, no matter what we have said in the past, we are more than willing to declare victory and leave it to them to clean up the mess we created.

Was Iraq worth the blood and treasure spent by the United States?  If it was, I’m not seeing it. Will the end state in Afghanistan be worth the blood and treasure we have spent and continue to spend? I’d like to think so – I love Afghans and hate to see them getting constantly screwed over – but in the end what will we have accomplished? Not much. The only lesson to be learned from the past ten years of constant war is that we cannot afford to go to war. At least not in the way we do it now which is what I’ve been pointing out in this blog for years.

The fact that Obama has slashed ground forces and fallen under the spell of high tech ninjas from the United States Air Force is, believe it or not, good news.  This is going to force the Army to do a little creative thinking about their roles/missions/force structure and that’s a good thing. It’s also going to force the Marine Corps into a fight for survival because when Big Army starts to do creative thinking the first option (historically) they come up with is to do away with the Marine Corps.

Obama is right about the obsolescence of the Two-War Strategy but not for the reasons he’s outlined. He’s right because we have never had the lift ability to move ground forces into two distinctly different theaters of operations simultaneously which that was the basis for our force structure. We had the troops to do it stationed in places like Okinawa where they were “forward deployed” but the naval shipping to lift them is based in the US.

The Pentagon never dealt with this issue honestly, just as they are not dealing with their impending evisceration honestly. Witness this bit of complete nonsense: Pentagon Says Two-War Strategy Not likely To Be Scrapped. Talk about living in denial.

The media, our two party system where the Republicans are the New Jersey Generals to the Democrats Globe Trotters,  the statest and politically correct mandarins in the Pentagon – all of them are going to swept into the dust bin of history. They cannot sustain their current mode of operation, they cannot change because change is all they have talked about for decades while simultaneously maintaining the same force structure and carrarest mind set regardless of multiple Quadrennial Defense Review recommendations recommending change.

Richard Fernandez explains the inevitable here:

Developments like this, when juxtaposed against the tally of failing institutions suggest that the future may be one in which the balance of power will shift from the spenders using deficit financing, and the rent-takers (the Middle East) and the blackmailers (North Korea) to one where the producers are relatively more influential. The next few decades, provided the world doesn’t blow itself up getting there, may belong to those who make and design new things rather than those who appropriate them and hand things around.

It is already making the shift and the crisis is how it is doing it.

The growth industries of the future might be in trade, industry, science and engineering. By contrast, the day of the ambulance chaser, financial Master of the Universe, SEIU organizer and journalistic hack may be coming to a close. What the current crisis is doing is burning out the latter to clear the way for the former. It is a process of creative destruction that has almost no input from the Republican Party.

Change is coming and no matter how vigorous the rear guard action by big government and their allies in Hollywood and Academia. You can kick the can down the road only so far.  Our political class has failed us and for that they will pay at the ballot box. Bet on it.

Stuck in Kabul

We are finishing up our projects and preparing to call it a war. This year we have been operating in 20 Provinces, all of them kinetic and getting every project we started finished on schedule and on budget. I now routinely move in Ghost Team mode throughout the Southwest using a few tricks of the trade that we’ve picked up along the way. The way we do what we do is our Afghan staff is awesome and the key regional positions held by Afghans we’ve known for years. We have been successful where every other implementer has failed because we (the expat project managers) visit every project, track all expenditures, and use technology to GPS/time/date the photographs sent in daily by our monitoring crew. Plus we have been doing infrastructure projects for so long that we no longer have to haggle over cement or gravel or steel prices in the local bazaars.

Being successful in the places we worked probably raised the expectations of the average local citizen far above what is reasonable. Operating with low overhead, no security company to impede our operations while directly implementing projects in areas thought to be too unstable would mean something if we were on the winning side of this conflict.  But we’re not so it means very little in the big scheme of things. That’s because the entire edifice on which the ISAF Afghanistan counterinsurgency campaign is based has been built on a foundation of lies. The central government in Kabul in not functional now and will not be anytime soon. The Kabul based government line ministries have the ability to project authority down to the district level which is madness given the sensitivity of Afghans concerning legal title to their land. Calling a central government that was installed and is supported by the guns of foreigners legitimate does not make it so in the eyes of the Afghan people. And they don’t give a damn about what the international community has to say on the topic

The ability of modern western armies to train and mentor Afghan security forces are zero. ISAF insists that their troops have a certain amount of protection and access to unlimited quantities of high quality western food flown into the country at God only knows what cost. In order to achieve this goal ISAF is quartered on FOB’s that are physically separated from the forces they are mentoring. That adds to the psychological separation that all westerners have to deal with when they choose to reside in countries like Afghanistan. It also subtracts from their ability to win friends or influence the men they have been sent to train.

Did you know there were crabs in the irrigation canals of Afghanistan? Me either.
Did you know there were crabs in the irrigation canals of Helmand Province? Me either.

