Carry On – The New Normal

Last night England experienced another terrorist attack; this time a suicide bomber who targeted a large crowd of young concert goers in Manchester. The media has focused on the targets being children which is curious. There have been thousands of children beaten, raped and brutalized by Muslim (mainly Pakistani) grooming gangs for years in England without a peep from the British media. In fact, the most recent grooming gang scandal happened right outside Manchester in the hamlet of Roachdale. That not one person in England has been held to account for those crimes against humanity speaks to how dismal life must be for white British female teens who belong to the lower classes.

Political leaders from Berlin to LA have sent the reassuring message that they “stand with the people of Manchester“. That’s great; let’s add the colored lights and social media UK flag filters and it will no doubt help. Right?

The response in the UK is predictable kabuki theater. They have dispatched 5000 soldiers into the streets to replace the police who are busy rounding up the usual suspects. The usual suspect the police round up after terrorist attacks are British citizens who have posted remarks critical of Islam on their social media accounts.

This popped up last night – see what I mean?

The British press has, as usual jumped on the prospect of a wave of anti-Muslim attacks to warn their fellow citizens not to do what, to date, they have never done. Newsweek immediately jumped on that band wagon too with this article stating that:

In December 2016,  the Muslim Council of Britain urged British politicians to urgently address Islamophobia in the face of growing attacks against Muslims in the U.K. Figures released in October 2016 showed that hate crimes against Muslims in London had increased 65 percent on the previous year.

If you go to the link about this 65% increase you’ll find a BBC article that states that there was a 65% increase and nothing more than that. What are these hate crimes? The BBC doesn’t say and I suspect they are social media posts like the one pasted above and nothing more. Are Muslim women wearing the hijab being hassled in the streets? That would be bad but not as bad as being tortured, sodomized, raped and forced into prostitution; a fate that has befallen thousands of white girls in England while the authorities turned a blind eye.

There are going to be more of these attacks, they will increase in severity and there is nothing any of us can do to stop them. In Europe the ruling classes refuse to define the problem as Islamic Terrorism which was true in America too until President Trump was elected. When the President recommended a prudent course of action; temporarily suspending visa’s from seven countries known to export Islamic terrorism until we could find a better way to vet visa applicants, the liberal press and their adjuncts in the Democratic party erupted in outrage at what they claim to be racism and ‘Islamophobia’ whatever the hell that means.

Islam is a religion that has adherents from every ethnic group in the world. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors which would preclude allegations of racism one would think. But our leaders don’t think and in the name of liberal progressive virtue they will refuse to adapt any common sense measure to protect their citizens. That dynamic will not change no matter how many more of their citizens are massacred by bombs, guns, trucks and the sword.

What our leaders will do is to continue restricting our freedoms and forcing group punishments, like the American TSA screenings at airports, which accomplish nothing other than harassing the traveling public.  They will close the barn door after the cows have fled by deploying troops into the streets as if that will accomplish a damn thing.

Where is this leading us? As he has so often done in the past Richard Fernandez, blogging at the Belmont Club, lays it out for us. I’ll give him the last word.

Government is losing its credibility as an effective protector.  Under these circumstances “carrying on exactly as before” is likely to have a meaning opposite to Independent’s intention.  For most people it will mean continuing to batten down the hatches and rebuilding the trust networks so foolishly discarded when they put their trust in the State. The vision of future may prove to be not the borderless EU after all — but Israel.  If government fails to protect people they are likely to fall back on tribalism and wire instead….

If we are to prevent a new medievalism finding the right balance between an open society and maintaining loyalty and allegiance is necessary.  It is a difficult task under any circumstances.  But rarely has anyone failed more dismally at it than the leaders of our multi-culti world.  By stigmatizing calls for reasonable loyalty as bigotry they have climbed out on a limb and sawed themselves off; by their dogmatic insistence on mindless inclusion they’ve foreclosed all attempts to bring things back to even keel.  They have reduced themselves to the level of hapless bystanders, unable to either prevent or explain an onslaught they themselves — were they honest enough to admit it — should have foreseen.

