Spiking The Ball

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.

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

The president was on the ground in Bagram Air Base pumping up the troops but (according to NPR) not spiking the ball 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.

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

The VBIED was followed up by three-man assault force who approached their objective wearing burkas and started battling with the Serbs and Nepalese guards from the Green Village guard force.

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.

Stuck in Kabul

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

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

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

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

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

Here is what happend:

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

I lifted this out of The Bot's incident report

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

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

1320 – 6 fighters (Haqqani type) start the attack

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

1500 Two 82mm shells hit USAID compound.

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

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

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

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

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

0700 Incident is declared over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The resolute reluctance by the American government to deal with reality in Afghanistan is not the exception to a rule; it is the rule. The rule of the big lie which  infuses our military from top to bottom. I remember vividly the first time I experienced it in the military. Former Commandant of the Marine Crops General Krulak was then the Commanding General in Quantico, Virginia where I was an instructor at The Basic School. There was a new class of Lieutenants on deck and the General had come to welcome them on day one of their 6-month course. The first thing he asked was “who here thinks that a female is incapable of doing anything and everything a man can do”?  I almost had a heart attack when I saw some of my new Lt’s preparing to state the obvious fact that there is no way the female gender of the species can physically compete with the male gender in any endeavor that requires strength, stamina, or endurance. Fortunately the good General had paused for only a second before concluding with this warning “because if you do I’ll dismiss you from our Corps this very afternoon” (that may not be an exact quote but it’s close).

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

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

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

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

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

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

Masters of the Obvious

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?

The CEO of The American Enterprise Institute and noted Afghan Expert John Podesta - we remember him from back in the days when he was Clinton's CoS - looks like he's aged well - a sleek no doubt savvy burecratic infighter to be sure. But he doesn't know a damn thing about Afghanistan. But he makes over a mil a year passing himself off as an expert - the ruling class in action no?
The CEO of the Soros funded  The Center for American Progress, fully connected democratic machine insider and noted Afghan Expert, John Podesta.  Remember him when he was Clinton’s CoS?  Looks like he’s aged well – rich people do age better than us working folk so bully for this chap. He still doesn’t know a damn thing about Afghanistan.

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.

Co-author Brian Katulis – a Princeton man (who speaks Arabic !!!) and has written many books on the region.  Added plus; he was just on Hardball where one of the five viewers watching quoted him as saying “we got to move beyond this addiction to dictators” while discussing his support for the Muslim Brotherhood in taking out Mubarack but he also said that he was against removing the Iraqi dictator Sadam Hussain. “Shut up, he explained” when asked about the clear contradictions.  “I went to Princeton don’t you know.”

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.

The Center for American Progress website doesn't have a picture of Caroline which I guess democrats can get away with. I thought all upper management had to be treated equally, I goggled Caroline suspecting she might be a food blister or have some sort of looks issue but she doesn't. There are plenty of clips of her being interviewed on TV etc... and she appears to be an attractive woman - but she doesn't have a pic on the executive bathroom section of workplace and this photo pops up when you goggle her name so I'm going with it
The Center for American Progress website doesn’t have a picture of Caroline Wadhams, the third author of this important paper.   I thought all upper management had to be treated equally regardless of gender so I googled Caroline, and found  plenty of clips of her being interviewed on TV etc… and she appears to be an attractive woman.  But she doesn’t have a pic on the executive bathroom section of her current workplace which is odd.   This photo pops up when you google her too so I’m going with it.  One can never go wrong with a picture of a Marine weapons platoon jocking up for a day of battle

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.

Shifting Sands

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.

Helping a child out of the Finest after the attack
Helping a child out of the Finest supermarket after the attack

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.

What happens when you live on an international border and the guys on the other side stop all fuel shipments? In America this could cause significant problems in time costing the economy billions in losses while leaving thousands out of work. In Afghanistan it causes smugglers to focus on fuel. These two are unloading petrol from a truck which has just crossed the Iranian border and is turning into the Afghan customs lot.
What happens when you live on an international border and the guys on the other side stop all fuel shipments? In America this could cause significant problems costing the economy billions in losses while leaving thousands out of work. In Afghanistan it causes smugglers to focus on fuel. These two kids are unloading smuggled petrol from a truck which has just crossed the Iranian border and is turning into the Afghan customs lot in Zaranj.

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.