The inability of the Government in Kabul to protect the capitol was on display during the attack in Kabul on the ISAF HQ?American Embassy complex. When the attack from Abul Haq Square started at I was skyping with The Bot who was in his office which is just down the street from the building the Taliban were using for their attack. He reported firefights breaking out in a 2-kilometer circle around him.  I told him it sounded (over the Skype connection) like the Tet offensive and he might want to think about heading down to the bunker but he wouldn’t budge.  He’s resposible for the Japanesse aid workers who were already in the bunker and needed to have eyes on the compound in case villians started to slither over the walls.

Here is what happend:

Six bad guys rolled up in a Toyota van to a building under construction at Abul Haq Square, exited the van, shot the security guard stationed in front and occupied the building. The building had been under construction in 2007 but then construction was stopped because (this is local gossip and may not be true) there was direct line of sight into the Presidential compound from the upper floors .   There are probably 10 buildings now in Kabul tall enough and close enough for direct line of sight into the Presidential compound which doesn’t make the story untrue but the Occam Razor approach would speculate that the builders ran out of bribe money.   TIA (This Is Afghanistan)

I lifted this out of The Bot's incident report

So the villains run upstairs where they have a stash consisting of 5 AK 47’s, a 82mm (Type 65) Recoilless Rifle, two RPG launchers (with a bunch of rounds) and an unknown number of Russian F1 fragmentation grenades. From their pre-staged sniper nest they had direct line of sight to the US embassy and ISAF HQ compounds. As soon as they are set up inside the building they started cutting loose with the Recoilless Rifle. The AK’s and hand grenades were used on the ANP troops who came in the building after them. At the same time suicide bombers attacked three separate ANSF targets around the city.

This is important to know; the max effective range of a type 65 Recoilless Rifle is around 1750 meters, for an AK 47 about 400, which is probably about the best you can do with the American M4’s given their shorter barrels. Remember those distances ….now here’s the timeline:

1320 – 6 fighters (Haqqani type) start the attack

1415 – The critical response unit arrives with their ISAF mentors.

1500 Two 82mm shells hit USAID compound.

1515 – The ANP shoot a suspected suicide bomber outside the ANCOP HQ but he detonates against an ANCOP HMMVW wounding two of the cops.

1535 A suicide bomber detonates at the rear entrance of the Shamshod Regional Police HQ killing one ANP officer and wounding three civilians who were in the immediate vicinity.

1540 ANP officers shoot a suspected suicide bomber and he fails to detonate because he was carrying a large charge in a sports bag and that allowed the security forces to examine the bomb.   It contained 7 kg of military grade explosives and was loaded with nails to provide fragmentation.   The bag also contained one F1 hand grenade and an AK rifle.

1610 The villains launch two more 82mm rounds at the embassy but they overshoot and land around the main mosque in Wazir Akbar Khan.

1930 Some sort of SF team from ISAF makes an assault and the villains respond with a shower of hand grenades rolled down the stairs. The SF door kickers kill two of the six bad guys on the fifth floor and then slow down taking the entire rest of the night to kill the remaining four fighters. The assaulters (whoever they were) did not take any casualties during the clearance phase of the operation.

0700 Incident is declared over.

What was all the firing The Bot and I heard coming from?  I thought it was undisciplined fire from Afghan Security Forces who were shooting at ghosts. Turns out I was wrong. Most of the shooting The Bot was hearing came from the ISAF Headquarters where the Macedonian guard force joined by Americans from the HQ staff started shooting at a building 1000 meters away with AK 47’s (Macedonians) and M4 rifles (Americans). What they thought they were doing and where all those rounds landed is a mystery to me but there is a private girls school that is 600 meters out from ISAF HQ and directly in the line of fire so it would be a good guess to assume most the ISAF rounds hit there. I can guarantee that none of them came close to hitting the 6 gunmen who were outside the effective range of ISAF battle rifles.

Despite the wild fire from the ISAF troops this incident was handled well by the Afghan Security Forces. Two of the three suicide bombers were shot before they could strike and the focal point of the incident was isolated and contained rapidly. Most importantly the door kickers took their time rooting out the villains who, as is typical for Taliban fighters, did not fight with much skill despite achieving complete surprise and being prepared to fight to the death.

This is a view of the Recoiies Rife firing position
This is a view of the Recoilless Rife firing position

The subsequent assassination of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani is something on which I’ll withhold comment.  I knew Rabbani’s deceased son-in law very well and have no desire to share my opinions on this matter except for two:  That was one well planned and executed operation that reveals a skill set we in the west no longer have.  And seeing Ambassador Crocker accuse the Pakistani’s of collusion in the attack was a refreshingly honest public statement from a senior diplomat.

