The John Paul Vann of Afghanistan Speaks

In the book The Operators by Michael Hastings there is a quote from Command Sergeant Major Michael Hall comparing General Stan McChrystal to John Paul Vann. John Paul Vann was a former army officer who went to Vietnam as a soldier and stayed on working as a Provincial aid advisor. He was famous for his ability to drive around and live in contested districts (alone) and was a tireless advocate for the Vietnamese people. He was also a compulsive womanizer, an alcoholic, and  a shameless self promoter. Remove those negative traits, replace them with a typical all-American Midwest kid raised in a stable two parent household where he developed a strong sense of commitment, a bias for action combined with the ability to thrive while taking calculated risks, and you have Chris Corsten. He was the John Paul Vann of Afghanistan

Our two-decade long involvement in Afghanistan has been a fiasco. Every aspect of our performance had major issues, none more so than the herculean efforts at re-building and rehabilitating the war-torn infrastructure. Yet buried deep inside the legacy of failure are stories of remarkable success. Carter Malkasain described one example of competent development leading directly to local prosperity (briefly) in the book The War Comes to Garmser.

Another example has just been published by my friend Chris Corsten detailing his decade in Afghanistan working both as a soldier and heavily armed humanitarian. The book is 3000 Days in Afghanistan, but I need to reveal something that you will not glean from Chris’s writing. In the world of outside the wire contractors, men (and a few women) who worked in contested districts infested with Taliban, who lived in local compounds, drove local cars, rarely spoke English outside their compound, wore local clothes and lived off the local economy to deliver massive aid projects on time and on budget, Chris Corsten was the best there ever was.

Chris stayed the longest, he had the most impact, he did, by orders of magnitude, the most projects and he was a shura ninja when it came to working through problems with tribal elders. Chris Corsten is a legend – to those of us who knew what accomplished and also to thousands of Afghans who became self-sufficient as hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland became productive again thanks to his irrigation programs.

The book is a clear reflection of Chris and if you know him the two personality traits that stand are conscientious and integrity. Those two traits were combined with an attitude that was the common denominator among all of us working outside the wire; zero tolerance for wasted efforts, make work stupidity, and excuses. Add to this mix the fact that Chris is a modest man who is not prone to exaggeration, routinely attributed all success to his subordinates, and loathes the idea of self-promotion and you have a writer who is going to lay out the facts. Which he does in a manner that is almost business like.

As you get towards the end of this remarkable story Chris lists the spectacular amount of work accomplished during the 2010-2011 surge, and if you know what was going on then in Afghanistan, it is easy to get confused. It seems impossible that Expats (mostly American, British, South African and Australian) were living and working in local Afghan communities while supervising massive irrigation projects in districts where the military was sustaining casualties on a regular basis.

If you don’t know much about Afghanistan, you can read through what Chris accomplished and miss what he accomplished. If you don’t know what was happening in provinces like Khost, Kandahar, Paktia, Kunar, Helmand, Farah, Nangarhar, Herat etc… in 2010 it is hard to appreciate the feat of finishing every project you started with supervision by expats who were out and about in Taliban contested areas daily.

What Chris and his crew proved was aid in contested areas can be delivered effectively, but it has to be done by guys who know what they are doing and have skin in the game. And, at least in Afghanistan, they needed to be armed.

Let me explain the weapons. Our model was if you can’t be safe be hard to kill. The threat to outside the wire contractors took many forms. The biggest was getting kidnapped, the other major problem was we had to store, transport, and distribute large amounts of cash. You are not safe when you are living in a local Afghan compound that contains a safe with over a million dollars in cash. You are not safe when you go to the local branch of the Kabul Bank and withdraw $700,000 for your monthly project payroll. You have to know what you are doing to convert $700,000 in Benjamins into small denomination Afghani’s.

Not all of us carried firearms either – Jeff “Raybo” Radan, a former Marine infantry officer and Ranger School graduate (thus the Raybo call sign), worked a year in the Helmand and never carried a weapon. He did projects in contested towns like Now Zad but being a former Marine he knew how to get a ride on Marine air and thus was able to travel safely. But most of us were armed, and all of us had weapons, including belt fed machine guns (in some provinces), inside our living compounds. Our arming authority came from the Provincial governors and if we ever used our weapons, we were accountable to them as well as the US Embassy.

Chris explains why former, experienced, military men, who have already acquired knowledge of local atmospherics and a solid understanding of local culture, are the best option for staffing aid programs in conflict zones. All the men mentioned in Chris’s book (he uses assumed names) were prior military and all of us had years on the ground before we were able to transition into what I term “Free Range” contracting.

3000 Days in Afghanistan should be required reading at both US AID and the Department of State as they sift through 20 years of lessons learned in Afghanistan. This week a senior USAID executive, who had extensive Afghanistan time, released a paper titled USAID Afghanistan: What Have We Learned. He concludes his assessment with four lessons;

  1. do not try to do everything
  2. stick to proven development principals
  3. flexibility and adaptability are key, and
  4. expect and plan for high levels of oversight.

All four of these lessons are addressed in detail by Chris as he explains how he avoided graft, corruption, security services shake downs, how he dealt (effectively) with theft, and delivered aid that was meaningful while injecting cash directly into local economies. The added benefit of taking Taliban off the battlefield by exchanging a couple months of hard labor for a decent amount of pay was something we discovered early in the program but had not anticipated.

Chris throws no stones as he explains what we were doing and why we felt we should do more. He describes his disappointment at not getting traction with USAID and the State Department and then moves on. The program he was running got plenty of attention in the press at the time. There were NPR radio interviews, 60 minutes segments, multiple magazine articles including this classic account in the Toronto Star about our team in Kandahar. The FRI blog was booming back then as I documented our massive infrastructure projects in Nimroz province. In the end none of that mattered, it turns out being successful where everyone else is failing can be problematic.

As William Hammink admits in his review of USAID in Afghanistan, we threw too much money into a country that could not absorb it. What is now obvious is that Chris Cortsen showed USAID exactly how to do Afghanistan aid. Spend a few years and a few million dollars to get all the irrigation systems back up and running, build a few schools, pave a few roads, bring in engineers with some commercial demo to blast rock and build runways in remote mountain-top towns, and you have done about all that should be done to get the country heading towards self-sufficiency.  Then you can leave.

3000 Days in Afghanistan is an easy read about a remarkable guy who sticks to the facts to make a case on how sustainable development in conflict zones should be done. Buried behind the facts and the business-like narrative are the stories that someday will emerge from this program as historians start to comb through the records in the search of what really happened in Afghanistan. They will find plenty about Chris, hopefully telling  his story in rich detail. There is a lot there and although Chris may not be seeking recognition for what he accomplished he certainly has earned it.

Peace in Afghanistan Inshallah

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo landed in Qatar’s capital city, Doha today for the signing of a peace deal with the Taliban. In a rare demonstration of presenting both sides of a contentious deal the Washington Post opinion section featured dueling pieces that capture this unique moment in time. The peace deal is a clear win for both the Trump administration and the Afghan people. As usual the devil is in the details but it appears we are on the way out of Afghanistan.

Barnett Rubin who is a senior fellow and associate director of the Center on International Cooperation of New York University and non-resident senior fellow at the Quincy Institute, outlines the agreement in his WaPo OpEd.

The agreement provides a timetable for troop withdrawal, counterterrorism guarantees, a path to a cease-fire and a process for political settlement. Implementation would also require dismantling Taliban infrastructure in neighboring Pakistan and assurances by external powers that none will use Afghanistan against others.

Mr. Rubin has considerable time on the ground in the region and his take on the peace deal (which is it is a good deal)  is identical to mine.

Max Boot, who is a Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, took the opposite view. In his WaPo OpEd he outlines three different scenarios for the near future in Afghanistan. He then goes onto to predict the worst case scenario (the Taliban rolling into Kabul and taking over the country) as the most likely. I can tell you unequivocally that is the least likely scenario.