When the flow of petrol is cut every street corner has a kid selling it by the liter.
When the flow of petrol is cut every street corner has a kid selling it by the liter. This won’t happen in the west when the flow of petrol is unexpectedly interrupted and we will find ourselves in a dire emergency where in this land the people work around market disruptions because they never had functioning markets to start with.

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.

Small groups of troops working directly with regional governments should be used to make rapid progress at improving critical infrastructure
Small groups of troops working directly with regional governments should be used to make rapid progress at improving critical infrastructure

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.

The Start of a Long Year

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.

Sami the Finn
Sami the Finn from Indicium Consulting provides this useful graphic on incident rates.  We anticipate seeing the incident rate to approach the 20,000 mark in 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.

Canadian and American Army Patrol in downtown Kandahar last month. This was a rare sight prior to the surge but now mounted patrols are common
A Canadian patrol backed up behind an American mounted patrol in downtown Kandahar last month.   Seeing a patrol was a rare sight prior to the surge but now mounted patrols are so common they stack up on the main drag.   2011 is going to be hard year for the troops operating outside the wire and there are now a lot of them doing just that

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.

Every year there are many more boys reaching fighting age then there was the year before. Over 75% of the population is under the age of 24.
Every year the number of military aged males available to both sides of the conflict increases dramatically.  Over 75% of the population is  under the age of 24.  Photo by Logan Lynch

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.

Security For Me But Not For Thee

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.

A Battalion HQ from the 201st Corps - not too much building of security walls or even a fucntional roof for the Afghan Army
An ANA battalion OPs center from the 201st ANA Division. Not many blast walls going up here and as you can see nine years into this exercise and we haven't even repaired an ANA buildings on their main bases. The damage you see here occurred around 1991 when the Muj tried to bum rush Jalalababd shortly after the Soviets withdrew. They got as far as this battalion HQ before being pushed back by the Soviet trained and equipped Afghan National Army

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’Atmosphère, 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.

Louis Maxwell with his H&K G36K.  A true American hero but already one of the forgotten ones.
Louis Maxwell with his H&K G36K. A true American hero.

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.

By all news accounts the soldier in this picture, Captain Mark Moretti is an exceptional combat leader who knows the business well.  but this picture makes my blodd boil.  I am all for pulling out of the Korengal Valley and have said repeatedly we should never have gopne there in the first palce.  But to pull out like this - holding hands with the local chief villian - him smiling like he just won the lottery because he now owns the milliond of dollars of gear left behind and he gets to hold hands with the last American commander as if a Captain in the Army is his bitch?  We should have pulled out and when Haji dip shit and the local Taliban arrived the next day to flaunt their new prize we should have JDAM'd the whole group.  Yes it is important that the Afghans undersatnd we are a just people who respect the rule of law and are motivated by a sense of justice etc.... but it helps to let them also know we are unpredictable and powerful too  And that we don't give a shit about Korengali villagers anymore.  You know what I call that kind of tactic?  Force Protection...the old fashion way.
We came to the Korengal Valley in peace; we are leaving in peace and at the cost of around 50 American lives. We are also leaving a half finished black top road. How do you put lipstick on this pig? And who do you think see this as a victory Taliban troops or our troops? The sun glasses are considered to be extremely rude by Afghans when talking to them like this but regulations mandate soldiers must wear eye pro at all times. It is safer for junior officers to follow regulations than to use their hard earned local knowledge and common sense in today's Army.

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 Eyjafjallajökull   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 Eyjafjallajökull 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.

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.

Escalation of Force

I have written on this topic many times before; most of you have by now seen this article from the New York Times: Tighter Rules Fail to Stem Deaths of Innocent Afghans at Checkpoints.   Here are the first two paragraphs:

American and NATO troops firing from passing convoys and military checkpoints have killed 30 Afghans and wounded 80 others since last summer, but in no instance did the victims prove to be a danger to troops, according to military officials in Kabul.

We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat, said Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who became the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan last year. His comments came during a recent videoconference to answer questions from troops in the field about civilian casualties.

As usual the reporting or at least the title is deceptive.   There may be Afghans shot at checkpoints but that seems to be a very rare occurrence.   Most of these shootings occur in escalation of force incidents involving rear vehicle turret gunners. To the best of my knowledge a VBIED has never been prevented from ramming home by a rear turret gunner although at least one died trying to stop one.   That brave soldier would have most likely survived had he ducked down inside the MRAP.