Blind support of GIRoA is not a mission, but an abdication of the imperative of paying attention to reality when you define a mission. The American military has a counterinsurgency doctrine based on supporting the local government, and they are not going to tailor their operations to fit reality despite the fact we have do not have a host nation partner  that is seen as legitimate in the eyes of the Afghan people. The six fighters who launched the main attack obviously had staged thousands of pounds worth of weapons and ordnance inside Kabul’s Ring of Steel and that could only be done with the active assistance of people with seniority in the Kabul security establishment. Corruption in this country is that bad.

Richard Fernandez of The Belmount Club posted today about the consequences of building edifices on the foundation of a lie. This quote from the post lays it out beautifully:

But just as the appeasers have now about abolished the last remaining justification for national self defense and as the Left continued to operate on the Western side of the Berlin Wall in the guise of their transnational schemes, nothing in recent history indicates that being correct about an issue settles anything. Being right has nothing to do with politics. It’s what you can sell that counts. The price of keeping those product lines going was on full display on the world markets today. Stocks plunged all over the world, the 10-Year Treasury yields hit their lowest level since 1940s..

Not just because policymakers have gotten it wrong about the root cause of terrorism, or the Euro; but also about Too Big To Fail, population policy, multiculturalism, a crippling environmentalism and Global Warming, to name a few. The financial, national security and educational systems of the world are in utter collapse because they are stuffed with lies, which even when they are shown to be obviously false suck up trillions of dollars in their pursuit. And nothing will turn the global elites from continuing their ruinous path until they have spent the last nickle and dime they can lay their hands on.

There is little that will be done to change the tragic trajectory of Afghanistan. We blew it years ago by ignoring the obvious and assuming that somehow we could midwife the birth of Afghanistan into modernity. We now have a gigantic military presence that has assumed roles and missions they cannot accomplish by VTC meeting, endless closed loop reporting and chin wagging about good governance or women’s rights among themselves inside the safety of a FOB. Afghanistan is not going to end well and we may not know (in my lifetime) if the investment of blood and treasure was worth it. But it is not Afghanistan that worries me it is the consequences of basing everything we do on lies.

This cool old walled fort marks the start of a minefield at the tail end of a massive irrigation project. What are the chances that after spending billions on de-mining capacity that this thing could be cleared to allow us to finish our work? Zero
This cool old walled fort marks the start of a minefield at the tail end of a massive irrigation project. What are the chances that after spending billions on de-mining capacity that this thing could be cleared to allow us to finish our work? Zero

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).

On day one of their official Marine Corps careers this group of 300 odd men were exposed to the corruption of the lie. For the rest of their careers (those who stayed in are now  Lieutenant Colonels) they have had to deal with an organizational defect built on what they know to be a lie. This is how you end up with senior officers who will look you straight in the eye and tell you they are here to support GIRoA who has shown so much promise and improvement that there is no reason to be here after 2014.

What can you say when confronted with such stupidity?  I don’t know – I know the Helmand Province is unnaturally free of IED’s and SAF attacks this past week. If that trend keeps up it is safe to deduce that somebody on the Taliban side now understands the lie and have switched tactics in response. The Taliban once massed hundreds of fighters to go after small outposts in the mountains or the British in Helmand Province. They can’t do that now without becoming a HIMAR magnet so going to ground, keeping minor pressure on ISAF with IED’s and shoot and scoot attacks while simultaneously running an assassination campaign targeting Afghan officials is a sound tactical plan. The hit on Rabbani was a most impressive operation and nobody here thinks he’s the last senior government official on the Taliban JPEL (Joint Priority Effects List)

Afghanistan has revealed that NATO can’t fight – it can’t deploy or sustain itself either without the American military but that truth will be ignored for political expediency. Same-same with the flood of USG agency folks who came here as part of the civilian surge; they proved that they are incapable of deploying to or working in primitive environments without literally a million dollars a day (per person) in life support and security services.

I’ll end this post with a quote from Victor Davis Hanson’s book Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise to Western Power:

Western civilization has given mankind the only economic system that works, a rationalist tradition that alone allows us material and technological progress, the sole political structure that ensures the freedom of the individual, a system of ethics and a religion that brings out the best in humankind and the most lethal practice of arms conceivable.

Western civilization is broke because our elites have robbed future generations to pay for their Utopian schemes. In the process they have ruined many a proud military by insisting on levels of security and life support, which are unnecessary, counter productive to the mission, and ruinous to the fighting spirit. Who cares? You should. Soon a butchers bill for this incompetence will be due.   Only the dead have seen the last of war.

