Kharejee is a word used in both Pashto and Dari for foreigners. Afghanistan has a long history of welcoming Kharejee to their lands as long as they weren’t members of invading armies. When westerners arrived in force back in 2002 they weren’t, initially, considered invaders are were welcomed in most places by most people. Unfortunately the kharejee are not too welcomed anywhere in Afghanistan today.
Last weekend a western NGO, Operation Mercy, out of Sweden was attacked; their Afghan security guard decapitated, a German aid worker killed and a Finish aid worker kidnapped. Both of the Europeans were female which, in days gone by, would add to the sense of outrage in the West. They were probably targeted by the Taliban (given the decapitation) but could have been victims of a kidnapping gang. Regardless of motivation the kidnapped victim stands a good chance of surviving her ordeal if her government steps in and quickly ponies up some serious cash.
Which raises the question why the German woman was killed? She was worth a lot of money alive and nothing dead. My educated guess is she armed herself with some sort of bludgeoning weapon and tried to fight back. Some of the German NGO women I saw working in Afghanistan weighed a good bit more than your average Taliban and could have beat the stuffing out of them with a baseball bat.
Fighting back is not the best option in this kind of scenario but it’s what I would have done. It is also why disarming us Kharejee was stupid. Armed expats have stopped these types of attacks in their tracks several times in years past. Armed westerners have been killed by bombs in Kabul but only one was killed in a ground attack. He was working for the UN and was credited with saving 17 of his colleagues although he was badly wounded in the process. The wounds he sustained didn’t kill him, an Afghan police officer did by shooting him at point blank range.
Former American sailor or Marine – reports on his past differed Louis Maxwell with his H&K G36 rifle. The flame stick was stolen after he was killed by ANP officers responding to the attack on the guesthouse he was protecting. Louis Maxwell is a true hero and like most true heroes he will never be recognized, remembered or acknowledged. But I remember him nightly in my prayers and hope I’m not the only one.
It could be worse for the Finnish worker: if ISIS-K grabbed this woman there will be no getting her back. ISIS fighters don’t do ransom – they do blood work in the name of Allah. If they have her stand by for the orange jump suit and decapitation video.
German journalists Sandra Petersmann and Birgitta Schülke-Gill did some interesting reporting after the latest attack by asking local folks about their opinions on NATO sending in more troops. The responses they got were consistent with common sense which is the exact opposite of what we are hearing from our leadership concerning the need for more troops. Here’s an example:
“What good will more foreign soldiers do if they’re not allowed to fight?”
I believe the answer to that question is obvious.
What is also obvious is Kabul is a very dangerous city for Westerners today. Yet the NATO’s Resolute Support Public Affairs office insists that journalists who want to embed spend multiple days traveling back and forth to the Ministry of Interior (MoI) in Kabul to get credentialed before embedding. I have no problem doing that as I have many places in Kabul where I can go to ground surrounded by friends I know will protect me. There are a handful of Western journalists who could do the same. Any journalist without years of in-country experience and a tight support network will be in grave danger if they attempt to embed. This is the reason we will be getting very little reporting from the country in the coming years.
What are the chances that elite American journalists, the type you see on TV frequently, are required to expose themselves to this level of risk? I think it zero but hope I’m wrong. The point being that Resolute Support is resolutely refusing to acknowledge the current ground truth. You would think, given the reluctance of NATO countries to commit more manpower, some reality would work its way into their media plan to enable more reporters in-country to tell their story.
In other disturbing news the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) lost 20 men in a series of attacks on static checkpoints. They are going to lose a lot more because static checkpoints are easy targets to isolate and destroy. That the ANSF continues to use them indicates our advise and assist efforts over the last 16 years have yet to bear fruit. The National Directorate for Security, which are the MoI’s secret police have, for years, established flying checkpoints that are a much more effective way of screening traffic for villains and gathering bribes. I wrote a post about one where I lost two sets of irreplaceable body armor and that post made it into Soldier of Fortune magazine.
The continued use of static checkpoints indicates that ANSF soldiers and commanders are impervious to reason. How much mentoring would it take to get them to use mobile checkpoints that vary in time and location? I’m not sure but believe that 16 + X number of years will not be enough. ANSF will continue to sustain unsustainable losses because they insist on being sitting ducks.
Habits are hard to break, even when it is a reasonable assumption they will get you killed. It is difficult to see how more advise and assist trainers will turn the battlefield momentum. It is also difficult to see how this will end in an acceptable state of affairs. Time is not on our or the Afghan peoples side.
But I’m still on their side because I know too many Afghans who are decent, caring people and they need some moral support. Besides being in dangerous places is invigorating to me. Since my return to America I’ve discovered I’m a type II diabetic. The only dangerous thing I do now is to let my toe nails grow longer than I should. So, once again, I pull out the big threat:
If you have the means and interest please donate to my effort to embed at the the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page. Without accurate, informed reporting our ability to help is going to become seriously limited.
I have repeatedly written that in order for the Resolute Support Train and Assist mission to work the trainers will have to get out and fight with the trainees. The reason I’m adamant about that is not the traditional reason American combat advisers are normally effective.
When my uncle Chad spent a year as an adviser to the South Vietnamese Marine Corps they needed no help from him with their staff functions, battle drills or training. What they needed was his access to American fire power. Marine advisers were inserted into South Vietnamese units at the battalion and regimental level to access combat enablers, specifically American tactical aircraft, medical evacuation helicopters, artillery and naval gunfire. They lived with their South Vietnamese counterparts for the duration of their assignment and went with them to the field every time their unit was deployed. They formed tight bonds with their counterparts too which is the basis of trust and a good way of avoiding green on blue attacks.
The advise and assist mission in Afghanistan today has little to do with access to American combat enablers (there isn’t much to access now anyway). It is focused on improving battle staff mission planing. Solid staff work is critical to mission success at the battalion (and higher) level. The Afghanistan National Army (ANA) and the National Police (ANP) have serious staff functionality issues due to attrition, low levels of literacy in the ranks and the problem of rampant corruption.
The corruption problem as well as the logistical issues seem to have improved (somewhat) over the years as can be seen when examining current photographs of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in action. They have all their battle gear and are wearing it correctly, their gun handling skills have improved and their cold weather gear is uniform indicating their supply chain is getting it out to them. Literacy too is improving countrywide and the ANSF has attracted and retained a cohort of well educated, motivated officers. Yet working with these officers to improve staff functionality is tinkering at the margins.
Discipline is the key to dominating on the battlefield in Afghanistan and it is sorely lacking in the ANSF today. Correlating discipline to battlefield survival is not something that is well understood. Traditionally when we think of discipline we think of close order drill or the stripping away of individual identity and replacing it with a tribal identity (in boot camp) so that men respond instantly to commands in order to promote unit survival in battle. That is 2nd generation military discipline which is a non-factor in the distributed operations found on the battlefield of today. I’m talking about 4th generation discipline which is essential to combat effectiveness when you have seeded the battlefield with squad sized combat outposts (COP’s) many of which have Corporals with just three years of service under their belts running them.
Gen Mattis jacked me up during OIF 1 about shaving and I have never forgotten that lesson. Shaving is not a cosmetic activity and it’s not even so your gas mask fits, it’s for when the small unit leader walks down the line he sees you have taken care of business. It might be the only time in the day that you have used soap and water to clean yourself up so when they see that you have shaved then they know you probably also have eaten and taken care of your weapon and are ready to go. You shave every day because it is a physical sign that your head is in the game…..When you’re in a COP and have limited food and water and are trying to decide how much to use to eat but you take care of hygiene first; that’s discipline.