ANA
ANA checkpoint on Jalalabad Road, Kabul

There is a problem with the concept that a turret gunner can identify, and identify as friend or foe, a potential Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) in time to stop it with machinegun fire.   That problem is the OODA Loop which I discussed at length in this post.   There is another problem and that is with the rules that American military units most conform to.     There is a standing order that every vehicle convoy leaving a FOB must have four MRAP’s and 16 soldiers at a minimum. If the Commanding   General wants to preach about getting off the FOBs to protect the population on one hand, but declares that four MRAP’s and 16 riflemen, at minimum, for “force protection” is necessary, then there is a rhetorical disconnect.   Is the local environment safe enough to conduct COIN operations or are the atmospherics such that it is reasonable to anticipate a determined IED followed by SAF (small arms fire) complex attack in all areas at all times in Afghanistan?   I believe that in the vast majority of this nation ISAF vehicles (especially MRAP’s) can travel without any concern from IED or SAF attack.   I would further stipulate that even if they were attacked, a two vehicle MRAP convoy could easily hold its own against the dozen to two dozen Taliban who comprise your average shoot and scoot squad.

route clear
It seems like the "route clearance" packages roll out daily to clear routes, which are active because the villains think the route clearance package may be heading down them.

There is another aspect of the article which I find hard to believe – from the article linked above:

The people are tired of all these cruel actions by the foreigners, and we can’t suffer it anymore, said Naqibullah Samim, a village elder from Hodkail, where Mr. Yonus lived. The people do not have any other choice, they will rise against the government and fight them and the foreigners. There are a lot of cases of killing of innocent people.

The Taliban kill many more innocent civilians than does ISAF. That being the case why have we not seen an increase in ANA recruitment from the families who have had innocents killed by the Taliban?   Pashtunwali is supposed to work both ways when it comes to things like blood debt.

Finally the article ends, as these things must do, with a shot at the boogeymen of whatever the War on Terror is now called; security contractors.

“A spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, Zemary Bashary, said private security contractors sometimes killed civilians during escalation of force episodes, but he said he did not know the number of instances.”

Let me help the good minister out.   There was a fatal shooting last spring by two Blackwater guys (they were working for a subcontractor so technically not BW guys in the eyes of the law)   in Kabul and both of them are facing 2 counts of murder each back in America. There was an Aussie national from Four Horsemen who shot and killed what he thought to be a legitimate threat and he has been sentenced to death by hanging by an Afghan court and is currently sitting in Poli Charki.   Yesterday a Global team out of Lashka Gar was hit by an IED/SAF attack outside of Marjah.   They took 3 KIA and 1 WIA claiming to have killed seven villains as they fought to free up their mates hit in the IED blast.   That claim is, as these things normally are, inconceivable.   The villains tend to stay behind cover and blast away from around 500 to 600 meters after an IED attack knowing that PSD teams will leave as soon as they have recovered their injured or dead.   There is no way the Global team would know how many guys (if any) they hit in a quick, fierce engagement of that nature.   Those three examples cover all the shootings I know about in the last three years for Afghan contractors.

This is bad news - a magnetic mine attached to a fuel truck which went off a mile away from the Taj.  The driver was OK but it appeared some guy riding by on his bicycle was melted litterally into the pavement.  Wonder if his family will join the ANA to sastisfy a blood debt against the Talibs?
This is bad news - a magnetic mine attached to a fuel truck which went off a mile away from the Taj. The driver was OK but it appeared some guy riding by on his bicycle was melted literally into the pavement. Wonder if his family will join the ANA to satisfy a blood debt against the Talibs?

The reason that contractors do not get involved in that many shootings is that they do not ride around with machinegunners in turrets who think that they can stop a VBIED by shooting at it in time.   That is the way to solve the entire “shoot the civilians” problem for ISAF – remove turret gunners.   They have never stopped a VBIED, have killed over 600 innocent Afghans (and a few internationals) and started at least one riot.   When force protection policy matches the COIN population centric rhetoric from on high, the numbers of innocent Afghans killed by “escalation of force” incidents will dramatically decrease.