What A Mess

I’m not referring to the controversy surrounding the attempted rescue of Linda Norgrove which is currently consuming the news cycle. My experience is that Special Operations folks do not attempt rescue operations without solid intelligence and a well rehearsed plan. I don’t know what happened in Kunar Province last weekend and therefore have no comment. What I do have plenty to comment on is the rash of articles which came out Friday morning about security contractors guarding American bases.  This is the opening from ABC news:

A scathing Senate report says US contractors in Afghanistan have hired warlords, “thugs,” Taliban commanders and even Iranian spies to provide security at vulnerable US military outposts in Afghanistan. The report, published by the Senate Armed Services Committee, says lax oversight and “systemic failures” have led to “grave risks’ to US forces, including instances where contractors have employed Afghan subcontractors who were “linked to murder, kidnapping and bribery, as well as Taliban and anti-coalition activities.” The chairman of the committee, Sen. Carl Levin, D.-Michigan, said the report was evidence that the US needs to reduce its reliance on contractors.

On the small Combat Outposts (COP’s) these guard forces man the outer perimeter only and have to provide their own life support (food and shelter) and they do not go inside the wire of the Army unit they are guarding. They don’t know any more about what is happening inside the FOB’s they guard then any other Afghan living in the vicinity. Local nationals working inside the wire doing menial tasks like emptying port-a-johns, collecting and burning trash, or washing dishes would know a lot more and pose a greater intelligence risk than the exterior guard force. On the large FOB’s the guard forces have barracks inside the post but are a small percentage of the Afghan local national work force and again, limited as to where they are allowed to go. So how is it just the security guards are the ones putting our troops at risk?

I wrote bids for several of these contracts and know they require a minimum of 80% of the guards to come from the local area. When you have remote outposts and need so many armed men who do you think is going to provide them? Now Washington is shocked, shocked that we were paying warlords and other various undesirables for guard forces. When I bid on these contracts our local manpower was coordinated through the district sub governor (which I  recall was another requirement) and not all sub governors are created equal. I’m not sure why the big surprise that some of the people who are benefiting from the fire hose of dollars flowing into Afghanistan are undesirables. I’m also not to sure about the definition of “undesirables” given the number of former warlords connected to the central government. Seems to me we don’t know enough about the Afghan culture to start labeling some war lords undesirables and others patriots.

Sounds like politics and looks like piling on by by the Senate Armed Services Committee who are now supporting President Karzai as he continues his program to dismantle private security companies. It’s nice to finally see some support for President Karzai from the DC crowd even if they are supporting a policy un-tethered from reality.  Accepting the fact that President Karzai is not going away would be the best contribution our elected members can make now.

J
Jalalabad City continues to grow as more families come in from the outer districts to escape Taliban intimidation

Shutting down the security companies makes little sense. Earlier in the month it was reported that the Afghans had shut down several companies to include Xe (Blackwater), Four Horsemen, and White Eagle. This is not true; all four remain open for business and they, like Karzai, are not going anywhere. Those companies don’t need to pay the Afghan government for a business license because they are working directly for the military, Department of State and other international government agencies and are exempt from paying Afghan taxes. The Afghan government is making it hard for internationals working for security companies outside the wire only. They have stopped issuing visa’s so many contractors remain here on expired ones. The companies with government contracts come into the country on contractor run flight that land in Bagram and by pass Afghan immigration so they do not need visas.  Afghanistan isn’t like the United States with foreigners who overstay their visa. In Afghanistan that is a one strike offense that could land you in prison.

Kabul is in turmoil, the North is going right down the tubes; years ago it was easy to operate in most of the country without armored vehicles and international mobile security teams but not anymore. While this is playing out there is a growing sense that the military side of the operation is starting go well.  ISAF has, for the first time, apparently locked down the Arghandab and Panjwai districts around Kandahar City. The Helmand Province is getting quieter week in and week out and the American Army in Nangarhar Province has moved a battalion of paratroopers into the southern triangle to deal with Taliban and their Pakistani cousins who have been operating openly down there all summer. This force projection off the FOB’s is a welcomed change but all the clearing currently being done needs a hold and build effort behind it and that capability is not resident within the Kabul government.

Provincial capitols in the south are not so busy or crowded
Lashkar Gah the capitol of Helmand Province. Provincial capitols in the south are not as busy or crowded as they are in the rest of the country

The situation on the ground is rapidly changing which makes it the perfect time for me to shift to another part of the country where I’m not so well known.  I have moved south and will be joining Ghost Team again for another year of adventure. This year I’m not going to be so candid about where I live or the location of our projects. The days when we could roam about the countryside at will and have my kids visit for months at a time to work with local kids at the Fab Lab – those days are over.

The military seems to be doing what it set out to do. It is too early to know how successful they will be but if they can drive the Taliban out of Kandahar and the surrounding districts they will need help with the build portion. Ghost Team will do our part but we are not miracle workers. We’ll give it our best until the window closes on outside the wire operations for good.

Meet a Couple of Heroes

Hero is one of those terms which comes up often in reporting about the military. Not every service member is a hero nor is every hero we encounter in our lives associated with the military. I point this out because the label “hero” is at risk of becoming a meaningless cliche as we approach the first decade of what will be a very long war. But I have a couple of hero’s I’d like to introduce as an innovative way to talk about the fog of war as well as the price being paid by the people fighting this conflict on our behalf.