Friendly Fire

As reported in the update to my last post the Army has started a friendly fire investigation into the two most recent deaths in Afghanistan. Why would the they start a friendly fire investigation when the soldiers who were there are adamant that enemy fire killed sergeants Rogers and Thomas? That’s a question with two answers; the first being the pentagon is required, by law, to notify next of kin if there exists the slightest chance that  their loved one was killed by friendly fire. The second reason is the Pat Tillman case which also involved the Army Rangers and was one of the more disgraceful cover-ups in the last 15 years. Or so I thought until I looked into the matter over the weekend.

The Pat Tillman case is worth examining not just because of the cover-up the incompetence of the staff officers who sent Pat’s platoon on the ‘clearing villages’ mission in the first place was a story too. Pat Tillman was killed during a multi day sweep of villages on the Pakistani border of Khost province. They were ordered to search villages for Taliban fighters or weapons and to do so on a strict timeline dictated from on high.

Let me inject some reality into that mission. The maps being used back then, just like the maps used today, seldom identify villages by their correct name or location. What appears to be secondary roads on these maps are most often dry stream beds or goat trails. Instructing men to clear villages that don’t exist using roads that don’t exist is the epitome of 2nd generation military thinking.

If 40 Rangers go into the a village and search every dwelling (an unspeakable insult to highlander Pashtuns) finding no weapons is the village clear? If they come under fire while leaving the village are the villagers Taliban? The answer to both questions is no. The mission was a fools errand that could not have accomplished anything other than getting the villagers on the war path and our men wounded or killed for no reason.

It is difficult to track down the Tillman story today because of all the legacy media garbage that populates the search term. 60 minutes did a segment on him which told the viewer nothing other than his mother was pissed. ESPN did a segment which I assume was crap but I won’t watch ESPN propaganda so I’m not sure. The only good source I found over the weekend was the book Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer. He got to the story late and took four years to research and write the book so when it came out it was OBE (military slang for overcome by events) and few paid attention to it.

The ensuing cover-up should have ended the careers of the generals who created the story and put it into play. I was talking to some of my Marine buddies years later and they hated General McChrystal because his blatantly unethical behavior in signing off on a fairy tale (that he himself concocted) made it impossible for them to get the Silver Star awarded to men who had earned it.

Did you know Pat Tillman was part of the Jessica Lynch rescue package? Me either; that fact was uncovered by Krackauer;  he was part of the quick reaction force standing by in reserve and did not participate in the  mission because the reserve was not needed. The reason they were not needed was the Iraqi fighters had left Nasiriyah days earlier. Lynch had been well cared for by the Iraq staff of the hospital she had ended up in after sustaining serious injuries when her vehicle crashed. The story behind that incident is a parents worst nightmare – having a child in combat who is poorly trained and incompetently led.

The large rescue to get Lynch was not only unnecessary but stage managed by a Bush administration official named Jim Wilkinson to deflect attention from the fact that 17 of the 18 Marines killed in the battle for that town were killed by friendly fire. Two A-10’s from the Ohio National Guard killed them during repeated strafing runs. Wilkinson was able to shunt special operational forces into the area and have them cool their heals until he could get a special operations media team there to cover the rescue. How a junior White House staffer could do that and why the generals he was brow beating didn’t throat punch him remains a mystery.

Another mystery is why the cover-up of the Marine friendly fire incident remains in place to this day despite the fact that one of the Marines on the ground, who had been attacked by Air Force A-10’s during the Gulf war, knew exactly what was happening as soon as he heard the chain guns. I’ve heard that sound too (coming from a range thank God) and it is not a sound you’ll ever forget.

In all three of these cases the men on the ground knew what had happened and knew the official stories were lies designed to cover the asses of senior officers and political figures. Jessica Lynch never fired a round, did not battle with Iraqi soldiers and could not have fought after her truck crashed knocking her unconscious. She was not abused or raped but instead protected by the hospital staff from the Iraq military and that staff tried several time to give her back but were thwarted by Marine sentries who would not let them approach their lines.