Amateur Hour

The attack on Kabul yesterday was yet another demonstration of how inept the Taliban are at the planning and execution of a simple raid.   The attack has been described in the press as “audacious” and “brazen” which is true.   All their attacks in downtown Kabul are conceptually bold military moves; but they accomplish nothing.   A better description of their performance would be incompetent. Seven heavily armed attackers – one in a bomb-rigged ambulance killed three policemen and two civilians, one of them a child.   They failed to make it onto their objective retreating instead into the most popular market in downtown Kabul which they then destroyed.   That is a dismal performance by a raid force which had gained complete surprise when they unmasked themselves in Pashtunistan Square.   Dismal isn’t even strong enough to describe how poorly the Taliban executed the raid – how about “more stupid, incompetent and wasteful of personal time then a Nancy Pelosi press conference?”   That doesn’t really roll of the tongue but you get the idea inshallah.

Chim Chim sent this photo of the attack taken from the Presidential compound.  There was zero chance of the seven attackers getting anywhere near this copound yesterday
Chim Chim sent this photo of the attack, taken from the Presidential compound. There was zero chance of the seven attackers getting anywhere near this compound yesterday.

The best chronology of yesterday’s attack was filed by Dexter Filkins of the New York Times.   As an aside, he filed an excellent outside-the-wire style piece on his efforts to help the schoolgirls who were attacked by men on motorcycles throwing acid in their faces last year.   It is a long story with an ending so typical for Afghanistan, that it is iconic in my book.   I have mentioned Mr. Filkins once in a previous post where I took the piss out of him for reporting from inside the US Military security bubble.   After reading A School Bus for Shamsia, I take it all back.   He is developing a sense for this conflict which few dedicated reporters have developed.   He could develop into the main stream media’s Michael Yon if he invested the time required to develop his own situational awareness.

View from inside the Presidential Compound.  The mobile security team from the compound had joined the fight in the opening moments.
View from inside the Presidential Compound. The mobile security team from the compound had joined the fight in the opening moments.

In military tactical terms, yesterday’s attack is classified as a raid.   Raids are designed to attack soft targets which are not prepared for and do not expect direct attack.   Getting onto the objective without being discovered is the easy part of most raids.   The hard part is withdrawing your force back to friendly lines – a problem which was not relevant to the Taliban attackers who had no plan or intent to escape once they committed to the attack.    The execution of a successful raid  requires meticulous planning and preparation, including multiple, detailed rehearsals in order to condition men in contact to function with speed and purpose and ultimately, achieve the difficult task of  getting back across friendly lines.

The attackers had no supporting arms to coordinate, no aircraft, no inter-squad communication, no higher headquarters communication, and apparently, no real plan.   One of them gets shot trying to bum rush the guards outside the Central Bank and detonates himself; a cluster of 3 to 5 invade the Faroshga Market, tell the locals to leave and barricade themselves on the upper floors where they are eventually killed; and then an ambulance, which has slipped through the security cordon, detonates in Malik Asghar Square inflicting the only KIA’s during the entire event.   So the big raid ends up destroying the new market downtown, which the people of Kabul are proud of because it is resembles modern shopping stores like they see on TV.   The seven man Taliban raid force could have done dozens of walk through rehearsals on the very objective they were going to attack to tighten their assault plan time-line down to the second.   But they didn’t because when it comes to military tactical proficiency they suck which indicates that they do not have organizational strength expected from a third rate High School football program.   I’m talking about American football here folks – football which requires players to use their   opposing digits – and a third rate High School team would be expected to learn something about the game after 8 years of playing it.   The frigging Taliban are as stupid as the day is long.

The days attacks started in Jalalabad not Kabul with a single rocket launch towards the Jalalabad Airport.  I hit tree branches just after launch detonating next to a local famers house.
The day's attacks started in Jalalabad, not Kabul, with a single rocket launch towards the Jalalabad Airport. It hit tree branches just after launch, detonating next to a local farmer's house. This is the fuse and motor nozzle.
Damage caused by the air burst which occured due to gunner error - hitting trees - morons I swear...
Damage caused by the air burst, which was due to gunner error - hitting trees with a 107mm rocket - morons I swear...
The usual victims - a small farming family just trying to get by.  The Taliban ineptitude with modern weapons increases the risk for normal Afghans who normally would not be tartgeted or affected by the war.
The usual victims - a small farming family just trying to get by. The Taliban's ineptitude with modern weapons increases the risk for normal Afghans who normally would not be targeted or affected by the war.

Continuing with the day’s theme of “stupid Taliban attacks” we headed east to an ambush site near the Torkham border.   If this were in fact an insurgent attack it would be very bad news for us reconstruction types.   There are places known for Taliban attacks and places where we expect no Taliban activity due to the number of tribal inhabitants who will not allow fighting Taliban into their areas of influence.   We had several Reports that a fuel tanker had been hit in an ambush in an area where we expect zero Taliban activity so we needed to go talk with the locals around the ambush site to figure out what was up?