Over a year ago my Dad told me one of my former students from the Infantry Officer Course was at the Tampa VA hospital recovering from a severe gunshot wound.  LtCol Ty Edwards was the senior Embedded Training Team leader, mentoring the Afghan Army’s 2/2 Kandak.  He and his command group were  traveling with an American Army re-supply mission out of FOB Bostick in October 2008 up in the Nuristan Province. The following narrative was provided to Leatherneck Magazine three days after the incident by 1stLt Sean McQuiston and is extracted from an article that can be found here.

“I heard RPG fire ahead of me, but I couldn’t see any bad guys. But I saw the Army humvees ahead of me firing on a hill about 300 meters off to my 2 o’clock, so I swung my turret over and shot maybe 50 rounds in support.

“The Army humvees then drove off, which is their TTP (tactics, techniques and procedures), while the ANA dismounted from their trucks and hugged a berm to the right of us. The ANA vehicles are unarmored; you can’t fight from them.  Lieutenant Colonel Edwards jumped out and went forward  to work with the ANA. I’m still up in the turret, putting out rounds. There’s machine-gun fire coming in on us, but it’s not heavy. But suddenly it increased, and I got hit in the left arm.”

And here is where we enter into the fog of war.  The fire increased on the Marines and their ANA unit because the Army had left the kill zone. That is what they are trained to do and it’s a sound tactical move. All armored vehicles are vulnerable to fire plunging down onto the top of them; sticking around in a kill zone can be risky. The Army unit leading the convoy were not responsible for the ANA vehicles; their job was to move supplies through an area where contact with the enemy was a frequent occurrence. They reacted the way they always react and clearly would not have kept going with their mission if they had known what was unfolding behind them.  LtCol Edwards reacted the way he had been trained to do too. He went forward into the fire to lead the troops he had been sent to mentor because that is what infantry leaders do. With the fire now concentrated on him and his crew he did not make it far and went down when he was hit in the head. Ty was out of the fight, exposed in the open and helpless as a baby; he would not wake up until weeks later. There is no fault to be assessed, no blame to be apportioned there is just the fog of war which will never be lifted from the face of battle no matter how much technology we field.

His interpreter, who will soon be immigrating to the United States, was the first to reach him and apparently shielded Ty as Lt McQuiston rallied the ANA to put out suppressive fire so the senior corpsman could work his way to him. The Army QRF (Quick Reaction Force) from Bostick arrived behind a curtain of heavy weapons fire to grabbed the wounded and they rapidly got Ty into the medical evacuation system. Lots of heroic men and women did heroic things to keep Ty alive and allow him a chance to recover. Everyday Quick Reaction Forces (QRF’s) thunder off the FOB’s into harms way all demonstrating the fortitude and bravery that should make us all proud.  It comes with the job and is, in some respects, easy to do when you are part of a tight infantry unit.

And for men who thunder off FOB’s into harms way without hesitation or fear know that the heaviest weight they could ever be asked to carry is to sustain the virtues of a great infantry leader for a lifetime when fate deals you a bad hand.

Meet LtCol Ty Edwards, USMC and my father MajGen J.D. Lynch Jr, USMC (Ret)
LtCol Ty Edwards USMC and my father MajGen J.D. Lynch Jr, USMC (Ret)

Those of us who know Ty and understand his background expected him to run into the fire to rally men under his charge (regardless of their nationality).  That is not terribly impressive to us. What is impressive is to see him now. Ty got hit, he lost the use of the right side his body, his speech is impaired but his mind is sharp and the left side of his body gets stronger as week in and week out he exceeds the goals established by his physical therapist.  He will walk again, of that I’m certain but it is going to take years of blood sweat and tears to get there. Ty is on a mission. He has children to raise and a wife to emotionally support so he has to demonstrate by personal example, every day, how a good man overcomes hardship, how a winner never quits, and why it is important to live like a Marine regardless of severe physical limitations imposed in the prime of life.

I was trading emails with an old friend who had been the battalion surgeon for  1st Battalion 8th Marines back in the early 90’s when I was the operations officer.  My buddy Barney is a big lib which was great because we were a hard deploying unit and there is nothing better than having a smart guy like Barney around who would argue with me for hours about politics and modern culture. He was a great advocate for his side despite being wrong 100% of the time in my humble estimation.  Even better (and what can be better than having your own lib to argue with) he could suck up bad weather and long hikes while maintaining a sense of humor which made him an especially valuable medical officer. When our conversation turned to friends in harms way I told him about Ty and also that my Dad visits Ty every week when he goes in for physical therapy. Barney wrote back the following:

My observation is that with time dedication to tragedy fades among  most—except those directly touched (9/11 comparison here in NY).