Many of our foreign policy experts and more than a few of my friends caution that the Taliban is not a cohesive monolithic organization, and that negotiators are only speaking for the Quetta, Peshawar, and Miranshaw Shura’s. This is a fact that is true, but means nothing now. The Taliban were able to enforce the peace during last years Eid celebration across the country and I believe they can do so again. Regardless of what I and my friends believe the only thing that counts is how the Afghans feel about the deal.

Taliban fighters taking selfies with Afghan army troops during the Eid ceasefire last year.

The Senior Vice President-elect of Afghanistan, Amrullah Saleh, published his opinion on the Time website. I Fought the Taliban. Now I’m Ready to Meet Them at the Ballot Box is the title of his piece and that’s a strong endorsement of the process. Amrullah Saleh is the former head of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), a former Interior Minister and he survived a serious assault on his election headquarters last July. That assault started with a car bomb and was continued by suicide vest equipped assault teams. Amrullah Saleh survived by jumping off the roof of his four story headquarters onto the roof of a neighboring building.

It is reasonable to assume Mr. Saleh had engaged in a running gun battle before escaping to safety, he is that kind of guy.

In another fascinating development the Military Times published an article today with the headline ISIS taking a beating in Afghanistan setting  the stage for a potential a U.S. troop withdrawal.  Buried deep in the article is this:

The recent campaign in Nangarhar is one example. Effective operations by US/Coalition & Afghan security forces, as well as the Taliban, led to ISIS-K losing territory & fighters. Hundreds surrendered. ISIS-K hasn’t been eliminated but this is real progress,” Khalilzad tweeted Tuesday

Remember a few posts back I highlighted this article in the Washington Post about the defeat of ISIS because it failed to mention the Taliban’s direct role? It seem like the first draft of history is up for grabs regarding the defeat of ISIS-K in Eastern Afghanistan.  There is little to gain but much to lose in suppression of the truth. I doubt an experienced reporter would have not known about the Taliban’s role in fighting ISIS-K so it is hard to figure out why the WaPo would print such obviously fake news.

Regardless, ISIS is now gone in Eastern Afghanistan and the remaining pockets in the north now the problem of the Taliban. Who seem to be very efficient at rooting them out.

What I cannot determine is how many troops will stay and what those troops will be doing. If the plan is to leave the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force – Afghanistan (CJSOTF-A) in place to hunt down ISIS and al Qaida that is not going to work. ISIS doesn’t need to be serviced by us any longer and separating al Qaida trainers from Taliban students is impossible.

If Amrullah Saleh is willing to give the Taliban a chance, and they reach an agreement, men like Sirajuddin Haqqani, who have been at the top of the JPEL for years, will be allowed to go in peace. The JPEL is the Joint Prioritized Effects List which is essentially a lethal version of the FBI’s most wanted. Allowing the men on that list to walk free, get passports and travel  is going to be a bitter blow to the people who have been hunting them. But that may be the price of peace.

I have to add that CJSOTF-A is not going to be able to operate behind the back of the Senior VP. Mr. Saleh has decades of experience working with the CIA and CJSTOF and he will have a say on what the Americans can and cannot do if they leave CJSTOF-A in Afghanistan.

This deal with the Taliban is how it ends. It is the only way it can end. The only question in Afghanistan was when, not if, we were leaving. The Taliban cannot beat the Kabul government in battle. The Kabul government cannot beat the Taliban in battle. The continued presence of American SF teams, tactical aircraft and trainers brought the Taliban to the negotiating table which is the best they could do.  It is up to the Afghans to decide what happens next. It is also time for us to leave.

It’s Groundhog Day for Afghansitan

Fellow Afghanistan Free Ranger Dr. Keith Rose released a podcast the other day describing where we are now in Afghanistan as Ground Hog Day. The people of Afghanistan are talking a beating with no end on the horizon which is 180 degrees out from where I thought they would be when I flew into Kabul in 2005.

Using Keith’s analysis as a point of departure (it’s a great podcast) there are some dynamics in play with Afghanistan that need require emphasis as our involvement continues. Fans of the international hit podcast The Lynch/Kenny Hour on All Marine Radio have heard Jeff, Mac and I talk about our campaign in AF/PAK  at length using blunt terms that sound harsh to those not familiar with infantry guy talk.

As I pointed out last week, that podcast (and this blog) have a ton of Afghan fans who know me. Afghans do not communicate with each other in blunt, no- BS terms, but I know they appreciate it when we do. Nothing will freak out Afghan project managers more then saying the word “inshallah” at the conclusion of a discussion about a scheduled payday.

Blunt fact number one is our stated reason for remaining in Afghanistan is an obvious fabrication. The US Government has consistently maintained we have to stay to make sure al-Qeada does not come back, establish training camps, and conduct terrorist deprivations on the international community from safe havens in Afghanistan.

The fact is they already have training camps in Afghanistan, we took out “Probably the largest” one in Kandahar province back in 2015. The leader of al Qaeda, Ayman Al-Zawahiri has had a safe haven in Pakistan since 2001, and has now (obviously) drone proofed his lifestyle. Why would he leave Miranshah to live in Khost or Kandahar?  The international airport in Peshawar is much nicer than any airport in Afghanistan, it is served by more international airlines (including Emirates, my favorite), and it services more destinations. Who in their right mind would fly Kam Air Kabul to Dubai when you can fly Emirates from Peshawar and rack up the sky miles?

Ayman Al-Zawahir and bin Laden in a file photo released in 2002. I would bet big money (based on the finger behind them) is on the Jbad this photo was taken on the Jbad-Kabul road just west of the old Soviet hydro dam  outside Jalalabad.  There was an al Qaeda training camp out that way (ISAF still uses it and calls it Gamberi)

You are thinking terrorist don’t use sky miles but I must point out the largest covert operation ever launched by CIA agents (not contractors which is the norm) was compromised because the agents used their covert ID to fly into Italy but had used their own credit cards to book the flights and hotels. That’s the CIA who are supposed to be high speed and low drag – the Taliban has to be worse on the operational security vs. sky miles test.

Blunt fact number two is that the American people in general, and her military veterans specifically, believe we have done more than our fair share to give Afghanistan a chance, and they blew it, so the hell with them. Clearly President Trump is looking for a way out and is willing to do almost anything (to include inviting former Gitmo detainees to Camp David for a round of ‘Let’s Make a Deal’)  to end our commitments in the region. President Trump has said we are not getting any return on our considerable investments and asks why should we stay in Afghanistan or Pakistan?

The reasons to remain in the region are no doubt varied and complex but the fact is that as long as we have thousands of servicemen, along with thousands more internationals in the country, we have to keep funding the government in Kabul. The next round of international funding is in 2020 and the funds are tied to anticorruption metrics that have not been met. If the international money pipeline closed suddenly how do you think the tens of thousands of internationals would get out of the country as the government folds and the security services crumble?

That is a scenario you don’t have to worry about because the specter of Gandamak II will keep funding going indefinitely. Nothing terrifies western government politicians more than the slaughter of their citizens for which their accountability is unavoidable. The Taliban will continue to attack both military and civilian targets because they are terrorists and that is what terrorists do. The Taliban no longer resembles the popular uprising of the religiously righteous in the face of anarchy. They are now narco-terrorists first, Islamic Jihadi’s second, and Afghan nationalists (maybe) third.

TheTaliban were once competent enough to protect the people of Afghanistan from anarchic violence, but they are now the source of anarchic violence. Tyrannical rule is bad, but chaos is worse and there are many Afghans who have lived through both. The Afghan people will side with the side that delivers them from chaos; especially if that side is committed to keeping Pakistan the hell out of the country.

That is the other great unknown; what happens to the safe havens in Pakistan when the Taliban cut a deal with us? The Afghan Taliban claim to be their own movement but they are Pakistan’s puppets just as sure as the government Kabul is America’s. In fact it is obvious Pakistan exerts more direct control over the Taliban then America has ever been able to establish in Kabul. For the past 50 years the Taliban have been Pakistan’s bitch.