Of the last 31 Marines we lost as an RCT (Regimental Combat Team) during our 2010-2011 deployment, 19 of them were OUR fault. Failure to follow established combat SOP’s was the #1 culprit in those 19 cases.
What does shaving have to do with failure to follow SOP’s? It’s another way of saying attention to detail matters. Marines who care for their weapons and hygiene before their stomachs are demonstrating the internalized discipline that will allow them to sit for hours in the sweltering desert sun to wait for EOD teams to respond to their position and clear IED’s. Marines who understand internalized discipline are not prone to ignore positive identification procedures that may or may not make sense to them. Marines with internalized discipline are demonstrating they trust their chain of command and their fellow Marines.
As MajGen Kennedy pointed out in the podcast linked above Marines with internalized discipline will find over 80% of the IED’s discovered during a deployment with their eyes only. No fancy gear, no dogs, no nothing but the senses proficient warriors hone when serving at the front.
Failure to following established SOP’s designed to mitigate the number one threat in the Helmand province (IED’s) was a discipline issue. Even the Marines, who have the well-earned reputation of being the most disciplined service in America, have problems internalizing the correlation between discipline and battlefield survival. I considered myself to be a proficient infantry officer while on active duty and I never completely understood this. That I was not the only one is evident in the statistics Mac put together and published.
I have several video’s of ANA troops running past American EOD techs working to disarm IED’s and getting blown sky high four steps later. They are gruesome; they are upsetting, they make you sick because they were completely avoidable had the soldiers involved shown the discipline it takes to wait while IED’s are properly identified and neutralized. That’s what the ANA and the ANP need now; mentoring by small unit leaders that instills the discipline required to survive on the modern Afghan battlefield. That alone is of more value then all the combat enablers we normally bring to a fight and it is not what our advise and assist missions are doing.
As an aside I urge you to take the time to listen to the interviews linked above. What Mac is doing with his All Marine Radio podcasts is providing to all who listen a graduate level education on not just combat leadership but organizational leadership. There are now hundreds of interviews with Marines (and a few non Marines) from privates first class to four star generals on his podcast library and they are a fascinating glimpse into military history.
Included in his treasure trove is a tape recording of the radio traffic between a company commander’s tank and his platoon commander’s tanks in the thick of the battle for Iwo Jima (43 minute mark in the podcast linked above). I’ve never heard anything like it and the man he was interviewing (Tom Clifford who at the time was the President of the University of North Dakota) was the company commander on those tapes and he had no idea a tape of his tac net even existed. I cannot stress enough how good this material is…you’re crazy if you don’t take advantage of it. The first two hyperlinks in this post are All Marine Radio interviews with my Uncle Chad and General Zinni talking about being combat advisers in Vietnam (and a lot more). They are fascinating radio.
The news coming out of Afghanistan is not good. This recent article in Fox news is an example. It is talking about the deployment of a Brigade Combat Team (Army term for a Regimental Combat Team) from the 82nd Airborne to Afghanistan. This deployment, like the current Marine deployment, was scheduled long ago and is not news. But the article contains all sorts of extraneous information like the “devils in baggy pants” moniker for the 82nd (from WWII when their uniforms were distinctly different from regular army units) that is not relevant today and confusing to the non professional. The article doesn’t explain what everyone wants to know which is why are they going and what they will be doing.
More disturbing is this article on the Breitbart website concerning “McMaster’s War”. The article, concerning the need for more troops in Afghanistan isn’t that bad – it’s the comment section that should give pause to our leadership. Not one comment (and they are still pouring into the website) is remotely positive. When you’ve lost the segment of the population that comments on Brietbart website you’ve lost the American people.
At some point in the very near future President Trump and his national security team will have to explain what we are doing in Afghanistan, how that will make things better for the Afghan people, and when are we going to leave. Failure to do so will cost the military the good will of the American people earned by the generation that proceeded them. That would be, in my opinion, inexcusable.
If our military leadership fails to talk about how our continued involvement will improve small unit performance then we’ll know we are wasting time, treasure and blood tinkering at the margins of enhanced combat performance. The ANA needs discipline; the ANP needs that too given the fact they are fulfilling a combat role that involves zero policing. They need our help and I hope we start providing them the help they need, not the help that sounds good on a PowerPoint slide.
There is no way to determine what is going on in Afghanistan without competent reexporting from the front. That is why I’m trying so hard to fund an embed back there but I cannot do that without your support. If you can please consider a donation to the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page in support of accurate reporting from the front lines.
Yesterday I was talking with one of the unsung hero’s of the Afghanistan reconstruction battle Jeff “Raybo” Radan. I’ve known Jeff since we were instructors back at the Marine Corps Basic School and we worked together again when I replaced him (at the end of his tour) in Lashkar Gah as the regional manager for the USAID implementing partner CADG. He was has been working out of Kabul and told me about the ISIS-K car bomb before it hit the wires. He’s moving on to another project in Iraq but said he has seen definite improvement in the Afghan Security Forces.
Raybo got his nickname when he returned from the Army Ranger Course minus about 20 pounds on his already skinny frame and couldn’t stop talking about how much he loved it. His take on increasing the advise and assist mission? He’s not sure how effective it will be but is certain about what will happen if we don’t do it and that assessment was bleak.
Yesterday’s car bomb attack was to be expected; it was a matter of time before ISIS struck back after getting MOAB’d. This latest attack was unusual in one respect. The car bomb was parked, not driven into the convoy, which is a departure from the norm. It could indicate that the ANP has downtown Kabul under better control…or not…it’s hard to say. Setting off a car bomb that kills local civilians without doing too much damage to the NATO MRAP’s they were targeting is an amateur hour performance. It is also a far cry from their previous attacks in Kabul which were more dramatic and inflicted heavy casualties on their intended targets be they Hazara people or Afghan security forces.
The MOAB took out 38 building in an unnamed (meaning unauthorized) settlement and 69 trees. There was no gigantic crater because the MOAB is a fuel air explosive which is something the media still doesn’t seem to understand. From the article linked above:
Fuel-Air Explosives [FAE] disperse an aerosol cloud of fuel which is ignited by an embedded detonator to produce an explosion. The rapidly expanding wave front due to overpressure flattens all objects within close proximity of the epicenter of the aerosol fuel cloud, and produces debilitating damage well beyond the flattened area. The main destructive force of FAE is high overpressure, useful against soft targets such as minefields, armored vehicles, aircraft parked in the open, and bunkers.
It looks like the MOAB under-performed but looks are deceiving. If there were men hiding in those tunnels they’re crispy critters now; if the tunnels contained large stores of weapons and ammo those are now gone. It will take months of donkey trains to replace them if replacements are even available. I believe the weapons and ammunition were the targets and that nobody involved in the attack really cared about a high body count because that is a meaningless metric. I also believe all the conjecture in the press surrounding this weapon has proven to be fake news. That conjecture has shifted now and the legacy media is contending the bomb was a dud. That they know not what they are talking about is obvious.
The Taliban is fighting ISIS-K, we’re targeting ISIS-K regularly and the Pakitani’s are targeting them too. I doubt they will survive much longer with all the attention they’re getting. The one disturbing factor is that ISIS-K has the support of the Safi tribes; a problem I’ll address in a future post.