That comment by Barney got me to thinking about my Dad and how happy I was that he makes this weekly visit with Ty.  Much as Ty reacted by instinct that fateful October day two years ago my Dad too responded by instinct when notified via the retired Marine chain that there was a fallen infantry officer who would benefit greatly from a visit.  The reason this makes me happy is that I love my Dad and I know as we talk over how Ty is doing during our not frequent enough phone calls that my Dad is benefiting from this relationship as much if not more than Ty is.  Like Ty my Dad lives by a code which is easy to understand but very hard to follow.  Staying true; demonstrating strength in the face of adversity, endurance when faced with unending commitments; living by the code without complaint or hesitation…it is a beautiful thing to witness.

Ty Edwards and family with Gen Amos - the assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps
Ty Edwards and family with Gen Amos – the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps

I’m sorry my former student and brother Devil Dog was shot but I don’t feel sorry for him.  I feel awe at how well he faces this trail without complaint, struggling every day to set the example for his children, his wife and his fellow Marines.  He is taking on an increasingly heavier load of reading and correspondence which will eventually lead him back into gainful employment.  He will walk again.

Many of us in the profession of arms are asked to step into the hero’s role for a brief period of time, its part of the job.  Very few of us are asked to take that mantle permanently and all of us are afraid that when called in such manner we will be found wanting.  Ty has been called, he has not been found wanting and like a true hero is contributing positive karma to the people in his life.  One of them is my Dad and for that I am truly grateful.

Getting After It

One of the Chim Chim’s dropped in for a visit last month.  He was on some sort of ISAF  inspection team which I didn’t ask too much about and told us that every-time he asked officers from the unit he was looking at what they were doing the reply was “getting after it.” They were getting after it by doing daily presence patrols and stopping every now and then to talk with the local villagers.  They then return to the FOB for the night. General Petraeus is getting ready to release a revision of the rules of engagement and early reports say he has included “you can’t commute to the battle” guidance just as he did in Iraq. That is sound tactical advice when the bad guys aren’t commuting to fight – they’re here, right now and exerting more influence then we have seen in the past.

The Taliban have been getting after the lucrative and popular DVD and CD shops all summer. This one was destroyed by about 3lbs of explosives which went off around midnight when it was empty.
The Taliban have been getting after the lucrative and popular DVD and CD shops all summer. This one was destroyed by about 3lbs of explosives which went off around midnight when it was empty.

 

As of three days ago every DVD and CD shop in Jalalabad closed their doors. These shops generate a lot of income and were very popular. Closing them all down is a big deal and the local people, as they are prone to do, blame the government and ISAF for not protecting them.

colatteral damage from the DVD shop blast - this barber shop was destroyed too.
Collateral damage from the DVD shop blast – this barber shop was destroyed too.

I know I have said this too many times before but the fact remains you can’t project security to any segment of the population from a FOB.  You cannot even protect the population living right outside the fence next to the FOB as the Taliban demonstrated last night when they plastered night letters all over the village of Base Ekmalati. A village right behind the large ISAF base in Jalalabad and the same village that I wrote about in this post about the floods.

Page one of the Base Ekmalati night letter
Page one of the Base Ekmalati night letter

Here is what the night letter said:

Military Commission of Nangarhar Province

Message of Islamic Emirates Mujahedeen’s to the brave and Mujahid Nation of Nangarhar Province

 

Allah the great has said lots of realities through his messenger Mohammad that you won’t make these Non-Muslims happy unless you convert to their religion. Every one has eye witnessed the current, devil Supper power, with of Christianity and Jewish fanaticism, thirsty of innocent blood, has invaded the Islamic land of Afghanistan, and trying to reach their hungry and starving goals, by killing innocent people, widowing thousands of women, and orphaned thousands of kids, killings tens of brides and grooms during their wedding nights, bombed/destroyed tens of Madrasas and Masjids, searching our personal belongings in our house looking Usama and Al Qaeda, but few sensation less faces who always sold their Muslim brothers blood for few Dollars are accompanying, and chanting slogans that whatever they, but long life to us.

Still Afghani sensation is alive, still there are lions, in the mountains and Jangles, however a number Mujahedeen’s has died, and wounded, but this has more reinforced Muhedeen’s moral, jailing and difficulties has convinced them more to fight for freedom, and now this feared enemy who was looking at the ground but to the sky, and the slogan for the Muslims they had was either arrest them or kill them, but now with success of Jihad, they are running around the world and seeking an escape route.

Since the enemy is facing their sure defeat, now they are trying to sparate the nation from the Mujaheddens, and discredited Mujahedeens in all different ways.

The Islamic Emirate is informing the nation that we are the guards of Islamic soil and the guard’s life and property, and with the cost of our blood we consider this our religious duty.

The brave nation be awake and remember that the enemy is in escaping position, do not let them to mislead you, and do not let them blame you as the thieves and the abductors.