The slaughter of Marines from Charlie company 1st Battalion 2nd Marines was recognized as friendly fire instantly by the survivors yet it took a year for the investigation to be completed and the results were a bold face lie. The Rangers with Pat Tillman knew he was killed by friendly fire within 90 seconds of it happening yet were ordered not to tell anyone, to include his brother, who was a member of the platoon but was not close enough to witness the act. That, by the way, is an unlawful order that no military man was obligated to follow and I would hope that were I in their shoes I would have enough balls to ignore it out of hand.

There were a ton of irregularities in all these investigations that should have sent up red star clusters to the media and senior leadership.  But in all three cases the senior leadership participated in the lie and there were no competent media (for example C.J. Chivers of the New York Times) on hand to look into the story. There are few (if any these days) members of the media who could even understand what it was they were looking at which is why I’m trying so hard to get back to Afghanistan.

An optimist would conclud the Army has finally learned it’s lesson about cover-ups and now follows the letter of the law regarding potential friendly fire incidents. I’m not an optimist and sense something is not right with this story.

So what do we know? News reports generated from pentagon press releases tell us 50 Rangers and 40 Afghan Commandos took part in this mission. It was  a raid targeting Abdul Hasib, the self-described “Emir” of ISIS-K who reportedly runs their tactical operations.

I have long argued night raids in Afghanistan were counterproductive but have no problem with this night raid because the local folks living in the Mamand valley of Achin district departed long ago. This raid was targeting a known commander who was holed up in a series of compounds we knew to be inhabited by bad guys. We could have dropped another MOAB on him (just to make a statement) or used  any of a hundred other weaponeering choices to destroy those compounds and all who were in them. But instead we chose to do a raid with Rangers and Afghan Commandos. Why?

Why did we use that option? I have no idea but fear the answer will be every bit as unsatisfactory as the answer to why Pat Tillman was combing through the valleys of Khost province chasing wild geese. The American public still holds our military in high esteem thanks to the the generation who served ahead of them. In the 70’s, when I was a teen, the military was universally despised for being liars and hypocrites. The men serving back then did not deserve the antipathy that washed over them from the Carter White House, the congress, the press and academia. The men serving now are not maintaining the trust passed down to them and if the lying, obfuscation and meaningless missions continue they will deserve every bit of the scorn the country they are supposed to be serving will be heaping on them.

There is no way to determine what the hell is going on over there without competent reporters on the ground digging up truth and reporting that in context. That is why I’m trying so hard to fund an embed back there but I cannot do that without your support. If you can please consider a donation to the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page in support of accurate reporting from the front lines.

 

 

 

 

Three In A Row And A Look At What Could Have Been

This morning the main stream media caught up with  FRI by reporting how the terrorists who attacked the Afghanistan National Army (ANA) in Mazar-i Sharif got onto the base. They also reported on the relief of the 209th Corps commanding general. To be fair the news report (linked here) contained details I didn’t know so good for them for the original reporting. Here’s one of those details:

When the first fighting broke out, one of the assailants dressed in a special forces uniform rushed into the mosque, the security source said. He herded the panicked recruits to take cover together in a room. “And there he blew himself up,” the source said. Any survivors were gunned down by the remaining militants, he added.

A picture from inside the ANA base mosque.  Photograph from AFP/file

That is a hard attack to defend against. In military terms it was a raid and raids are often easy to pull off because they, by design, target units or people who are not prepared for them. The hard part of any raid isn’t gaining surprise; it’s getting your troops back safely. That problem is mitigated when the assaulting troops have intentions of surviving the attack.

Saying “I told you” is, at this point, a tedious exercise in irrelevance. Nobody really cares and it makes for boring blogging. So, let me tell you something you didn’t know using another current news story.

Last week there was an uplifting story about high school girls in Herat, Afghanistan mastering basic internet skills in a computer lab apparently  provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. The article is titled “In Afghanistan, girls break cyber walls” and was a human interest story designed to showcase progress but really showcased failure, and did so with reckless disregard for the future health and well being of the girls being reported on.

Herat is in the Western part of the country and the local culture, as it is in Zaranj,  has a heavy Persian influence. The mores regarding women are a little more lax but not so lax that encouraging school girls to get on social media is a good idea. Both the Taliban and ISIS have used social media to target apostates and spies. Maybe the girls in this story belong to families with enough clout to keep them safe once we’re gone but I doubt it.