There is a potential game changer being put in play with the return of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to Kabul. He is a former prime minister and the leader of the Hezb-i-Islami militant group. More importantly he is a Pashtun from the northern city of Kunduz and one would suspect he’ll have the ability to bring a resurgent Taliban in Kunduz to heel. That would be huge and comes at a time when the Taliban from that area have pulled off the most devastating attack (the Mazar-e Sharif attack) against the ANA to date in this long nasty war .
The Mazar attack targeted young recruits attending Friday prayers in the base Mosque which has enraged Afghans who feel (correctly) it was an assault against Islam. Heckmatyar has said repeatedly the Taliban are an affront to Islam and that is a message which now resonates, more than ever, with the Afghan people. We shall see how this plays out but if he can dampen the fires of insurgency in the north the Afghans will have the space they need to concentrate their forces in the south and east.
There is one other thing Heckmatyar could help with in this critical phase of the fight for Afghanistan. He may be able to do something about the Haqqani clan. Every attack inside Kabul and the recent devastating attack in Mazar-e Sharif had Haqqani fingerprints all over them. They are funded by Pakistan’s intelligence agency (the ISI) and have been able to penetrate Kabul seemingly at will. They are dedicated, professional butchers who kill without pity or remorse. They need to be put down and the sooner the better.
We have been trying for years to get both Jalaluddin (the family patriarch) and his son Sirajuddin with drones but have come up empty. A man like Heckmatyar has the capability to get them the old fashioned way using car bombs or ambushes. I wonder if he’ll make the effort and know taking out the Haqqani’s would have an immediate impact on decreasing the level of violence directed at Kabul. Time will tell.
The Marines of Task Force Southwest are on the ground starting their advise and assist mission in the Helmand province. No news about them is good news because the only news we’ll see in the legacy media will concern casualties. I’m not aware of any reporters who plan to embed with them to write about their mission and how it is working out. Yet another reason why I want to embed with them for a month this summer. The Marines and soldiers on the front lines deserve to have their stories told and not just when they have sustained casualties.
There are no good options available to the international community in Afghanistan. My greatest concern, shared by many others, is that we will calibrate our advise and assist efforts to do just enough not to lose. If we are serious about the advise and assist mission then we have to accept two things. It is going to take more than a decade of sustained effort and at some point we will have to fight with the troops we are training and advising. Fighting means losing troops; it’s inevitable but the public has not been prepared for nor will it accept high numbers of American combat deaths in Afghanistan.
President Trump has not revealed his plan for Afghanistan yet but when he does his plan will be attacked by the legacy media regardless of content. That’s not good for our country or Afghanistan. It appears the President is allowing Secretary of Defense Mattis to shape this plan without micromanagement or intrigue from the White House. That is good news given the prior pattern of micromanagement by both the Bush and Obama administrations. If the new plan is the same as the old plan then we’ll know the Afghans are screwed. I doubt Secretary Mattis will settle for more of the same and know there is not another American alive today who could handle this task better. If he can quietly kill the current females in the infantry madness while he’s at it we can consider ourselves blessed. Let us hope that both of these things are not a bridge too far given the madness that passes for reality with our ruling class in Washington DC and their accomplices in the press.
There is no way to determine what is going on in Afghanistan without competent reporters on the ground digging up truth and reporting that in context. That is why I’m trying so hard to fund an embed back there but I cannot do that without your support. If you can please consider a donation to the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page in support of accurate reporting from the front lines.
This morning’s news contained the best news (for Americans) yet to come from Afghanistan. Our Secretary of Defense, former Marine Corps General James Mattis flew into Kabul to assess our efforts there. His visit was unannounced and I am willing to bet his entourage small. Secretary Mattis is the best general of his generation and is revered by the American military. America saw why if they watched him at his confirmation hearings. He comes to Kabul at a critical time because the Afghans just got some bad news.
The Afghan defense minister, the army chief of staff and (although not in the press and maybe an inaccurate tip) four Afghan army corps commanders have been sacked. The press is contending the two ministerial level officials resigned but that is not what I am hearing from my sources in country. This level of senior leadership turmoil will crush the already fragile morale of the Afghan National Security Forces while throwing current operations in disarray.
There is no longer a question about our intentions regarding Afghanistan; we are staying to see things through. You can hear for yourself below:
ANSF is taking a beating reportedly losing 9,000 KIA in 2015 and 10,000 in 2016. Attrition from desertions average 1/3 of the force per year but buried in that number are soldiers who are late coming back from leave and marked as new joins when they return. How big or small that number is remains unknown. Ghost soldiers (having men on the payroll who are not there) has always been a problem but it is a different phenomena than it was in the days before all pay was distributed into individual bank accounts. In the past ghost soldiers were a sign that the commander was pocketing the cash himself. Now it is a sign that commanders are seeing that the families of their soldiers who were killed in action receive financial support without which they will be destitute. The next big idea we should be floating in Afghanistan is adequate compensation for the families of soldiers lost in combat.
Secretary Mattis contends that the levels of cooperation between NATO and the Afghan military and government has never been better. He also has said the ANSF security forces continue to improve in the face of excessively high casualties. If that’s true then how did the Taliban pull of such a spectacular attack in the prosperous and safest city in Afghanistan? I’ll tell you how.
The Taliban approached the base in Mazar-i Sharif with wounded men in their vehicles telling the guards at the first checkpoint they had to get their men to the hospital immediately. They were let past the first checkpoint but stopped at the entrance by guards who wanted to see the wounded men before allowing them to proceed. That was when the first suicide bomber detonated himself killing those guards and allowing the rest to race towards the Mosque and chow hall. Soldiers in the mosque attending Friday prayers would be unarmed; it would be an insult to Islam if they were. Soldiers eating chow are normally not armed either and no military in the world allows its recruits to run around armed. Once through the gates the attackers had everything they need to kill hundreds of unarmed troops.
Attacking troops in a mosque is an affront to Islam; it has enraged many Afghans (it should enrage them all) and the location of the attack is important to understand. Mazar is as anti-Taliban as Dearborn Michigan. Wait, that’s probably not true actually – it is as anti-Taliban as San Antonio. Populated by mostly Tajik and Uzbek peoples it draws thousands of itinerant laborers including Pashtuns from the south of the country. The people of Mazar are now afraid that the central government cannot protect them and they will turn to those who can; the former Northern Alliance which is another way of saying local warlords. They also could turn on the Pashtuns by lynching innocent men in the streets (like they did in 2001) sparking another nasty civil war.
The Mazar attack was a professional operation that was well planned, obviously rehearsed and has the hallmarks of a Haqqani network operation which is to say it was sponsored, directed (and possibly lead) by Pakistan’s secret police, the ISI. The goal of Pakistan is to keep Afghanistan prostrate, unorganized, and at war because they cannot handle a stable state to their west when they are fighting India to their east. Plus they are making millions off us allowing our equipment and supplies to transit their country.
This attack is part of a campaign to bring civil war to Afghanistan and it comes at a time with the progressives seem to be doing the exact same thing in our country. Witness this headline from the odious Think Progress organization The US has failed Afghanistan and the Trump Administration isn’t helping. The article contains no new news and was written to stoke anti Trump feelings. I wrote about these jerks in 2011 after they swooped into Kabul to line their pockets with consulting fees while leaving behind a report that proved them to be masters of the obvious.