Islamic Emirate Is Informing the Nation of the necessary things as follows

 

The Islamic Emirates inform the nation from the following matters.

  1. Those who abducting local and Tribal elders, and charging locals for all the different types of taxations/charities, they are not Taliban indeed, but American agents. The Islamic Emirate is seriously looking into this issue, whoever again faces the mentioned problems they should contact and inform the local Mujahedeens in there are of their problems, in case they can not reach the local Mujahedeens, they can contact the local elders or scholars, so that they can reach the Military Commission, the criminal will face severe consequences.
  2. If any one, welling to pay   charity to the Islamic Emirate, he should contact three people District Military commission and at the same time three people from Province Military commission.
  3. The Islamic Emirate is having different commission for, natural resources, Mines, NGOs, those who are working in the mentioned sectors has to refer to them, and if any one is asking them for money they are not Taliban, but the American agents, and Insha’Allah they will face the same consequences as the Americans.

To the Authorities

  1. Those who are working with the ANA/ANP, Parliament, Provincial counsel and other governmental organizations for few dollars they should immediately quite their jobs, and promise Allah that they won’t do it in the future. This will be the last warning of Mujahedeens of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan for them.
  2. Those conscienceless spies, who are spying about Muslims for few dollars we have a list of them and very soon we will publish their details, and for sure they will face severe consequences.
  3. Some slave type people who are trying to establish tribal Arbakia forces or to convince others to join these forces, the Islamic Emirate is not differentiating them from the Americans.

To The Scholars and Mullahs

  1. Dear, you are the leaders of the tribe, and the representatives of Mohammad, you better know that most Quranic verses and Adiths is ordering to stay away from non Muslims and tells to fight them, this is your Islamic duty and responsibility that you implement this order of Allah.

Those of you who know a thing or two about night letters will note that this one lacks a seal of either the commander or the organization who released it. But the abrupt closing of all the DVD shops in town indicates the bad guys have established a foothold inside the city.

I wish I could see some evidence that the American Army is getting after it too but so far, with the exception of a brief, effective offensive in Kunar I see nishta.  The Army is setting itself up for more scathing criticism like this article.  An example from the linked article:

Yet even as I was filling my notebook with details of their delusionary schemes, the base commander told me he had already been forced to put aside development. He had his hands full facing a Taliban onslaught he hadn’t expected. Throughout Afghanistan, insurgent attacks have gone up 51 percent since the official adoption of  COIN as the strategy  du jour. On this eastern front, where the commander had served six years earlier, he now faces a surge of intimidation, assassination, suicide attacks, roadside bombs, and fighters with greater technical capability than he has ever seen in Afghanistan.

The only reason we are not seeing more stories like this is the media narrative remains squarely with the Obama administration and they are not going to release too many stories ridiculing our (his) efforts on the ground. How much longer will that paradigm hold?  Saying you are focused on bringing security to the population while doing little in the way of securing the population is obviously not going to work much longer. Had the reporter (Ms. Jones) been a little more savvy about things military she may have asked the one question nobody can honestly answer and that is if you are not going to secure the population then why are all these people here and shouldn’t they be sent home?

The Taliban are out in the open, trying to tax the people, running shadow governments, putting up night letters to intimidate the people living 100 meters outside the wire of a major regional base. There is only one thing the military can do given current ground truths and one need look no further than Herschel Smith at the Captains Journal to find the yellow (school solution.)

They need to look into the eyes of every inhabitant, be inside every home, take every fingerprint and scan every iris.   Their patrols need to be ubiquitous, day and night, and they don’t need to wait on the ANA or send them into the homes first.   They need to proceed with door kicking in the middle of the night if that’s what it takes, they need to project force, and they need to do it beginning now and carrying on until every last insurgent has been captured or killed.   Killed is better than captured given the poor state of the Afghanistan system of justice (i.e., catch and release).

It is just that simple but we seem to be light-years away from doing this. Now everything hangs in the balance, all the work we have done, all the programs we are currently running, all of that is now in play and the bad guys are setting the agenda, have the initiative, and dictating the terms of the fight.  They’re the ones who are getting after it.

Losing Hearts and Minds

Ben Arnoldy at the Christen Science Monitor penned an excellent tale on reconstruction efforts going pear shaped and the consequences resulting from such folly. The report was original, focused and resulted from Ben going to the remote Badakshan Province for a couple of weeks to get the details correct.  This article is  the perfect book end to last weeks Toronto Star piece on Panjwayi  Tim and Ghost Team because it highlights the futility of traditional US AID standard operating procedures. Ben sums up the point of his article with these opening paragraphs:

On paper, the multi-pronged project revitalized a backward Afghan province, weaning it off poppy cultivation and winning Afghan hearts and minds.

However, a Monitor investigation reveals that even in spite of a few modest gains, the Afghans here were left angered over project failures, secrecy, and wasted funds.