The investment in Afghanistan’s human capitol came from every corner of the globe to include Burning Man

America no longer has the stomach for staying in Afghanistan but that’s too bad; we’re not going anywhere for the reasons outlined above. So how does this end? I have no idea but I’m a fan of the Afghan people and I believe they can, and will, sort things out given time and space. It is arguable if our  continued meddling is helping, but that is irrelevant now.  We aren’t leaving and are incapable of staying without meddling, so there it is.

Groundhog Day

We (the international community) have made serious investments in Afghanistan’s human capitol. We have no idea how that is going to pay off in the long run. There are plenty of smart, dedicated, tough Afghans who want nothing to do with Taliban rule (but aren’t too thrilled with us either).  Inshallah they will prove decisive at some point in the future.

There is one known (in my mind) regarding Afghanistan and that is the Taliban will never rule that country again. Their day has passed and they are now little more than petty narco traffickers with mortars and a ton of machine-guns. They no longer have a route to legitimacy as a governing entity but it may years before they figure this out on their own. In the meantime…..Groundhog Day.

Afghanistan Stories – What’s up with the Hash?

As the United States sets up to ramp down their activities in Afghanistan it is time to write stories about the country that folks might find interesting. First up (admittedly low hanging fruit) is the myth of Afghan hash. It had a reputation for being good but where reputation originated is hard to determine. Stories of hash cultivation and usage in the era go back centuries. But most Afghan hash is #39 (not good).

It is not hard to find hash in Afghanistan, in fact you can go up to any street vendor and procure a Talli (lamb tongue) for $10.00. But the international community was generally less than impressed.

Turns out most Afghans cannot grow dope worth a damn. Separating male from female plants in not the norm, they refuse to stop throwing water on it as the flowers mature, they have no idea what trichomes are or how to look at them to determine the optimal time for harvesting.  They end up roughing the plants up with leather gloves weeks before they should touching the damn things and their hash sucks.

Screen Shot 2019-08-19 at 6.50.29 PM
Trichromes – can’t grow good weed without knowing about these

How do I know this? Sea story time.

There I was, There I was  … escorting a Japanese agricultural expert as she inspected a barn the people of Japan had donated to the women in the village of Uzbeck Uzbeck. This was in 2006 and Uzbeck Uzbeck is in Balkh province near the city of Mazar-i Sharif. I knew something was wrong when we pulled into the village because there was a small group of men and women in a heated argument which is most unusual.

What had happened was the men of the village had taken custody of half the barn to dry a monster harvest of weed. The women, knowing exactly how Tani-San (our Ag expert who is all of 4’10’ and slight of build) would react, had turned their cows loose in the dope fields where they had gone to town and were now acting most strange.

Once we understood what was happening Tani -san took her charges aside and started to wear them out. One of the elders took me aside and explained they did not know I was coming and could I wait in this storage room as they set up a tea to host me. I sat down in the room and noticed the body a young teen-age girl was laid out on a door sitting on saw horses. I’ve seen plenty of bodies in my days and knew the girl had been placed there so the women could prepare her body for burial that night. I have no idea what caused her early demise, it was clearly not trauma, and my hosts never said a word about it. Death is part of life in Afghanistan and waiting to bury a loved one routine.

The village elders came for me 15 minutes latter and we went to a slightly raised wooden deck with a wood frame surrounding it and sage bushes forming a wall on one end. There were a dozen little boys in the creek next to the deck and they threw water on the sage bushes as we sat and drank tea. It was August, over 100 degrees, and the slight breeze running through the sage brush was luxurious.

I was not proficient with languages back then (never got that good with Pashto) and was doing my best to figure out what the heck everybody was talking about when an Afghan in western clothes walked up and , after exchanging greeting with the elders, said “what’s up man”?

Turned out the guy had spent years living in Amsterdam and knew a thing or two about growing weed. He told me he came back after the Taliban fell to stare his knowledge with his fellow Afghans. After Tani-san and the women had gone to eat lunch we went into the barn and he took out a 30x magnifying glass and showed me the trichomes on the weed buds and explained why this crop should have been harvested a week early (thanks to our visit apparently).

Years later in Jalalabad I would repeatedly hear of guys having hash from Bahlk province so I am guessing the European bud farmer had some success, or maybe it has always been that way, who knows?

This monster was growing across the street from a bank in Kabul about 300 yards from the American embassy in 2006. The guards across the street were keeping tabs on it – the two women are beggars, which is a common sight in Kabul.

What I know is the deeper you dig into perceived conventional knowledge the more you learn to suspect convenient narratives.  Afghanistan is a complex place full of the unexpected….but the hash production sector needs some work.

Afghan Security Forces adopt a potential Game Changer

Buried in the news last month was a story announcing the most significant tactical adaptation in the history of Afghan Security Forces. The international media company AFP broke the story with this article Under US pressure Afghan army starts closing checkpoints. The article was reprinted in various legacy media outlets, Stars and Stripes ran their own reporting that included a little more depth, and the subject disappeared from the news cycle without further examination or comment. This should not be as it is a fundamental change in how Afghan Security Forces are handling a resurgent Taliban.

For eighteen years western military advisors to the Afghans have repeatedly pointed out that dispersing manpower out in small, poorly built, militarily unimportant, easily overrun checkpoints is a pointless waste. The Afghans counter that small forts flying the Afghan flag demonstrates to the people that the government holds that area.

The photographs below are from one of the better organized checkpoints I ran across during a road trip with Ralph Ward a.k.a The Skipper. He was heading into Nuristan province to blow an ammo cache the ANA had uncovered, something he normally we not do which was why I was tagging along.

Approaching a checkpoint in Nuristan province. Can you tell its be there for awhile?
Billboards in English in Nuristan….weird right?
As far as ANA checkpoints go this one was not in bad shape. There were around a half dozen guys hanging out, none in uniform, no visible defensive works and no bullet holes despite this post being in (at the time) the most kinetic province in the country.
The boys had a stash of motorbikes that I can promise you they did not arrive with and could never afford….another big problem with checkpoints

In 2016 the American military estimated that there were 8,400 Afghan police and army checkpoints in the country. Despite insisting that the Afghans start closing them the number of checkpoints grew in 2017. It is obvious these poorly manned, undefended, far flung, unsupported positions contribute to low morale, high rates of desertion and high casualties. In fact a week after this policy was announced Afghan Security Forces suffered 23 KIA’s in two attacks on checkpoints, one in Ghor and the other in Logar provinces.

If it is so obvious that these checkpoints are a bad idea why is it they proliferate? The motorbikes in the picture above are a hint and here is another:

Me best mate Shem and I looking over an ANP checkpoint on the Jalalabad -Kabul hwy

The checkpoint Shem and I are looking over had reported they were overrun the night prior and fired all the rounds on hand to drive off the Taliban. The building, on all four sides, is pockmarked with bullet and shrapnel holes, as the  structure pre-dates the Soviet invasion. None of the battle damage on this building was new, and not one piece of brass could be found on the ground. The troops (all Hazara’s from Ghazni province) were obviously selling ammo and AK rounds, at the time, cost 65 cents each on the black market.

When soldiers “benefit” at their checkpoints they are expected to kick a percentage up. It’s similar to the mafia, or at least The Sopranos version of the mafia, and that is the main reason the Afghans have refused  to take them down.  Afghan police and army officers assigned a certain area have normally paid serious cash for the position and expect a return of their investment. The practice is so common it doesn’t require footnotes (but here’s a link anyway). I have been told that this is changing as younger officers in the Afghan Security Forces reach ranks of responsibility. I hope so, I’m a big of the Afghans.