So we are staying in Afghanistan to see things through. I’ve got no problems with that but how are we going to make a difference? I’m not sure because the only way to mentor effectively is to fight with the men you’re mentoring. Secretary Mattis knows more about this topic than any man alive and if he’s backing the plan then I’m with him. How this renewed commitment will play out on the ground is something we will not be able to judge due to the lack of reporting coming out of the country.
This is why I’m trying so hard to get the funding required to go back and report from a country I really am passionate about. But my efforts are clearly not bearing fruit so I’m being forced to resort to more extreme measures like this:
Last night I was coming back from the La Taverna du Liban, Kabul’s best Lebanese Restaurant, located in the Wazar Akbar Khan section of Kabul. Back in the day it had a full bar and open patio and was packed with expat customers. Most of the expats back then had at least a pistol on them and senior diplomat types had heavily armed, high end expat guards sitting at the table next to them. Those days are long gone; now you have to walk down a long blast proof hallway through a series of locked doors and that’s after being searched for weapons curbside. The La Taverna du Liban, like most of the restaurants in Kabul, no longer allows armed Expats. The Afghan government and UN say the lack of armed westerners makes everyone safer. I say it makes them sitting ducks but I still go to the Taverna cause I love the place and the owner is a friend.
They still serve great food and have a good double apple shesha mix but now when the waiter takes your order he’ll wink and ask if would you like the red chai? That’s code for red wine and it arrives in a teapot with tea mugs. The days of having an open bar are behind us in Kabul restaurants too. When my Afghan friend Cartman and I were coming home last night we saw a dozens of riot police from the ANP cutting the road to the interior ministry and Serena Hotel. The cops didn’t have riot helmets or shields but they did have their batons which is a hint to their mission that night. The only way Afghan drivers will pay attention to the police is if they believe failure to comply will result in a wood shampoo. Last night it was clear the cops were ready to administer wood shampoos to anyone ignoring their road block and that is most unusual.
Cartman’s phone rings and I hear the voice of an international reporter, attractive female type, who I don’t know that well.
“Boss, she wants to know if Obama is coming to talk to Karzai” asked Cartman.
“Tell her it is a gross breach of etiquette for her to talk to an Afghan male who is not a member of her immediate family.”
“She said your blog sucks and to shut up because she’s not asking you”.
The question sure put what I was seeing in context. The local cops don’t come out at night and cut roads unless something big is up.
The president was on the ground in Bagram Air Base pumping up the troops but (according to NPR) not spiking the ball on the one-year anniversary of his “gutsy” call to send a crew of hardened sailors into Pakistan to whack OBL. Recently that gutsy call has been in the news…something about Mitt wouldn’t have made it and I guess there is a MSM video of the VP making an ass out of himself describing how the difficult decision was made. Mitt batted the sleazy allegations leveled at him out of the park and then the real story behind the decision to whack OBL came out and it looks to me like our POTUS came as close to voting present as is possible with a presidential finding.
Next thing you know we have a not so secret, secret visit where the Prez pumps up the troops and then last night sneaks into Kabul to ink a really, really, great deal with President Karzai. But none of this had anything to do with the anniversary of killing OBL because the president said so himself .
The Taliban decided that they too were not going to not observe the one year anniversary of OBL’s demise by conducting another well planned, poorly executed, attack inside the Kabul Ring of Steel (my guys call it the Ring of Steal). The tactics were standard; a VBIED at the gate, followed by a ground assault by gunmen disguised by burkas. The target a bit ambitious, it’s called Green Village and is a privately owned FOB (Forward Operating Base) designed to provide ISAF level security to internationals who are not living on one of the military FOB’s. The results were predictable; the attackers rapidly isolated, this time rapidly dispatched, their intended targets unscathed and a bunch of innocent civilians (mostly children) killed or injured.
Most international guesthouses in Afghanistan meet the UN Minimum Occupational Safety Standards (UN MOSS) but Green Village far exceeds UN MOSS because its intended clientele is the US Government not stingy, tight wad NGO’s. Opened in 2008 the place has never stopped growing. It is always at 100% occupancy, has great food, a decent gym, racquetball courts, a bar, pool, and all sorts of kiosks selling local goods and other stuff. I don’t care for the place myself because its pre-fabricated high-end feel combines everything that is wrong about our efforts in Afghanistan and confines it in a small artificially nice place. We have called it Menopause Manor for years because of the unending stream of reporting (mostly generated by the residents) saying the Taliban are targeting them.
This morning the Taliban were not able to talk their way past the gate guards so they blew their VBIED on the road at exactly the time when one would expect 200 to 300 school children to be walking by.
The VBIED was followed up by three-man assault force who approached their objective wearing burkas and started battling with the Serbs and Nepalese guards from the Green Village guard force.
One of the three attackers blew himself up, another was gunned down and the third made it into the laundry building which is still well outside the blast walls of the main camp. The Kabul PD Critical Response Unit took the last one out soon after arriving on the scene. This was a typical Taliban attack – good planning, excellent operational security, poor execution coupled to a complete disregard for collateral damage.
The planning was pretty impressive because Green Village is the only privately run FOB in the country that houses ISAF contractors and troops. It would be, by far, the easiest ISAF FOB in the country to attack but only if you could sneak a rifle company into Kabul. One VBIED and three suicide bombers is not really an attack; it’s a statement. Like the last attack in Kabul it was successful only because it happened. The tactical failure of the assault force is, as it always is here, irrelevant.
Here are (in my humble opinion) the lessons learned from this latest attack.
The President’s schedule was compromised to the mainstream media. The planning for his visit was excellent; in around 2000 out by 0400; which allowed the downtown to be cleared and the President to meet with Karzai while causing minimal disruption to local residents. But I knew he was coming before he arrived because the MSM phone call put what I was witnessing downtown into context. It appears I wasn’t the only one in on the secret.
This dispatch came in from Taliban central on twitter today:
Al Farouq spring offensive will be launched on May 3 all over Afghanistan. The Taliban said the code name came from Islam’s second caliph, Omar al Farouq known for his military advances in Asia and the Arab world during the seventh century.
The announcement comes hours after Taliban insurgents armed with guns, suicide vests and a bomb-laden car attacked a heavily fortified compound used by Westerners in Kabul, killing seven people and wounding more than a dozen.
The militants claimed the attack in defiance of US President Barack Obama’s call that the war was ending during a visit to Afghanistan on the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death on Wednesday.”
Did the Taliban launched one of their pre-planned attacks a day early because they discovered that Obama was in Kabul? The attack happened two hours after the POTUS left and that means two hours after all the elite police units in the capitol went off duty after being up all night because he was here. That’s a pretty impressive reaction time by the Taliban and it demonstrates the danger of allowing administration operatives to leak details of Presidential trips to preferred members of the MSM.
The reaction to today’s attack by the people inside Green Village was also impressive when compared to the attack on the ISAF HQ last fall. None of the residents, many of whom are EUPOL police officers or ISAF troops and therefore have weapons, ran out to the walls to start shooting wildly in the general direction of attack. They let the guard force do its work which, I understand, is a drilled SOP at Green Village. This reinforces the point that there is nothing, not one damn thing, big government can do more efficiently and effectively then the private sector and that includes repelling ineffective insurgent attacks on FOB’s hosting government troops.
The Afghans are hosed; the agreement Obama came into Kabul to sign last night is long on promises but short on specifics. The level of funding for ANSF he is promising has to be approved every year by congress and what are the chances that they decide to cut it at some point in the future?