“Now the people are hating American companies like PADCO because many times they brought millions of dollars, but didn’t do anything,” says Syed Abdul Basir Husseini, the electricity chief for Badakhshan Province. “All Badakhshanis know that it was $60 million [that America] spent,” he says, adding that they see little evidence of it.

The story of what went wrong exposes serious weaknesses in the third pillar of America’s “clear, hold, build” Afghan strategy. Among them: big-spending hastiness, unrealistic deadlines, high development staff turnover, planning divorced from ground realities, and ever-present security risks in this war-torn nation.

“In Vietnam, they were measuring success of operations in the numbers that are killed. In Afghanistan, it is how many schools you are building and how much money you spent. This is better, but as wrong,” says Lorenzo Delesgues, director of Integrity Watch Afghanistan, in Kabul. “What you need to measure is what is the impact of what you’ve done.”

I’ve talked about this so many times before that I’m sick of it so time to try something new; it’s time for a story board.

Wednesday 25 July the second "hundred year" flood in less than a year hit Jalalabad following a morning of torrential rain. This is the main road heading towards the airport.
Wednesday 25 July the second “hundred year” flood in less than a year hit Jalalabad following a morning of torrential rain. This is the main road heading towards the airport.

 

The Sarracha bridge - the new Afghan design was not passable but the ribbon bridge installed by the American PRT stood up much better than the stone bridge last year.
The Sarracha bridge – the new Afghan design was not passable but the ribbon bridge installed by the American PRT stood up much better than the stone bridge last year.

 

A modern compound like ours has no problem handling heavy rains
A modern compound like ours has no problem handling heavy rains

 

The avergae Afghan family compound has no grass or driveways so heavy rains are a real problem for them.
The average Afghan family compound has no grass or driveways so heavy rains are a real problem for them.

 

Just like last year the flood caused extensive damage and a few deaths in the villages on the east end of town. Capt A from Ghost Team, The Professor from the American NGO CHF (International) and I teamed up to try and find the source of the flooding and what could be done about it.
Just like last year the flood caused extensive damage and a few deaths in the villages on the east end of town. The next day Capt A from Ghost Team, The Professor from an American NGO and I teamed up to try and find the source of the flooding and what could be done about it.

 

Less than two hours after the monsoon started this village was under 3 meters of swiftly moving water
Less than two hours after the monsoon started this village was under 3 meters of swiftly moving water

 

Crop and road damage about 1 kilometer outside the village
Crop and road damage about 1 kilometer outside the village

 

We heard the familar sound of an IED going off and saw the signature of a fuel tanker attack near FOB Fenty.
We heard the familiar sound of an IED going off and saw the signature of a fuel tanker attack near FOB Fenty.

 

We pushed on - that's The Professor from CHF being escorted by local kids from the village
We pushed on – that’s The Professor being escorted by local kids from the village

 

The villans had hit one of the tankers sitting outside FOB Fenty with a limpet mine.
The villains had hit one of the tankers sitting outside FOB Fenty with a limpet mine.

 

All the fuel tankers traveling the Jalalabad truck by-pass now put their A-drivers on the top to thwart motorcyle mounted limpet mine bombers.
All the fuel tankers traveling the Jalalabad truck by-pass now put their A-drivers on the top to thwart motorcycle mounted limpet mine bombers.

 

These guys lack a sense of style - they're missing a chance to jock up with cool old fashioned weapons like pikes or swords for repelling motorcycle mounted knuckleheads.
These guys lack a sense of style – they’re missing a chance to jock up with cool old fashioned weapons like pikes or swords for repelling motorcycle mounted knuckleheads.

 

The problem - to the left and right is the main water canal for the municipal government. There are three points in the east of the city where the canal goes underground to alloe flash flood drainage. It is clear that there needs to be levees built to control the water which funnels through these chokepoints to cause so much devestation down stream
The problem – to the left and right is the main water canal for the municipal government. There are three points in the east of the city where the canal goes underground to allow flash flood drainage; this is one of them.  It is clear that there needs to be levees built to control the water funneling through these choke-points.

 

Local kids playing in a pool created by the flood waters
Local kids playing in a pool created by the flood waters

 

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As I’m writing this post I’m watching the Afghan Security Face chat room explode with information on a firefight and rioting in Kabul. The story is already on the wire – apparently a armored SUV hit a local car on the main road to the airport causing several fatalities, a crowd gathered, shots were fired and the vehicle drove back into the entrance to the US Embassy which was only a few hundred yards away. After that a firefight erupted, and unknown number of people were killed, and currently crowds are stoning any cars they suspect contain foreigners or ISAF military.  What can one say about a self inflicted wound of such severity?General rioting in the most heavily controlled area of Kabul can rapidly spread to other cities putting the lives of internationals who are out and about in grave danger. If there are any more incidents like the one unfolding in Kabul it’s going to get damn hard to stay outside the wire.