Here is the 02 Unit setting up a snap checkpoint outside of Jalalabad. This is how you should run checkpoints

If the Afghan Security Forces are now willing to forgo revenue from their checkpoints to focus on offensive operations targeting the Taliban they have crossed the Rubicon in military professionalism. Time will tell, but this is the most positive development I’ve seen regarding Afghanistan in a long time. Inshallah it is a sign of a tide starting to turn.

Is Kabul Safe for Foreigners? Hard Man Vs Grey Man

Last week an article popped up from Swedish journalist Franz J. Marty titled What Living in Kabul is Really Like.   Frantells us Kabul is perfectly safe which is in stark contrast from the recent Laura Logan report on 60 minutes. From his article:

I don’t live in a highly secured compound. When I move around town, I usually walk. Only if it is too far will I take a car, and then certainly not an armored one or one of the expensive taxis for foreigners. …. I don’t eat in guarded, expensive restaurants as other foreigners do. I choose tiny, shabby local places, or carts selling food in the street. I live more or less like an average Afghan. So I dare to say that I have a pretty good image of the daily life in Kabul.

When I was living in Kabul  I could have wrote that same paragraph but for different reasons. Given the deadly attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul yesterday it is important to describe why a city that is safe for a Swedish journalist is not safe for anyone else, even a guy like me who has spent years living there and knows the place better than any city in my home country.

The first thing to understand about safety in an unstable, war torn city like Kabul is that you have only two options;  Grey Man or Hard Man.

The main threat to foreigners in Kabul comes from kidnappers who know they (and middle to upper class Afghans) will bring in a good amount of ransom. The secondary threat comes from Afghan security forces who have a nasty habit of shooting or arresting foreigners when they’re pissed.

Swedish journalist Nils Horner was shot in head from point blank range in the middle of the day by men who appeared to be NDS agents. American Louis Maxwell, a former sailor who was working  for the UN, was executed by Police in Kabul. He had just fought off a Taliban attack on the UN guesthouse he was guarding, was badly wounded and had his high end G36K rifle laying next to him when the police showed up. One of the responding Kabul PD officers shot him in the head and ran off with his rifle – which has never been recovered.

Louis Maxwell with his H&K G36K. This guy was a true American hero although very few remember him.

The two strategies to mitigate risk available to foreigners are Hard Man or Grey Man. During the years I spent in Afghanistan I was forced, by genetics,  into using the hard man option. I’m 6’2″,  weigh 220 lbs and am fit. I have good genes which, when combined with a life long habit of physical training, is a considerable blessing. Except when it comes to working outside the wire in places like Kabul. There my appearance is a considerable liability because I stand out.

The hard man approach in Afghanistan included being obviously armed. I carried at  1911 pistol (.45 caliber) and used an OWB (outside the waistband) holster so my concealed pistol wasn’t that concealed. I was always alert and aware of my surroundings. I walked with my head up, shoulders squared, while employing  my most effective weapon when dealing with Afghans on the street; a big, warm, friendly smile. Looking relaxed, confident, friendly and calm were essential to my ability to successfully travel into every corner of Afghanistan.

From 2005 to 2008 the average Afghan in Kabul had no issues with foreigners walking around the city. If you spoke a little Dari and people regularly saw you out and about even the street urchin problem (following you everywhere while aggressively begging)  could be avoided. But what I could never do was attempt to blend in and go Grey Man; I’m too big and my languages skills were never good enough to go full Grey Man.

Grey Man involves blending into your surrounding environment and not standing out. It requires the  wearing local clothes and near perfect language skills.  To pull it off in Afghanistan you had to be shortish, skinny and limber. Walking gaits stand out, a western gait was easy to spot.  Very few men were able to mask their western heritage well enough to pull off a full Grey Man in Kabul.

The atmospherics for westerners started changing in Kabul around 2010. It might have been earlier but I wasn’t living in Kabul from 2008-2012 so my finger was not tightly on the pulse there. The first change was that all the high end restaurants prohibited firearms. The Gandamak and L’atmosphere had always made patrons check their guns at the door which is one of the reasons I didn’t frequent them. By 2010 every restaurant catering to Westerners did the same (except certain Chinese places).

The weapons ban was part of the effort by then President Karzai to force every expat outside the wire to either get back inside the wire or pay him for security. He was aided and abetted by the UN who always had great security in part because they carved out an exemption for themselves. It is interesting to note that Louis Maxwell was killed while guarding a special election monitoring unit from the UN sent to Kabul to oversee the 2009 elections.  They pulled out after the attack but before the elections. Louis’s hometown (Miami, Florida) newspaper wrote an article about his murder here  where they accused Karzai of directing it.

In 2012 I moved back to Kabul where foreigners were prohibited from owning a weapon. Security contractors could carry company registered weapons on duty but even that was risky. The Karzai government would routinely confiscate weapons and radios from contractors who had the proper paperwork authorizing them. I know of at least one incident where they did the same to American army soldiers who were wearing civilian clothes on duty (there were  a few outfits in Kabul authorized to do this) and they even impounded their armored vehicle. By the time the army got the radios, weapons and vehicle back the run flat inserts had been pulled from inside their tires.

I still walked around in Kabul that year mostly because I hated being cooped up inside our living compound. I wore local clothes in an attempt to blend in but that was useless. I was unarmed and felt like a target. I could not shake an inner voice that reminded constantly walking around was not a good idea. I know my posture changed, my shoulders slumped, my stride was different smile was long gone too because my level of confidence had plummeted and that is an important data point.

We have a mechanism in our brains that runs on serotonin and tracks our status constantly. The higher our status the better our emotions are regulated. As serotonin levels increase we feel more positive emotions; as they decrease less positive emotions. When I was living in Jalalabad a journalist once asked me if I was afraid of the Taliban. I smiled and told him something like “in this part of the country I’m the apex predator; I’m not afraid of anything”.

I honestly felt that way too and I say that knowing it is total bullschumer. I might be big and I can shoot like the professional, high end instructor I once was but to think that somehow made a lone American an Apex predator was ludicrous. But I felt that way which was why I was so positive and why I always smiled and why the Afghan security guys at every checkpoint (except for damn NDS one outside Kabul) loved it when my simple ass pulled up with my big smile, chattering away in atrociously poor Dari or Pashto like I knew what the hell I was doing.

Baba Tim bringing quality submachinegun training to the people back in the day. This photo showed up in tactical magazine last year and I have no idea who took it but I know why it was used….Baba T could hit on the shooting demos; shoot a few thousands rounds, week in and week out, for a couple of years and you could too.

I had gone to a modified Grey Man posture in the badlands of Helmand, Nimroz and Kunar provinces. I dressed in local clothes, drove old local beaters but I was heavily armed (pistol, rifle, frag and smoke grenades). I also was under no illusions about fooling anyone once I stepped outside my vehicle. Afghans cannot wink and I cannot squat on my heels which means my gait is different from an Afghan’s gait.

The ability to wink, I suspect, is just a cultural artifact. I’m sure Afghan kids have mastered the technique by now. What I found interesting was winking at Taliban who rolled up on project sites in an attempt to intimidate us made them furious. But we were armed and they weren’t so they had to take it which meant a loss of face for them that amused the Afghans working for us. They would laugh out loud during these confrontations; Afghans are brave like that.

I suspect that Franz Marty is a shortish, skinny man fluent in Dari who has developed the ability to walk with an Afghan gait. If so he is an exceptional Grey Man and that is a high compliment. The only other westerner I know who could pull off that level of Grey Man is my best friend and Free Ranging partner Shem (a.k.a. The Bot)  who was the best operator I ever saw in Afghanistan.

Having the ability to use the Grey Man technique at that level allows for the Neurochemical  regulation system to run at full capacity. A westerner who can pull off that level field craft knows he is doing something that very few of his fellow humans can do. He is, in the world of the outside wire westerner, a high status man.