Our involvement in Afghanistan is not going to end well. I predict we will pull all of our military out in 2014 just like we did Iraq in 2011. There will be no “force enablers” and, unlike Iraq, there will be no massive international Private Security Company presence to enable continued reconstruction.We will pull all our forces out and with them will go the reconstruction piece and when that happens the world bank will no longer support the Afghani. The Afghani will then free fall just like the Zimbabwean dollar while the country erupts in civil war.
I have made many grim predictions on this blog over the years (my take on the so called Arab spring comes immediately to mind) and I always use the caveat that I hope I’m wrong. So, I hope I’m wrong about Afghanistan’s future but I doubt it.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
Well, the day after E2 posted the droid post, a new report by Afghan “experts” was released. It is a complete crock, which couples blindingly obvious facts to a set of BS recommendations that are so wrong they can easily be dismissed an reasonably intelligent eight year old child (but not our betters in DC). This low hanging fruit I cannot pass up.
So last July, Kabul was graced with a 72 hour visit from the brain trust of The Center for American Progress. As one might expect from the name of this fine organization, they are statists who want nothing to do with progress – if one defines progress to mean getting things done in an efficient, appropriate manner. No, they came to contribute their brain power and earn their seven digit salaries the new “old fashioned” way – by using their impressive academic credentials and political connections to write up a “point paper,” which contains no insight, no understanding, nothing new, and is, in the end, flat-out, demonstrably wrong. But you get that from your hyper-credentialed betters don’t you?
Here are the blindingly obvious “insights” contained in the report linked above; you ready?
1. Reset the relationship with President Hamid Karzai while still using leverage to advance reforms
2. Clarify the message
3. Support and invest in democratic institutions and forces
4. Support a more inclusive peace process.
5. Shift from a development strategy to a sustainable economic strategy
I kid you not; this is what several million dollars funding buys from DC think tanks. If I need to explain how wrong, stupid, boneheaded, or just plain ignorant these five ideas are, then you haven’t been reading FRI long enough. What the geniuses from the Center for American Progress are touting is to continue down the same path we have been on for a decade. Typical statist bullshit from elites who, by virtue of their connections and political advocacy, will always be immune to the consequences of the disastrous policies they inflict upon the citizenry. So, as naturally as day follows night, this brings me to Harry Truman and the Berlin Airlift.
Message from E2: Stay with him folks, this is not an arbitrary tangent; he’s gonna bring it around.
How did the Berlin Airlift come about and why was it successful? My understanding of that critical period in world history has been wrong for most of my life. Like many of you (I’m betting) the period between the end of the war and the blockade of Berlin was compressed in my memory: war ends, Marshall plan starts, the Soviets dick things up because they are stupid and the new Air Force sorts it all out with an impressive military airlift. That is not what happened.
The true story behind the Berlin Airlift is fascinating in many respects. First, there were three years of flailing about (which makes our efforts in Afghanistan almost appear to be favorable in comparison) before the Soviets started the blockade. Second, the men who rescued the effort from the disastrous, amateur hour, FUBAR exercise that it started out as got no credit, while the incompetent who created the mess became Chief of Staff for the Air Force.
The story behind the Berlin Airlift is the subject of a fascinating book by Andrei Cherny call the Candy Bombers. What I did not know before reading it was that nobody in Washington DC thought that Berlin could be supplied by an airlift. Had the initial, unorganized, caffeine and adrenaline fueled effort started by Curtis LeMay continued, the conventional wisdom would have proved correct.
When Harry Truman asked his advisers what should be done about the blockade of Berlin their answers were uniform across the board: cut and run. Here was Harry Truman – a man considered to be the “accidental president” and also considered weak, indecisive and poorly educated.
Truman has a vice president he doesn’t trust, a secretary of defense who was clinically insane (a fact, not a smartass comment), and every general or admiral he asks tells him the same thing: we can’t do the airlift, we can’t fight the Soviets, we have to cut and run. There were two generals who did not agree with this advice – one was Lucius Clay, a man who never saw one day of combat having been forced to head up procurement for the war effort before being appointed the military governor of Berlin. The other a distinctly unpopular general named Bill Turner, who turned the airlift from an exciting seat of the pants misadventure into an operation that ran like a metronome. Every three minutes a plane landed and every three minutes one took off. If there were more than three planes on the ground at the Berlin airport, somebody was in for a severe ass chewing once Turner determined who was responsible. Clay (like Truman) understood the psychological importance of not cutting and running. Turner was the only man who knew how to organize and run a proper airlift. We owe these two men a tremendous debt but I doubt any of you have ever heard of them before. That is sometimes the price of being a real hero- others get the credit and you get sent home.
What I find fascinating is that Truman stuck to his philosophical guns in spite of every newspaper, every TV reporter, every flag officer, and every tenured parasite at the Ivy League schools proclaiming him wrong. This reminds me of President Bush and his experience before The Surge strategy was conceived in Iraq. When he asked the Joint Chiefs for advice, what he got is “keep doing exactly the same thing, only better”.
Where are we going to find leaders who will stand on principle, buck against the tsunami of toxic, ineffective advice thrown at them from elites who went to the “proper schools” for the “right credentials”? Why should we listen to three policy wonks who spent God only knows how much of our (taxpayer) money for three days inside an embassy that is as far removed from the real Afghanistan as the playground at the West Annapolis Elementary School? The simple truth is that the number of acceptable endstates in Afghanistan are limited and none of them involve “clarifying messages” or “resetting” (I hate that word now) relationships with President Karzai.
The best we can do is support regional leaders, train up a respectable security force and then get the hell out. We’ve had ten years of relationship resetting and clarifying of messages. What we need now is a leader to articulate in simple terms what we are going to do and when we are going home. And as Harry Truman proved long ago – sticking by the conviction that America is right and stands with the forces of good on this earth is the most effective way to move past the conflicting advice of the elites and into the pantheon of men who truly made a difference in their time. The men in that pantheon stuck to their guns – we need a leader who will stick to his.
With most of the world’s attention focused unfolding events in the Mideast now is a good time to shed some light on the current ground-truth in Afghanistan. Sami the Finn is always a good place to start and he provides interesting perspective on the suicide bombing at the Finest supermarket in Kabul this past Friday (the original article can be found here).
In any case, Sami Kovanen, a senior analyst with Indicium Consulting in Kabul, which provides security information, warns that the assumption had to be that “this kind of attack will happen again.” Says Kovanen: “It’s a new kind of attack – in many ways the first direct attack against the whole international community, against civilians.” He adds, “There have been really specific reasons behind previous attacks. The attack on the Bektar guesthouse [in October 2009] targeted the U.N. during elections; the attack against the Indian guesthouse [in February 2010] targeted Indians. But [this one targeted] foreign civilians known to go shopping on Friday at this time. It was against us – regardless of who you are, which organization you’re working for or what your nationality is. So in that way it is really concerning.”
Sami is spot on – this is the first time suicide bombers have targeted outside the wire westerners. What is worse is that the Karzai government continues to make it hard for internationals working independent from the FOB’s and embassies to operate. Look at this latest decree:
Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Office of the Presidential Spokesperson January 27, 2011
The National Security Council Meeting was held in Presidential Palace led by Hamid Karzai, the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Participants included the authorities of the security branches of the government.