This truck was hit by an RPG but only after it was drained of fuel.
This truck was hit by an RPG, but only after it was drained of fuel.
The RPG went straight through the empty tanker the warhead did not arm because the shooter was too close.  You can see the fuse imprint clearly where the rocket punched out of the tank
The RPG went straight through the empty tanker. The warhead did not arm because the shooter was too close. You can see the fuse imprint clearly where the rocket punched out of the tank.

Turns out one quick look at the truck and we did not need to talk to anybody.   As is the case in over 60% of fuel tanker attacks in Afghanistan this was a case of fuel theft.   We ran into some Pakistani’s who work for the trucking company and were also investigating the reported ambush.   They said they had not heard one word from or about their driver and his assistant.   Fuel thieves – they are as stupid as the Taliban completely unable to come up with a good plan and execute it.

The raid in Kabul yesterday was meaningless.   It will have minimal impact on the Kabul government and the internationals who work with them in the various ministries.   It was just one of the many security incidents which are a normal part of the daily landscape in the contested portions of the country.

The day which started with a poor rocket shot, followed by a key stone cops style raid, and a blatant fuel theft ended with the report of a large bomb located on private property just outside of Jalalabad:

More stupidity - a homemade bomb which failed to function
More stupidity - a homemade bomb which failed to function

It was HME (home made explosive) which was mixed so poorly it could not be detonated.   The blasting cap blew, but the bomb was a dud. ISAF tried to blow the bomb in place – but it still did not go – just a low order “poof.”   Amateurs.     It appeared to be directed at local people and no doubt, the latest shot in an ongoing land dispute.

The Taliban have been fighting us for over eight years and yesterday’s raid was the best they could do, given their vast combat experience?   That raid was a fiasco, which indicates to me we have time… a lot of time to get this thing right.   All we need is the will.

Turkey Shoot

I was enjoying a morning cup of coffee and checking email up on the Baba Deck with a group of friends who are in from the States when we saw the signature of a tanker attack just up the road.   That has never happened this close to Jalalabad before so we conducted a brief staff meeting which consisted of saying “let’s go” and headed up the road to see what was what.

Moments after the tankers were hit - photo taken from the Taj Jalalabad Baba Deck
Moments after the tankers were hit – photo taken from the Taj Jalalabad Baba Deck

The ANP had closed the Duranta Dam tunnel but recognizing us they waved us through and we continued through the tunnel at speed only to have the ANP on the other side of the tunnel wave us right on down the road and into the kill zone.

Approaching the ambush site - note the armed civilian - who knows who he is - running towards the firing. What is also important to note is the lack of any vegitation or cover in the hills where the bad guys are and the Amry OH 58 Kiowa circiling overhead.
Approaching the ambush site – note the armed civilian – who knows who he is – running towards the firing. What is also important to note is the lack of vegetation or cover in the hills where the bad guys are and the U.S. Army OH58D Kiowa circling overhead. The men on the ridge line are Blue Compass convoy escort who are on the flank of the Taliban ambush squad

We saw a string of tracers stitch the road to our front and immediately pulled a hard left into dead space well short of the burning trucks and continued forward on foot.   The firing was sporadic, just a few incoming rounds cracking well over our heads and we were not sure if it was aimed at us or spill over from the firefight we could hear to our right.   The villains had a belt fed machinegun (probably a PKM) which fired a few bursts in our direction during the 5 or so minutes it took us to reach the kill zone.   There was a section (two) of Army OH58D   helicopters circling overhead very low as they worked out who was who on the ground.

There are no villages up in the hills above the Duranta Dam, no vegetation and no cover.   Once the Kiowa’s obtained good situational awareness they obtain permission to engage the ambush team the bad guys were toast.   They couldn’t go to ground, they couldn’t hide, they were in the open and forced to be on the move by pressure from a convoy escort team from  Blue Compass and a few ANP who had followed them into the hills.

The first two tankers have been hit with multiple rounds and are leakng JP 8 all over the road
The first two tankers have been hit with multiple rounds and are leaking JP 8 all over the road

This was a more effective ambush then we normally see further west on the Jbad /Kabul highway.   The terrain here forced the shooters to be much closer to the road than they are when they ambush from the heights of the Tangi Valley.   There were three tankers hit and dumping JP 8 all over the road but not burning.   Three more were hit and on fire in the northern portion of the kill zone.