There is a high degree of safety when one is able to become part of the herd. This is why Zebra camouflage works so well and why fish look the same as every other fish of their species and why they swim in schools. Men who stand out for any reason; too fit, too tall, too fat or too small cannot blend in well enough to pull off the Grey Man.

For women going Grey Man in the Muslim world is out of the question. Unescorted women stand out, trying to slip by wearing a burqa is problematic due to gait and the Islamic version of T&A. T&A in Afghanistan means toes and ankles and I became an expert at judging what was under the blue burqa by looking at women’s feet. When asked by other westerners what I was looking for I always answered “dudes”.  I never expected to find any but it was such a cool answer I had to use it.

Franz Marty was writing about the Kabul he sees today but that is not the Kabul any other Westerner is going to find if they venture back to Afghanistan. His observations are interesting but they are also dangerous; nature is not fair and she does not endow many men with the skills needed to go Grey Man in Kabul.

All Franz has to worry about is being in the wrong place at the wrong time so his personal risk is low. It sounds like he avoids places frequented by other Westerners like the Intercontinental Hotel (I’ve stayed there many times over the years) which also significantly decreases his level of risk.

Any attempt by another Westerner to emulate the system Mr. Marty is using in Kabul would be suicidal. There may come a time when westerners can again go to Afghanistan and roam that beautiful country without too much drama. I’d love to do it myself but doubt that time will come while I’m still alive to see it.

Laura Does Kabul and Rocks It

One of the most popular posts I wrote while in Afghanistan was Laura Does The Special Forces and it was not a flattering review of Ms Logan or the Special Forces. It’s time for another review of Ms. Logan’s work on 60 minutes and this time she hit the ball out of the park. It was outstanding and you should take the time to watch her segment below.

 

Many years ago a 60 minutes report like this would have caused a major reaction with the American public and our do-nothing shysters in congress. That time has long past which is mostly a good thing but not in this case. The course we are taking in Afghanistan will not work and this 60 minute report made that painfully obvious.

The report starts with the flight from Kabul International Airport to the US Embassy which is a trip of less than 2 miles by road. Laura points out that no US official or military member travels on the road in Kabul. The American leading our effort, army general John Nicholson (not to be confused with Marine general Larry Nicholson who kicked the Taliban’s ass in Helmand back in the day) replies that force protection is his number one mission and that it’s safer to not use the roads in Kabul.

Several points to make here starting with the fact that the helicopters being used are contractor air. Because the evil Eric Prince isn’t providing these aircraft nobody seems to mind but I’ll tell you this; they are charging a hell of a lot more than Blackwater ever charged the government and you can take that insight to the bank. The second observation is it is much safer for the Afghans to not have American military convoys on the road for reasons I have described about a dozen times over the years. Another obvious point is that if, after 16 years, we have gone from a Kabul where all foreigners were welcomed (which is how it was for at least the first 10 years of our involvement) to a city where no foreigner can travel anywhere without taking significant risks what does that tell you? Tells me we aren’t winning.

But General Nicholson says that we are winning. He tells Ms. Logan straight up that we’re killing Taliban leaders by the score and that they now have a choice to either come to the governments side or die.  He goes on to say that there have been no attacks on our homeland from Afghanistan over the last 16 years and implies that if we leave Afghanistan that “International Terrorists” will take over the country and our homeland will be at risk.

This is madness disguised as conventional wisdom. Guess what? There has never been an attack on our homeland from Afghanistan. The 9/11 hijackers weren’t from Afghanistan and if you wanted to attack the city where they organized that would be Hamburg, Germany. All Afghanistan did was harbor bin Laden and we let him get away when the risk adverse Pentagon took over the original entry operation and prevented Delta (and a young Marine brigadier named Mattis) from smoke checking his dumb ass in 2001. What was their excuse back then? Force protection.

In the eyes of the modern general force protection trumps the mission as a priority in the American military. So does the imperative of foisting female machine gunners on the infantry. Do you know what a machine-gun section does in combat? It humps ammo, heavy 7.62mm ammo, along with their heavy gun and its tripod (which is heavy) and the traversing and elevation mechanism (which isn’t that heavy) and spare barrels and their own rifles…

Sorry, got a little off track there.

If there is anyone in America who thinks we did Afghanistan a favor by listening to the highly over-rated Colin Powell and staying in that country I can assure you that you’re wrong. A trillion later, an unknown number of Afghan and international lives later, who knows how many arms and legs lost later; our military is still there and in the hermetically sealed Kabul military headquarters there sits a four star general who  says (and might even believe) that the Taliban now has two options, die or capitulate.

Nicholson went on to claim that if we lose in Afghanistan “It would embolden jihadists globally”. I don’t think that is remotely true after the Axis of Adults crushed ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Laura Logan pressed the general hard and then moved up the road to the Presidential Palace to press Ashraf Ghani, the leader of the so called ‘Unity Government’.

Lara Logan: Your soldiers and your policemen are dying in unprecedented numbers.

Ashraf Ghani: Indeed.

Lara Logan: How long can that be sustained?

Ashraf Ghani: Until we secure Afghanistan.

Lara Logan: How long is that? How long until you secure it?

Ashraf Ghani: As long as it takes. Generations if need be!

Lara Logan: The U.S. isn’t going to be here for generations.

Ashraf Ghani: We will be here for generations. We do not need others to fight our fights.

Lara Logan: People in this country say that if the U.S. pulled out, your government would collapse in three days.

Ashraf Ghani: From the resource perspective they are absolutely right. We will not be able to support our army for six months without U.S. support, and U.S. capabilities.

Lara Logan: Did you just say that without the US support your army couldn’t last six months?

Ashraf Ghani: Yes. Because we don’t have the money.

We have spent over a Trillion dollars on Afghanistan but they don’t have any money. Do you think a Trillion more will help? Do you think killing Taliban is the answer? Do you think mentoring the Afghan army from inside secured bases and then sending them out to get chewed up is the way forward?

We know how to mentor foreign troops plagued by low skills and low morale; our current Undersecretary of Defense for Special Operations wrote a book on it and you know what he said? You have to live with and fight with them to get them up to standard. That was why the Prince Plan made sense.

The only rational way forward is to allow the Afghans to solve this problem the Afghan way. General Nicholson said he’s giving himself two more years for his plan to work. I don’t what he’ll be saying in January 2020 but do know this much; there will be no significant changes to the situation in Afghanistan.

The Trump Plan: The Devil is in the Details

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Last night President Trump gave a solid speech about why he is committing American power and prestige to continue fighting in Afghanistan. It was a good speech that outlined some reasonable goals and contained the kind of one liners guys (and gals) like me appreciate. “We are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists”. That sounds great until you think about who, exactly, are these terrorist we’re going to be smoke checking. Depending on how you look at it the “terrorists” could be every non Hazara Afghan residing beyond the confines of Kabul.

One of the other components of the speech was the refusal to give out specific numbers regarding the increase in American forces in Afghanistan as well as what these forces are expected to do. The most common number in the press, based on pre-speech background briefings, was an increase of 4,000 troops. Some of these troops are supposed to be supplied by our NATO allies but that’s not going to happen. There are only a few of those allies who have troops that can fight and they have no reason to go back for Operation Groundhog Day.

These boys are now adults and in the fight but on which side? Photo from Balk province during the summer of 2006

What will these troops be doing on the ground? It sounds like they are going to fight but who will would be doing the fighting, where are they going to fight, how long will they be fighting? We really can’t do that much fighting because we have a center of gravity that the Taliban understands well. We cannot afford to take casualties. The American people are not behind this effort and they are not going to tolerate a steady flow of body bags into Dover.

The stated goal of our continued effort in Afghanistan is to prevent the repeat of a 9/11 type of attack on the American homeland. 9/11 was planned and coordinated in Afghanistan by al Qaeda and some of them, as well as an ISIS franchise, remain in the country. But it is impossible to believe that, even if the Taliban took control of the entire country, one of those organizations would be allowed to plan and launch attacks on America. We are to continue fighting villains until we have “exposed the false allure of their ideology”. That too is not going to happen; their ideology is based on the Koran; there are no countervailing Koranic interpretations evident in Islam today that would push back against the Jihadi narrative.