At the beginning of the meeting, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzi, Chief of the Transition Commission spoke in detail regarding the assessment of the Minister of Defence and ANA. After the extensive discussion, they decided the authorities of Afghan Security Forces should include the following topics in discussions with the United States and international organizations in order to expedite the transition process:
First, currently, the Ministry of Defence and all its equipment, supplies and total expenses are being furnished by the international community without any participation by the Ministry of Defence. From now on the Ministry of Defense will take the lead on these activities.
Second, in order to expedite the transition responsibilities, the Ministry of Defence needs to increase its technical, engineering, equipment, vehicles, aircraft, and heavy weapons. These needs should be furnished as possible.
Third, the ANA needs a large armory and logistics warehouse for each corps. All ANA corps should establish these facilities and the necessary long-term goods should be stocked there.
Fourth, the government of Afghanistan agrees with the increase of ANA and ANP personnel, but that these increases should be implemented with the condition that the expenses and equipment should be paid for by the international community.
Fifth, Director of National Security, Chief of the Transition Commission, and the Minister of Defence has the presidential directive to begin talks with the authorities of the international community and the United States and submit the result of their work in the next National Security Council meeting.
Sixth, National Security Advisor and Minister of the Interior discussed the dissolution of private security companies. Their report says that 16 private companies in charge of security of embassies, diplomatic locations and international companies committed serious violations of the law including without proper armor vehicle licenses, employment of foreign personnel without registering with the government, and using diplomatic vehicles.
The tone of this decree is typical – Dari doesn’t translate well into English so the wording is awkward but notice what is being said. At the same time he is demanding an expansion of his security forces and the money with which to do this he is also finalizing laws which will drive out the vast majority of internationals currently working outside the wire.
There is nothing we can about the Karzai Government because we need him just as much as he needs us. The entire military mission is predicated upon “providing support to GoIRA (Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan)” and words in mission statements have meanings. When the military is told to support the host nation government it supports the host nation government. But the Karzai government is so dysfunctional that it has turned our counterinsurgency strategy into a cruel farce. Dexter Filkins filed an excellent story on this last week showing to all who read this blog why he gets paid big bucks to explain things and I don’t. From the Flikins piece:
The larger fear, at least among some American officials, is that the Obama Administration will decide to do nothing. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was briefed on the investigation in January. But the findings are considered so sensitive that almost no one; generals, diplomats, the investigators themselves are willing to talk about it publicly. After months of sparring with the Karzai administration, the Obama Administration, in its public rhetoric, appears to be relegating the issue of corruption to a lower tier of concern, despite the widespread belief that the corruption in Karzai’s government degrades its reputation and helps fuel recruitment for the Taliban insurgency. We have to work with these people, the senior NATO officer told me.
We can’t fix the Karazai problem because of one decision made years ago in a manner nobody understands but one in which the US Department of State played the key role. That decision was the adoption of the SNTV electoral system. SNTV stands for single non-transferable vote and it is one way to ensure that opposition political parties cannot be formed or sustained. Afghanistan went to the SNTV system after some sort of back room deal was cut between Karzai and our ambassador at that time Zalimay Khalizad. Khalizad is an Afghan-American, fluent in the local languages who served here as Ambassador before being sent to Iraq to be the ambassador in 2005. He did not last long in Baghdad and is now heading his own consulting agency at a time when an Arabic/Pashto/Dari speaking US Ambassador would be of great use to the administration. I don’t know why he is on the outs but his part in creating the SNTV system, which Karzai will be using to stay in power for years to come, is reason enough to banish him from the halls of power.
The SNTV system makes every election a lottery with so many candidates running for each available office that winning can only be due to luck or electoral fixing. Guess which is the more popular option here? The story behind SNTV is fascinating but not well known or understood. One of the best journalist working the AFPAK beat today, Matthieu Aikins spent months uncovering it; his piece was published in Harpers last December. You can download a PDF copy of the article here and this too is worth reading in order to understand just how screwed up the political system in Afghanistan is, how it got that way, why we can’t change it and who is to blame. And here it is; the money quote:
In May of 2004, at a meeting held in the residence of Jean Arnault, who was then the top U.N. official in Afghanistan, and attended by most of the senior members of the diplomatic community in Kabul, Khalilzad arrived late and declared, simply, I’ve spoken with the president, and it’s going to be SNTV.
Just like that our efforts to “fix what we broke” (paraphrasing a vastly overrated Colin Powell) were doomed to failure. Holding shura’s with village elders where you promise them security while improving their lives through the vehicle of GiROA is a joke nobody laughs at.
Fixing the government and improving its ability to service the population is not going to happen and that failure is not a military failure. The military has been tasked to do much more then it is designed, equipped and trained to do but being the military they are making progress with a minimal amount of pissing and moaning about it. Its not fair, not right, not smart, but it is the way it is. That doesn’t mean we still can’t find an acceptable end-state. We can do that easily by focusing on the army and the army only. A strong army will create a governing coalition between army officers and government bureaucrats because that, my friends, is the model used in most of this part of the world. Bureaucratic Authoritarianism may not be the best model but I see no other way out.
We can bond with members of the Afghan military because we have years of fighting side by side with each other and that kind bond is hard to break. We cannot “bond” with Afghan government bureaucrats because there is no daily or habitual close contact between the Americans locked down in their embassy and their Afghan counterparts.
In the big scheme of things running the Taliban out of their southern hunting grounds is not going to solve that many problems. But if we concentrate on the military while continuing to fund and lavish attention on the Major Crimes Task Force while never deviating from our anti corruption message we could end up finding an acceptable end-state. Doing that requires solid vision, leadership, and planning from on high but that is currently a bridge too far for our President or his Department of State.
I’ve said for years the only question worth asking is if we (the international community) will learn one damn thing from this folly. Just one thing would be better than nothing but years of observation of our government at work leads me to believe we cannot expect even one positive, no bullshit lesson to be learned from our time in this forgotten land. That will cost us downstream.
While I was back home for a few weeks rest some articles caught my attention and they serve as a useful point of departure to evaluate where we are at the start of 2011.
The american military is under significant strain after almost a decade of fighting. This is common knowledge which has been reported on for years yet it remains difficult for those outside the military to gauge the true cost fighting the Long War. A few weeks back Richard Cohen at the Washington Post penned an opinion piece reflecting the typical liberal view on our military which can be found here. He opened his piece with this sentence:
“I present you with a paradox. The U.S. Army that fought the Vietnam War was reviled, not spit upon (that’s a myth) but not much admired, either. In contrast, the Army of Iraq and Afghanistan is embraced and praised.”
I hate it when liberal commentators dismiss inconvenient truths with “that’s a myth”. From Rick Atkinson’s book The Long Grey Line we take up the story of Army Captain Tom Carhart West Point class of 66 (pages 324 & 325):
“Still in uniform, he was strolling through the O’Hare terminal in search of a telephone when group of hippie girls darted up and spat on him. The shock and pain could have not been more intense if they had slashed him with knives. Reeling with surprise and uncertain what to do, he did nothing.”
There are more first hand accounts of being spit upon on the web along with plenty of research claiming the spitting stories were an urban myth. The comment thread on this snopes page is typical. I place more stock in the story above but maybe I’m touchy about the subject. The Cohen comment irritates me to no end.