These trucks took a beating - there were no driver casualties reported just two escort guards who were reported injured
These trucks took a beating – there were no driver casualties   just two escort guards who were reported injured

Shortly after the photograph above was taken the OH58’s got a firing solution and let rip with rockets and gun pods. Kiowa pilots seem to like getting close and personal and these guys were not staying above some hard artificial “ceiling” dictated to them from on high but were on the deck, spitting venom like a good gunship should.   I doubt the villains had much of a chance – reportedly four were killed.

When you see this much fuel pouring out of a tanker you know it is just a matter of time before something bad happens
When you see this much fuel pouring out of a tanker you know it is just a matter of time before something bad happens
Tghe truck drivers start some damage control efforts by sticking small tree branches into the bullet holes. There are coverd in fuel but doing a good job at protecting the shipment they are responsible for.
The truck drivers start some damage control efforts by sticking small tree branches into the bullet holes. They are covered in fuel but doing a good job at protecting the shipment they are responsible for.

The Kiowa’s ended this fight and the efforts on the ground turned to separating the leaking fuel tankers from the burning ones.   This is an effort best watched from at least two ridge lines away and we had work to do so we headed back to Taj noting there were at least 50 fuel tankers lining the road just outside the kill zone. In the big scheme of things these attacks are meaningless on the physical level; the loss of fuel is sucked up by the contractor who only gets paid for what he delivers.  The numbers of trucks being lost are like-wise a problem for Pakistani truck companies and not Uncle Sam. The American taxpayer can’t buy a break like that in most places.

Napoleon reportedly said; “moral power is to the physical as three parts out of four”  “even in war pointed out in warfare the moral is to the physical as three is to one”.  Attacks like the one we witnessed this morning are always victories on the moral level for the Taliban.  That is the problem for our efforts in Afghanistan in a nut shell.  The Taliban do not have to be tactically good or win on the physical level, they don’t have to be smart or survive half ass ambush attempts.  They just need to attack and if they lose every battle in the end it won’t matter; they’ll still win.

Convoy escort from Blue Compass telling us the "Taliban are nishta" after the Kiowa's fired them up
Convoy escort from Blue Compass telling us the “Taliban are nishta” after the Kiowa’s fired them up

The ambush squad who sortied out this morning to burn fuel trucks were clueless. They shoot up 6 trucks out of a convoy of around 80 and then found themselves flanked by armed guards, forced to move in open terrain where they were hunted down like rabid dogs by Kiowa helicopters.  This also was a good demonstration of using PSC’s to perform tasks which are not cost effective for the military.  It was our good luck and the villains bad luck that two helicopters were hanging around the area with full ammo stores when this went down. The pressure applied by aggressive maneuver from the convoy escort security element helped the Kiowa’s PID (positive ID) the bad guys and obtain permission to smoke them and it is rare to see that work out so smoothly. Too bad its not always this easy with the Taliban.

A Little Positive News

Michael Yon was kind enough to give the blog a plug in his latest post on the National Reviews blog the corner. The problems currently being experienced by the expat community renewing visa’s our obtaining work permits are irksome and expensive but in the big scheme of things minor. The government in Kabul is not working which is not news. My confidence in the ability of all the Afghans, ISAF and the UN to get a runoff election planned and executed in two weeks remains low; but it could happen.

It is hard to see what difference the result of this election will make on the continued problems afflicting central government control exercised from on high in Kabul. Michael posted another interesting piece the other day about adopting the Afghan Army. In that piece was a link to this Dexter Filkins article on General Stanley McChrystal which made for good reading.   The biggest problem with General Stanley McChrystal is that he’s an American. There is no Afghan equivalent of which I am aware and a warrior leader in the McChrystal mold is exactly the kind of man who stands a chance of exercising effective control from Kabul. Unfortunately there is not anyone of that stature or competence in the Afghan Security Forces. It is difficult to see what difference a runoff election will make in the big scheme of things but that is no reason for excessive pessimism.

web shot
For most Afghan families hauling fresh drinking water takes up a considerable amount of their daily routine.  

Towards the end of the Filkins article General McChrystal hears something interesting when he asks the local governor what he could be doing better.

Abdullah Jan said “You need to live in buildings not tents.”