Talking about changing our approach to Pakistan, increasing cooperation with India and holding the Afghan government accountable sounds like a reasonable course of action unless you know something about Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. How do you make the Kabul government “more accountable”? How can you get the Pakistani’s to stop funding cross boarder mayhem while at the same time inviting India to assume a much bigger role in Afghanistan? Pakistan will once again be critical to the logistical effort required  for putting even more boots on the ground and thus holds the trump card in any dispute with us concerning what they are or are not doing in Afghanistan.

The strength of the Prince Plan was embedding trainers/mentors with the Afghan Security Forces at the battalion level and leaving the same team in place for years on end. That would have allowed the mentors to gain front specific knowledge regarding the tactics and personalities at the granular level and that in addition to their access to combat enablers (Tac Air and Artillery) could have been decisive.

Extended time on the ground in the same place also renders the number one Taliban weapon (IED’s) ineffective. Fighting on the same turf for years at a time provides the knowledge required to avoid IED’s as well as complex ambushes. Increased dwell time = increased tactical proficiency = decrease in combat casualties from IED’s. Increased dwell time is no longer in the cards meaning units who venture outside the wire during their 6 to 9 month rotations will take casualties they could have avoided had they been on the ground longer.

This is a fuel station built on a foundation of Soviet BTR armored vehicles. How long before we see old MRAPs re-purposed for the same task?

The Trump plan is not going to result in enablers at the battalion level; it will augment the Corps level training missions while (apparently) allowing those forces to sortie out of their FOB’s and take on Taliban formations when they deem the conditions favorable to do so. Job number one for all deployed forces in going to be avoiding casualties; focusing on the enemy and exploiting his weaknesses will be a secondary consideration which means “favorable conditions” will not necessarily translate into decisive defeats of various Taliban formations.

The Trump plan is placing the responsibility for our continued efforts in Afghanistan squarely on the shoulders of the Pentagon. But the Pentagon has major problems that are starting to manifest themselves. The latest evidence of this was the USS John S, McCain which collided, in broad day light, with an oil tanker in the Strait of Malacca.

Having transited the strait a couple of times aboard Naval shipping this accident is impossible for me to comprehend. The Strait has always had a huge pirate problem and when in the strait the normal navy watch crew (aboard gator freighters) is augmented by armed Marines. The McCain had no armed Marines but should have had an enhanced watch section with the crew on hair trigger alert to go to general quarters. That has been the standard operating procedure for over 50 years. We are hearing (just like the last ship collision) that maybe this was an intentional attack. That should have been expected and avoided and is probably not going to prove to be true. What is happening to the Navy is, I fear, the chickens coming home to roost.

The extract below from an excellent article in City Journal by Bob McManus sums up the current problem:

“….eight years under the leadership of a Navy secretary, Ray Mabus, whose social-justice priorities almost always took precedence over tradition, morale, training, and operational readiness. Under Mabus, according to the Navy Times, the service prioritized shipbuilding—not a bad thing, necessarily, but it came at a cost. The secretary “made a policy of directing money away from operations and maintenance”—that is, away from training of the sort that clearly could have prevented at least the Fitzgerald tragedy. (What happened on the McCain remains to be seen.) “At the same time,” the editorially independent publication reports, “Mabus pushed hard for major cultural shifts inside the fleet, including the inclusion of women in combat roles in the Navy and Marine Corps, unisex uniforms, gender-neutral ratings titles and opening the services to transgender service members.”

Pushed to the point of obsession, the Navy Times might have added. As a result, the Marine Corps ended the Obama years in a state of near-mutiny over the administration’s insistence on shoehorning women into front-line combat roles despite convincing evidence that they aren’t up to the task. Meantime, the Navy has developed a serious pregnant-sailor problem“.

The American military is no longer able to shoulder the burden of putting Afghanistan back together again. Our diplomatic service lacks the leverage to force change in countries who are not aligned with our goals. The Taliban have no reason to end its armed opposition to a central government that is weak, corrupt, and entirely dependent on foreign aid dollars. There is little hope on the horizon for the people of Afghanistan.

The Raven 23 Ruling: A Blow Against Politically Correct Tyranny

I remember the day everything started to go downhill for Americans in Afghanistan. It was Monday, the 29th of May 2006 when an American army truck had a brake failure and plowed into a bunch of cars at the bottom of a long hill at the northern entrance to Kabul. The accident caused fatalities which caused the hundreds of locals milling around the area to converge on the accident scene. The situation rapidly escalated when a gunner on the back of the stricken truck panicked and started shooting people at point blank with his .50 cal machinegun. Tolo news was running the tape of that shooting over and over when my buddy Walt called from the JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) office and told me to turn on the news because we had a major problem.

I watched the shooting play out twice before Tolo shifted to a live reporter and immediately went to General Quarters in our compound. We lived behind the American embassy in a local compound that looked like any other compound so we were safe. Our JICA clients were spread out in offices across Kabul and were not safe. It took less than 30 seconds to come up with our plan; local clothes only, no body armor or rifles as they were useless in this situation;  we would go with concealed pistols. I opened the golden conex (I had it painted gold to accommodate my quirky sense of humor) and grabbed the one CS grenade we had and then took as many frag grenades as I could carry without being too obvious. The rest of the expats took frags too and we started heading towards the various offices stopping briefly outside the JICA compound to get radio’s.

Kabul riot of 26 May 2006. Photo from the BBC

Our SUV’s turned out to be worthless as traffic was jammed up so badly that we could not make it to our various destinations ahead of the rioting crowds. We purchased a few bikes from locals on the spot for 15 times their worth and started peddling furiously down side streets. Unable to move our clients to safe harbored we gathered them into several different offices around town and strong-pointed them. Then we waited and thankfully the rioting mobs passed us by. It was, to be honest, terrifying and one of those times I remember with a shudder. We had only one incident. The guard manning the JICA office gate was shot in the leg. It was a minor wound and the Afghan, who was an albino and as white as Casper the ghost, told me latter; “every time there is a riot somebody shoots me in the leg because they think I’m a damn foreigner like you”.  Gotta love a guy who maintains a sense of humor in the face of adversity.

Over the years that I have been writing this blog I have bitched incessantly about the unnecessary killing of civilians due to convoy procedures and night raids. Examples can be found here, here, here and here. And it is with that in mind that I welcome the breaking news of the overturned murder conviction for one of the Blackwater contractors involved in the Nisour Square shootings along with the re-sentencing of the other 3 members of the Raven 23 team. If what they did in Nisour square was a “massacre” (as Wikipedia dubs it) what the army did in Kabul in May of 2006 was a mega massacre. Both incidents were unfortunate, both incidents happened in places I know well – I’ve driven through Nisour square dozens of times.

Of the two incidents the one I find the most unforgivable was the American army lighting up dozens of civilians in Kabul. With heavy machineguns at point blank range no less. That shooting pales in comparison to Nisour Square. When I read the circumstances behind the Nisour Square incident I can only say there but for the grace of God go I. There was a lot of lead being thrown at Raven 23 as they fought to reach safe harbor. When I remember what I saw during that long day in Kabul I can say with certainty that there is no way I’d react with deadly force. There was no lead coming their way; going to guns was an inexcusably amateur move.

The Raven 23 team. Railroaded into prison by a vindictive, corrupt, DoJ

The men of the Raven 23 PSD team were railroaded by a transparently corrupt Department of Justice who, I believe, was motivated by racial animus and politically correct group think regarding armed contractors. Matt over at the always excellent Feral Jundi has a good round up on the status of the Raven 23 story here.