Cohen went on to point out that the military of today is removed from society at large, is composed mostly of southern white guys and is effective. It is so effective that it can be deployed indefinitely and so divorced from the citizens that we can now engage in perpetual war. Few of our elected leaders have served or understand the military which is (according to Cohen) so impressive that it is “awfully hard for mere civilians – including the commander in chief – to question it.” I have seen this same theme repeated in the liberal press for 20 years. The military does what it is told to do and bends over backwards to fall in line with the current thinking of the National Command Authority. Examples of senior military leaders rushing to embrace the latest PC fad which is being forced down their throats are too numerous and depressing to site. Our military is in great disarray but Mr. Cohen’s concerns are ridiculous.
This month’s Atlantic Magazine has a relevant, well written piece by former Air Force intelligence officer Tim Kane titled Why Our Best Officers Are Leaving. The bleeding of talent seems to be a problem that crops up on a regular basis within the military. I remember listening to a talk by Sen Jim Webb at the Naval Academy in 1996 where he pointed out that 53% of the post-command aviation squadron commanders had retired after their tours because they were disgusted with the senior leadership of the Navy. His speech, which almost caused a fist fight between then Secretary Webb and one of President Clinton’s National Security staffers, can be found here and is interesting reading when contrasted with the article from Atlantic.
I think Tim Kane is onto something:
“Why is the military so bad at retaining these people? It’s convenient to believe that top officers simply have more- lucrative opportunities in the private sector, and that their departures are inevitable. But the reason overwhelmingly cited by veterans and active-duty officers alike is that the military personnel system does not recognize or reward merit. Performance evaluations emphasize a zero-defect mentality, meaning that risk-avoidance trickles down the chain of command. Promotions can be anticipated almost to the day regardless of an officer’s competence so that there is essentially no difference in rank among officers the same age, even after 15 years of service. Job assignments are managed by a faceless, centralized bureaucracy that keeps everyone guessing where they might be shipped next.”
That was not my experience in the Marines but I’ve been retired for 10 years so my experience may not be relevant. Our military is being asked to accomplish a very difficult mission while simultaneously being forced to absorb a radical change in its culture. If Tim Kane is on target then I suspect our military is heading for some very hard times and that is not good for our country or the rest of the world. National Reviews’ John Derbyshire spoke with great insight about the change being forced on our military in his podcast a couple of weeks back – we join Mr. Derbyshire in mid rant:
“The downward side of our military from a formidable fighting force with an ethos of service, sacrifice, comradeship and manliness to a social welfare organization with an ethos of multicultural cringing and pandering. Or to put it another way, from an instrument for winning wars to an instrument for celebrating the moral vanity of our ruling class.
Our military today Consists of a few lethal units of dedicated fighters, in the finest military tradition, embedded like steal splinters in a bun in a great soft doughy mass of flabby time servers, single moms, diversity enforcers, touchy yet untouchable Muslims, Oprhafied weepers and rejects from other kinds of government work.”
That would be funny were it not so true. I have addressed risk aversion many times in past posts. That this remains a concern after almost a decade of intense combat operations in two different countries is disturbing. By now one would think that the value of innovation and risk taking in the spirit of the British SAS motto “Who Dares Wins” would be recognized, valued and rewarded. But it’s not and that may be because there is no “win” to win here.
We can drive the Taliban out of areas they once dominated with the sustained commitment of infantry and keep them out. We can train Afghan security forces and despite the mixed results we have fielded some good units. I saw a dismounted ANA patrol the other day who looked to be as switched on and professional as an american patrol. ISAF forces in the south have clearly gone on the offensive and are off the FOB’s protecting the population but they cannot generate the social capitol required to “win”. We’re not fighting a top down ideology which is incompatible with western interests we’re fighting an insurgency by Islamic insurgents in a Muslim land. You could beat the Nazi’s in Germany or the Communist in Cambodia without having to fight the people too. We’re fighting a bottom up ideology fueled by religion. We can never get enough social capitol to “win” because we’re not Muslims. We can’t separate the Taliban from the people nor can me reduce the attractiveness of jihad against infidel foreigners because we do not have the juice where it counts – with the people and with the Ulema (religious leaders).
This is where having the military Richard Cohen thinks we have would come in handy. Professional Legions accustomed to incessant campaigning are probably better suited for hard fighting in limited wars on foreign shores. They may better understand that they fight for each other when they are sent into battle while having little concern about where they are fighting or why. High intensity limited warfare is no place for a risk averse commander who is concerned with not making mistakes or avoiding battle. This is going to be a long year of heavy fighting and it is important that we inflict serious losses on the Taliban fighters who take us on because that is the only way we can drive the level of violence down.
I have little confidence in reaching an acceptable end-state but having seen first hand the progress in Marjah and Nawa it seems possible to pacify the areas we are currently clearing thus avoiding three years of heavy combat. That’s the best we will be able to do but it can only be done by those tough splinters John Derbyshire describes. Instead of valuing and supporting those splinters our military and congress is going to ruin them if they don’t stop with the social engineering to focus on the tasks at hand. But we all know that’s not going to happen so I guess we are now living in interesting times.
ISAF continues to reposition forces closer to the civilian population centers as part of their “population centric” strategy. They’ve set off a flurry of activity putting up blast walls, T barriers, concertina wire and Hesco counter mobility obstacles. Only none of this frantic building of security barriers is happening anywhere near Afghan population centers – it is all happening on the Big Box Fob’s. General McChrystal is leading by example – at the ISAF HQ in Kabul last week I noted that the finishing touches are going into a custom built, specially designed, multi-million dollar blast wall which is located inside the new giant T barrier wall, which was built inside the outer T barrier wall after the last VBIED attack on ISAF HQ. The original multi-million dollar T barrier wall was built inside the Hesco wall which itself is backed by a locally made rock and concrete wall shortly after a rocket landed near the ISAF HQ in 2006. It is hard to square the frantic pace of installing three to four layers of blast walls on Big Box FOB’s with all the talk of securing the population centers.
As I am writing this post I am concurrently trying to reroute a client around the almost daily fire fight on the vital Kabul to Jalalabad road. Last night we had a mortar round impact in Jalalabad City which has seen more IED’s and indirect fire attacks in the past 5 weeks then in the previous five years. In Kabul rumors are flying around the city about the relative safety of internationals, both on the road and in their compounds. The Taliban and other bad actors are not the concern – it is the Afghan Security Forces which are currently making life most uncomfortable for the international community. Last week, the Afghan Vice and Virtue police raided almost every western restaurant in Kabul. They also raided a gigantic private secured living compound called Green Village because it (like every other secure compound in Kabul) had a bar. That these places were all licensed, legal and have been operating for years is a given, and apparently irrelevant. The eastern European waitresses from one of the nicer restaurants were arrested and taken for medical examination “to ascertain whom they might have been sleeping with, police officials said.” Yeah right, CSI Kabul – I bet they have the ability to “ascertain whom they might have been sleeping with.” Adding insult to injury, the French owner of L’AtmosphÃ¨re, who has been in business since 2004 and once paid more in Afghan taxes than any other entity in the country, is reported to be in jail after protesting too much during the raid on his fine establishment.
It is the Kabul ANP who stand accused of murdering the American security operative, Louis Maxwell, after he saved 17 of his UN colleagues during an attack on their guesthouse on 28 October 2009. He had a Heckler and Koch G36K assault rifle, which is worth a fortune here. He was shot repeatedly (he was already badly wounded defending his charges) at point blank range by an ANP soldier who wanted the gun. Apparently, CSI Kabul lacks the requisite skills to determine if an American contractor, armed and sanctioned by the UN and acting in accordance to his contractual duties, was killed at point blank range by one of their officers.