Sounds like a comment one would find on the FRI blog which I find personally gratifying. There is no question that the American military has a handle on the more immediate problems confronting them in Afghanistan and an idea how to fix it. The question is do they have moral courage to do what needs to be done?   Physical courage is easy to find in humans but moral courage in a trait much more rare in the species. It will take a lot of moral courage from on high to get the American military off the FOB’s, out of those stupid MRAP’s, out of the body armor and helmets which make them easier to hit when they are working in the 110 degree heat or climbing steep mountain passes. It was interesting to read that the first thing Gen McChrystal did when he arrived in Garmser was to take off the body armor and helmet.

The leading edge of an Afghan population boom is rapidly coming of age. Their current prospects for meaningful employment are grim. The consequences of a large pool of unemployed young men hanging about are easily predictable
The leading edge of an Afghan population boom is rapidly coming of age. Their current prospects for meaningful employment are grim. The consequences of a large pool of unemployed young men hanging about are easily predictable

Thomas Ricks has an interesting post in the Foreign Policy blog which illustrates the need for radical change in military performance. The post contains extracts from a blunt report Canadian intelligence officer along with his commentary such as the gems below:

  • In one remote village, strong Afghan commanders worked hard to deny the area to the Taliban, and also gained a remarkable amount of intelligence. But then the outpost “was closed just after the end of our tour due to its sustainment difficulties, in all likelihood dooming many of the locals who had collaborated with us there.” This is the opposite of protecting the population — it is endangering them.
  • He also takes a small whack at the Americans, saying that the safest police stations in southern Afghanistan were those where Canadian mentors lived and slept. “The American PMT approach, which involved teams driving out in the morning to visit, regrettably was far less effective in this regard.”
  • After years of training and advising, “we were still very much at year zero. And that’s a big problem because the whole definition of victory in a counter-insurgency, as defined in FM 3-24 and elsewhere, is getting the battle to the point where indigenous forces can take over, and you can leave. … All [the enemy] has to do is deny you that indigenous force development, by making things so kinetic that you can’t focus on mentoring.”
  • Under the way we currently operate, he says, most allied units think that dealing with Afghans is someone else’s job. “Mentors in effect become the excuse for Western soldiers to avoid contact with Afghan soldiers.”
  • That last issue, the failure of mentoring, leads to his strong endorsement of Gen. McChrystal’s recommendations for a radical new approach to the war. The most significant aspect of the general’s plan, he says, is to have Americans and other foreign troops co-located with Afghan forces, living, eating and sleeping alongside them. He advocates giving up mentoring and going instead to this flat-out partnering.
Children from a refugee camp outside of Jalalabad heading out to scavage for animal forage
Children from a refugee camp outside of Jalalabad heading out to scavenge for animal forage

Getting off the FOB’s and stopping the “commute to the job” mentality is something I have been railing about since day one. It is good to see us heading in this direction but I have to tell you it is not that easy as it sounds. It is physically easy to set up safe houses in Afghan towns and embed with the locals (where invited to do so) but it requires a complete change in the perceptions of risk by the military bureaucracy. I drive around Jalalabad by myself in an unarmored vehicle with nothing more than a concealed pistol for protection as a matter of routine as do many other internationals. When working in contested areas we wear local clothes, often have rifles and extra local guys with us but we still stay out of the armored vehicles because they draw too much attention allowing for easier targeting by the bad guys. Many of the American military mentors I know would love to do the same thing because it would allow them more freedom of movement and make them more effective. But getting buy-in to deploy your military forces in such a manner from on high? Not a chance. If you have not lived like we do or had the experiences that our military mentor teams have had living with the people then chances are you think the risks we take daily are insane. They are not but it is not easy to convince people who have had multiple FOB tours here of that fact.

girls

As we muddle through a new approach to the Afghan Campaign there is one fact of ground truth which remains very positive. In most places of this country what the local people want is for us to move in and stay. America and her allies are viewed very positively by a majority of the population. As I have written in the past the most potent weapon the foreigners arsenal is a big smile and the ability to say a local greeting. Afghans are a very friendly and polite people – they love it when they meet friendly, polite foreigners.   Inshallah soon we will see civ/mil teams moving into the local districts and living on the economy like we do. That is the only way you can rapidly spread not only security but projects like this. That is how you start to reach the key demographic in Afghanistan which is the young people who are rapidly coming of age. The link above about a computer lab in Gardez is more good news – but you could do more faster with Fab Labs and it would costs pennies on the dollar when compared to the way we currently field similar projects.