I am not contending that the hundreds of military men who killed civilians they thought to be suicide (VBIED) bombers or shot regular villagers who were  responding to a night time raid on their own or a neighbors compound are war criminals. These things happen in war. My contention is that these deaths were due to poor tactics (convoys) and questionable strategic objectives (night raids) and thus could have and should have been avoided. But if the military men involved in these incidents aren’t murders neither are the members of the Raven 23 PSD team. That is a self evident truth.

Plus there is the fact that the contract Raven 23 was working stipulated they were under the tactical control of a State Department Regional Security Officer.  Why wasn’t he prosecuted? The answer is obvious.

Part of the Kangaroo court proceeding that went beyond bizarre was the federal court flying in alleged victims of this shooting. Leave aside the costs passed on to the taxpayer and look at the reality concerning the potential for veracity from these alleged victims. The best way to explain what I mean is  demonstrated by a story I pulled off of All Marine Radio. The episode, broadcast on the 21st of July, was titled You Paid the Iraqis for Detaining Them? ; the story I’m relating starts at the 28:08 mark. I urge you to listen to the whole hour – it’s hysterically funny, interesting and a bit alarming to those who lack experience in the Arab world.

The story starts when the Ops Officer of the MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit)  working Iraq rolled into Mac’s command post (CP) back in 2004. As they were shooting the breeze the OpsO talked about the MEU’s recent operation against the Shia militia of Muqtada al-Sadar in the city of Najaf.

S3  “We  had them surrounded in the main mosque in Najaf and the Iraqi’s from the national army who were with us were talking with the Marines about what it was like to fight Americans:

Marine: “How long have you been in the army”?

Iraqi solder: “I have been in the army for 15 years and fought against you guys in Kuwait and I am so excited to be on your side right now…this is wonderful with your tanks and your helicopters… fighting you was very scary so we ran away as soon as our officers abandoned us which is why we are still alive….This is awesome, we are going to go tomorrow with your tanks and guns and paint the walls of the mosque red with their blood”.

Marine: “Yeah that’s probably not going to happen”.

Iraqi: “what do you mean”

Marine: “Our country has this thing about attacking mosques”.

Iraqi’ “What? They are hiding in the Mosque and tomorrow we will go kill them all and cover the walls with their blood!”

Marine: “Yeah we’re probably not going to do that”

Iraqi’ “Then what are you going to do”?

Marine “We’re negotiating with them right now..”

Iraqi’ “No, no, no, no ..this is Jihad they will say anything because it doesn’t matter. You are the infidel and they can lie to you. They will lie and they will leave and within 10 minutes they will have another weapon and we will be fighting them again. How can you be a great nation and not annihilate your enemy”?

Needless to say the militia negotiated a surrender and the next day the Iraqi’s were fighting them again. The point being there are deeply embedded cultural reasons not to trust one word of alleged victims in the Nisour Square case or any other similar case. I urge you to listen to the podcast; there are a dozen or more examples of why this is so.

That our country now has a two tiered justice system is obvious. Were I to commit any of the many crimes that former FBI director James Comey outlined in his non indictment of Hillary Clinton I’d be rotting in jail for the rest of my life. And justifiably so. The legacy media is currently consumed with the Muh Russia story while trying to spin away the fact that it was Clinton’s who were paid millions by Russia after signing away a healthy percentage of our Uranium stocks.  The current scandal involving Debbie Washerman Schultz and the Awan family is, in not just my opinion, the biggest political scandal of my lifetime.  Yet the same corporate media shills who screamed for the scalps of the Raven 23 crew refuse to cover it.

Yesterday the current reign of progressive judicial tyranny was dealt a solid blow. Let us hope that this is the start of a trend to apply the rule of law equally to every citizen regardless of race, political affiliation or elected status.  If it is not then our country is in for a world of hurt. But that is down the road; right now three of the four men of Raven 23 are still in the Federal Pen and still need our support and prayers. The Raven 23 website is here – drop by and spread the love by giving them whatever support you can. They’ve earned it.

The Storm Clouds Are Building; Time To Talk About Realistic Solutions

Last Friday night I was invited for a short segment on Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler . She is on the One America Network and wanted to  talk about the situation in Afghanistan.  I was asked to speculate on the 4,000 additional troops that the legacy media has been discussing for the past few weeks. I responded it would be enough to provide permanent adviser teams for the 6 Afghan National Army (ANA) Corps and 14 ANA Brigade headquarters. I should have added the  five  geographic zones of the Afghan National Police which would add up to 4000 nicely.  I was then able to add that this increase in troop levels would not work. I’d like to expound on that and offer up what I think would work.

The addition of 4,000 troops would probably work as a stop gap measure to prevent the collapse of the Afghan government. But that does not correlate with the goals outlined in the Department of Defense report to congress that was just released by the Pentagon today. The quote below is from the U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan section of that report:

The U.S. and Afghan Governments agree that the best way to ensure lasting peace and security in Afghanistan is through reconciliation and a political settlement with the Taliban. The United States supports an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned reconciliation process and supports any process that includes violent extremist groups laying down their arms.

That is such an ironic statement that it’s almost funny. What they are describing as a goal is exactly where Afghanistan was in 2002. The Taliban had laid their arms down (a least a majority had) and gone back home to war no more. Those that had no home, had bad reputations from the Taliban days or just liked to fight went to Pakistan but they were a small subset of the former Taliban regime.

The Afghans were all about starting over in 2001; in Kandahar the tribes gathered in the municipal soccer stadium to elect representatives for the loya jirga future president Karzai was planning to hold. At that meeting one of those selected was an elder from the Ishaqazi tribe, Hajj Burget Khan from the Maiwand district. Anand Gopal, in his book No Good Men Among the Living explains what happened next.

One hot May night, Abdullah was sleeping in the courtyard when a thunderous blast shook him awake. Looking up, he saw a blinding white light in the space where the front gate had been. Silhouetted figures rushed toward him. He ran for the guesthouse, shouting that the house was under attack. Inside, Hajji Burget Khan was already awake; he had been sipping tea with visitors before the dawn prayer. His bodyguard Akhtar Muhammad raced into the courtyard, firing his weapon blindly. Before he knew it, he was thrown to the ground. Two or three men were on top of him. He was shackled and blindfolded, and he was kicked again and again. He heard shouting, in a language he couldn’t understand.

Hajji Burget Khan and Hajji Tor Khan, Akhtar Muhammad’s father, ran into the courtyard with other guests, heading for the main house. It was then, as the first morning light shaped the compound, that they saw armed men standing on the mud walls in camouflage uniforms and goggles and helmets. American soldiers. Gunfire erupted, and Hajji Tor Khan went down. Before Hajji Burget Khan could react, he, too, was shot. Nearby, women huddled in their rooms, listening. Never before had strangers violated their home— not during the Russian occupation, or the civil war, or under the Taliban. A woman picked up a gun and headed into the courtyard to defend her family, but the soldiers wrested it out of her hands. Then a soldier appeared with an Afghan translator and ordered the women outside. It was the first time they had ever left their home without a mahrem. They were flexicuffed and had their feet shackled, and some were gagged with torn pieces of turban. The group was then herded into a dry well behind the compound.

The story gets worse, first Hajji Burget Khan was killed while being questioned:

“…a confidential dispatch from the Canadian Joint Task Force 2, part of the special forces team that carried out the raid, states that “an elderly father died while in custody” at Kandahar Airfield, “reportedly from a butt stroke to the head, which has caused much grief/ anguish in the village.”

Then the Americans in Bagram figured out the truth:

“For days, the prisoners were questioned. “We don’t know who we have, but we hope we got some senior Taliban or at least some Taliban folks in there,” Lieutenant Colonel Jim Yonts, spokesman for the US Central Command, told reporters. Yet it soon became apparent that the captives had all followed Burget Khan in embracing the new American order. After five days, they were brought to Kandahar’s soccer stadium and released. A crowd of thousands, who had made the trip from Maiwand, was there to greet them. A few months earlier many of these farmers had packed the stadium seats waving the new Afghan flag and chanting in favor of the coming loya jirga. Now, for the first time, anti-American slogans filled the air. “If we did any crime, they must punish us,” shouted Amir Sayed Wali, a villager elder. “If we are innocent, we will take our revenge for this insult.” Tribal elder Lala Khan asked, “Is there any law? Any accountability? Who are our leaders? The elders, or the Americans?”