Paladinsix, at the Knights of Afghanistan blog, has an excellent post from inside Kabul on the effects of endemic corruption. What he is describing (and I can attest that everything he is saying is 100% on target) is a concerted effort by the Kabul authorities to drive westerners out. Which is exactly what the Taliban is attempting to do with multiple attacks on USAID implementation partners in Kandahar and Lashkar Gah. To date, the only Americans to be killed in both these efforts is Louis Maxwell – the Taliban only killed Afghan security guards and local bystanders. Does that give you some perspective on the current threat level for internationals living in Kabul?
Our fundamental problem in Afghanistan is that we are fighting on behalf of a central government which is not considered legitimate by a vast majority of the population. When we squeeze this government it tends to squeeze back, which is exactly why all of a sudden the vice and virtue police considered western restaurants to be “centers of immorality.” Just as a side, the consumption of adult beverages is a very popular pastime with the adult males in Afghanistan. The liberal canard that the use of alcohol is offensive to Islamic societies, like all liberal canards, is based on willful ignorance by our elites and their lap dog main stream media. Alcohol is not illegal for westerners and has always been part of the male Afghan social scene since before Alexander the Great invaded. Yet unlike Alexander, we have a lot of carrots to dole out to the Afghan government in support of our objectives, but do not have one stick – not one we can use to encourage good behavior. As a result men and women I have known for years and who have operated here effectively are for the first time ever planning to go home and stay. There is only so much risk a person can stomach, and the risk for the thousands of outside the wire contractors working in Afghanistan is not only increasing exponentially, it is coming from Afghans on both sides of the conflict.
The civilian reconstruction sector is not the only portion of the international effort being adversely affected by the failure to develop a functional Afghan government – the rot is spreading from the top down with the dangerous contagion of plummeting morale. Herschel Smith at the Captain’s Journal linked to a depressing report from Afghanistan by journalist Ben Shaw, which showed up in the comments section of his latest post. The first paragraph:
As a journalist (and combat veteran) currently embedded with US forces in Afghanistan, I have found that roughly 95% of the troops on the ground in no way believe in their mission, have no confidence that their efforts will bring about lasting change to Afghan security, stability, governance, or a decreased influence of radicalism. In truth, they fight simply to stay alive and want nothing more than to go home.
Napoleon said that in war “the moral is to the physical as three is to one.” This is the consequence of fronting a government which abuses the population and international guests alike. If the ISAF soldiers were methodically clearing areas of Taliban and then assisting in the establishment of law and order, governance and services which serve the people, and that the people appreciate, we would be achieving moral ascendancy. But that is impossible because the vast majority of troops are based on FOB’s and never leave them, and there is no legitimate government with which to entrust areas we have cleared. So now that we are unable to do what is important, the unimportant has become important and the mark of military virtue is the enforcement of petty policies like the mandatory wearing of eye protection at all times while outdoors.
We have pulled out of the Korengal Valley of Kunar Province as part of the new strategy to focus on population centers. Yet all the new building and all the new surge forces are being shoehorned onto Big Box FOB’s, where they are forming fusion cells to fuse the information generated by the 3 or 4 existing fusion cells in each brigade TOC in an attempt to make sense out of the avalanche of “story boards” and “white papers” being generated by thousands of officers and former officer contractors who are locked into FOB’s, but still feel compelled to work 14 hours a day. The surge in building activity is confined exclusively to ISAF bases and there are no indications, not one, that the military is going to shift into a “population centric” posture by putting troops out within the population 24/7 to provide security. This is deja vu all over again, it is exactly the same dilemma we faced in Iraq before the surge there. As usual, there is one segment of the population which is not fooled by story boards and white papers authored by their seniors – the troops. And so morale is apparently now a problem. While the Taliban make videos as they swarm over our latest abandoned base our troops are facing this;
As a recent example, I filmed approximately 75 minutes of combat footage, knowingly exposed myself to concentrated enemy fire, and learned two days ago that if I post this footage, the Soldiers on film will be charged and/or relieved for uniform violations, improper wear of personal protective equipment (ballistic glasses, fire-retardant gloves, etc), and that low-level commanders have already begun this process. In an attempt to preserve the careers of the Soldiers I am trying to advocate, I am unable to tell (or show) the US public what they’re experiencing and what they think of it. The military only wants good news to flow from embedded journalists not facts.
There are huge costs hidden behind this kind of pass the buck, risk averse, stupidity. Risk aversion is expensive, not for the bureaucrat, but for the taxpayer and it leads to fiscal insanity. For example, was it cost effective or even necessary to shut down Europe to all air travel because of the recent volcano eruption in Iceland? Richard Fernandez at the Belmont Club posted this yesterday:
As volcanoes go EyjafjallajÃ¶kull was accounted by Icelandic volcanologists as a weary old man. It’s recent eruption was unremarkable.
Ash from the volcano’s plume has reached an altitude of only about 10 kilometers (six miles), not high enough to reach the stratosphere images taken by the Eumetsat satellite concluded that Iceland’s EyjafjallajÃ¶kull has spewed 2,000 tons of sulphur dioxide into the air. Pinatubo spouted 10,000 times that amount.
So the economy loses about 4 Billion to the over reaction of bureaucrats in England who honestly believe they must drive down risk to near zero no matter what the cost. Do you remember all the airliners that were damaged by flying Pacific routes after the eruption of Mt Pinatubo? Yeah me neither – there were none and there would have been none if we had ignored the British “experts.” British “experts” are not confining their depredations to the global economy, this observation by Max Hastings is fair warning about where our military is heading:
We are in danger of emasculating the armed forces we claim to love so much, by extending Health and Safety protection to the battlefield. I have no doubt that the coroners who preside at inquests on soldiers killed in Afghanistan are compassionate men. But senior officers regard them as a menace to the Services’ real interests.
I get the distinct impression that we are seeing the FOB’s harden because the military is riding this one out until somebody pulls the plug. I have no facts to back those feelings up … it is just my gut reaction to what I am seeing as the fighting season starts. I hope I am wrong, but will tell you this: what is needed here is leadership from the Commander in Chief. If we are going, then let’s go – if we are staying, then somebody needs to explain how we will win without a functioning Afghan central government to partner with. It is the Commander in Chief who has to set the conditions for success. He is responsible for sorting out Karzai and hammering out an agreement stating exactly what is expected of our ally if we continue to support him. Only he can impart a sense of urgency on senior officers in the military hierarchy. Only he can direct them to focus on the Afghans outside the wire and not the soldiers trapped inside the Big Box FOB’s. It is clear, based on the reporting I am seeing from the embedded journalists, that this fight is beyond the capabilities of Gen. McChrystal and his staff. Instead of focusing on NATO soldiers drinking beer he should be focusing on nitwit officers using press photos as evidence with which to burn their own soldiers for failing to follow some minor uniform regulation.
If our Commander in Chief wants to remain committed to Afghanistan he needs to sell his plan to the American people. Come over here to sort out the Karzai administration and bring in a military commander who can motivate the troops and focus the effort on a common enemy with clearly defined goals and objectives. If we see Barak Obama come to Afghanistan, followed shortly by the appointment of General Mattis to lead our efforts here, we will win. If not we are on our way out and it may get real ugly before we are gone.