Now, 16 years later, the American military strategy is to try and put things right by returning them to the way they were before somebody on high decided to stick around Afghanistan to root out an al Qaeda which had fled and Taliban which had already surrendered. This war should have ended with the killing of Bin Laden in Nangarhar province but the geniuses from the the Pentagon let him slip away because nobody sitting on their ass back in Bagram  wanted “another Mogadishu”,

Killing Osama and ending our intervention in Afghanistan would have been worth 10 Mogadishu’s. The only senior player in theater who recognized that was a young Marine general named Jim Mattis who was begging to throw his Marines into the mountains to block bin Laden. That he, as the current Secretary of Defense, is the guy left holding the bag is a bitter irony that is lost on virtually everyone. But not me and now not you either.

The architects of the blatant incompetence describe by Gopal was the CIA. They were using a warlord to provide their actionable intelligence. The same warlord whose men assumed the responsibility of policing Maiwand after their police were arrested, Gul Agha Sherzai. Trusting that same organization to fix what it has spent 16 years breaking is madness.

What can be done? The first step is clear out the incompetent bureaucracies who have not one clue what to do now and appoint a Viceroy.  We need one man with proven capabilities to lead a very slimmed down effort of reconciliation.  I nominate Eric Prince because he is the only public figure who has made a lick of sense concerning a rational direction for Afghanistan.

Then we need a Information Operation (IO) campaign that works. Note how the Taliban and ISIS-K were all over the airwaves denying responsibility for the horrific attack on Kabul with the poop pumper truck. I say the Taliban did do that with the help of the Haqqani network. Why? Because on 9/11 /2011 an identical attack took place against an American base in Wardak province. The only difference was the truck was a water truck not a poop pumper truck. I’ll bet the explosives and triggering mechanism were identical and even if they weren’t, I’d be running a 24/7 IO op saying they were. Who’s going to argue the point; Haqqani?

According to the recently released Survey of the Afghan People the only provinces that harbor sympathy for the Taliban are Zabul, Uruzgan, Wardak, Laghman, Kunar and Nuristan. I’d be harping on that too with an IO campaign targeting them. You need IO to put constant pressure on the Taliban from the Afghan peoples perspective not from the big army or international press perspective.

The worst IO problem we face in Afghanistan is the common belief that we (the international community) are cooperating with Pakistan and the Taliban to keep Afghanistan unstable and in constant conflict. The United States Government and the Kabul Government can do nothing at the moment to change that. Kabul is facing intense, constant rioting over the latest bombing and their (Kabul’s) inability to protect the people of Afghanistan. The time for sweeping change is now but the players who created this fiasco are in no position to facilitate it.

That Afghans need help with both tactical and strategic intelligence and the model to use is the old Office of Strategic Services (OSS) model. Specialists embed with the Afghans; not in their own high security, incredibly expensive compounds. Go after the Taliban funding sources and cripple them. What do you do with all the opium? Buy it, send it to India and let them turn into pharmaceutical analgesics or build a plant to do that in Afghanistan or burn it.

What about the hash? Don’t buy that because it’s crap. In fact you could import some bubble hash from California to show the Afghans just how badly they do at growing dope. Then we could  introduce industrial hemp and teach the Afghans how to make rope, clothes and shoes from it. Do you know how expensive hemp fiber clothes are? Real expensive and they last too. The Afghans could make a killing on hemp textiles and use their smuggling networks to try and get bubble hash from the west. Once some gets dumped on them they’re going to want more. Know what that’s called….IO ops brother – an IO op that works

Same with the lapis and the silver, and the wood; buy it all and then sell it back to Afghans at a subsidized rate so they can make stuff and develop what we in west call “an economy”.  I can promise you this; buying the dope and the minerals will cost pennies on the dollars we’re spending now. And it will provide jobs and income that, if taxed reasonably, will allow Afghanistan to get off international welfare dole. Plus when they find out they’ve been doing the dope growing thing wrong for the last 5000 years it’s going to bother and confuse them. Which is how you get the industrial hemp trade going.

The Afghans need help defending themselves and the biggest problem they have with their army is the field discipline to takes to avoid IED’s, firefights you can’t win and keeping all the complex gear we’ve given them combat ready. The biggest problem they have with their air force is enablers and enough pilots. Embedded contractors are the answer, a fact which the international elites continue to lie about which is a good indicator it’s true.

What would these contractors need to be effective and avoid the Green on Blue attacks? Virtue. They cannot drink, smoke dope, do drugs, or womanize. They have to wear local clothes that keep their arms and legs covered. They need to be humble, deadly and dedicated. To use a tier one SF analogy – they need to be the Combat Applications Group (Delta Force) not SEAL Team 6. When’s the last time you heard something about Delta? Exactly my point.

This concept would work only if the Afghan people accept our help. We cannot gain that acceptance through a government that is viewed as corrupt, predatory and kept in place by the guns of foreigners. The way forward now goes through the National Ulema Council  – the religious leaders. If you can sell to them a plan that involves westerners on the ground, flying aircraft and assisting with intelligence collection and analysis then there is hope.

The men selected to do this would have to stay for the duration. They need to be men that Afghan men would respect and the younger Afghans would want to emulate. As long as the Ulema could handle their your young men wanting tattoos the West can provide the help they need to stand alone.

That’s what I’m talking about

Don’t tell me that can’t be done; I’ve done it, Panjwayi Tim has done it, Jim Gant did it and although I don’t know Eric Prince I’ve read his book and watched enough of his speeches to I know he’s done it too. There are thousands of internationals, some who I know of and many I don’t; men and women who have put in the time and displayed the aptitude to do what needs to be done to help the Afghans to help themselves.

It ends like it started with the Afghans, as a people, rising up to demand an end to the fighting, looting and destruction of war. That is how we started out, that is exactly how the Taliban started out and that is how this going end; with or without us.

What do the diplomats do? They could help by starting their own campaign advocating for a Pashtun and Baloch homeland. Those people should have their own country – who gives a damn about the boundaries drawn up by the old British Empire that were designed to split and them apart and weaken them? I can hear people now hissing their dismissal of such an ambitious plan but guess what? You don’t have to actually do it – just advocate for it and watch how quickly the Pakistani’s and Iranians start thinking about not messing with Afghanistan.

They would be screaming bloody murder as would the Turks but we can just shrug and act all PC like. “Hey man, were just trying to help the people and nobody likes the borders us old white guys drew up right? Why do you insist on borders us infidels imposed on you at the point of a gun? Why do you want hostile tribes inside your countries anyway; we did that to you and now we’re trying to fix and you’re getting shitty with us”?

Now there’s an IO op…could you imagine?  I can; nobody in Foggy Bottom could which is another point.

Let’s go one step further (I’m on a roll)  why not start talking about legalizing opium and heroin too?  Portugal has and that drove their junkie population down. It’s not like junkies can’t find the junk easily anyway. And again, you don’t have to actually do it; just start talking like you’re going to do it while you buy up the opium in Afghanistan and watch the bottom fall out of that market. Know what that is? That’s an IO op; one you can believe in and one that will work.

This may sound like crazy ideas to you but I’ll tell you what is really crazy. Believing that the various agencies and governments who created this mess can find a way out with just a few more troops and a few billion more dollars.

I say give me a Viceroy and 10 Billion a year (we’re spending 50 now) and I’ll give you a peaceful Afghanistan. And we won’t lose anymore troops – just contractors and nobody gives a damn about them (which is why you pay them the big bucks). If anyone else has a better idea I’d love to hear it.