Bringing internet and IT training to Afghan children is not a new story; it’s been done before in a much more comprehensive way. But that effort garnered little media attention or big money foundation support.

Ten years ago in Jalalabad there was a computer and engineering training program that reached hundreds of children, involved sophisticated, appropriate, technical training designed to foster entrepreneurial skill-sets

High School girls from Jalalabad teaching younger children in the Fablab computer room July 2008

Unlike other aid programs this one cost the taxpayers exactly nothing.  Not a dime of aid funding funded the FabLab; the equipment was provided by MIT and grad students from MIT and their geek friends (known as Fab Folk) self funded their way to Afghanistan to set it up. They came from as far away as South Africa and Iceland; it was remarkable to see and best yet they paid their bar bills on time and with cash.

Fab Folk enjoying the world famous Tiki Bar at the Taj in Jalalabad while setting up computers that will be given to the kids at the Fab Lab

The Fab Lab equipment would have been of limited use without good internet conductivity which was installed by Baba Ken from Reachback.org.  Ken supported a start up portable satellite antenna company into field testing their new Gatr ball system to Taj, to determine how long this portable system would function in a remote location. A government agency based in the Fort Washington Facility donated the 15k a month worth of fat pipe bandwidth (they too were interested in seeing how long and at what capacity the system would last). FRI provided the expertise to get all this gear through customs (for a mere 200 buck bribe) and delivered to Jalalabad and (as we did with all our guests at the Taj) Shem Klimiuk and I provided security for the internationals who came to work on the project.

Shem and I with his driver back in the day
Gatr comms at the Taj with a FabFi chicken wire reflector (upper left) This was second one sent to us for testing.
The first Gatr ball took a beating from heavy winds, UV radiation and at least one bullet hole of unknown origin. This is a photo of it after the transponder was blown off in a storm; the Jbad geek squad repaired it every time. The designers were hoping to get 6 months of continues use from this model – it lasted over a year.

Their story is remarkable, inspirational, but never gained any traction despite being told in the pages of this blog and featured in an excellent interview by NPR of Dr. Amy Sun, who introduced the Fab Lab to Afghanistan. Listen to the interview; you’re not going to believe what they accomplished without the help or support of the US Government or any other international aid organization.

Dr. Sun entertaining herself after I got involved in minor traffic accident (with 30 cases of beer in the back of the SUV) at night just outside Surobi which was a bad place to be hanging out after dark

The Jalalabad Fab Lab was unable to generate the donations required to continue operations and I believe that is because the success was counter- narrative. While NATO was spending millions and millions of dollars developing  the”virtual silk road” the universities and teaching hospitals in Jalalabad had lightening fast internet provided free of cost by the Fab Folk and Baba Ken’s Jbad Geek squad (not pictured in this blog for security reasons).

My son Logan humping a Fab Fi reflector (he’ll take it all the way up the tallest water tower in the city) at the Jalalabad Teaching hospital

When dealing with the narrative we have to judge what we know to be true before speculating on anything else. What we know to be true is that the most effective cyber aid program in Afghanistan came about in the exact same manner as America’s current oil boom – despite, not because of the government. It was an effective grass roots movement that ultimately died because the Fab Folk were unable to attract organizations like the Gates foundation to sustain it and they did try that source and many others.

The Fab Folk had a deep reach inside the Jalalabad community that gave all kids to include the handicapped a chance at learning the basics of working with computers

These pictures and this story were once a source of great pride for those who participated in this noble effort. Viewing them now brings a sense of ennui. Baba Ken, Dr. Dave Warner of the Synergy Strike Force and Dr. Amy Sun were told over and over what they were doing could not be done. They took huge risks to prove it could be and did so because they wanted to help and knew their skill set could bring much needed technical education and resources to the Afghan people. But they had no connections in the halls of power and it seemed to me the last thing that the US government agencies deployed to Afghanistan wanted to see was people doing what they themselves contended could not be done. The ruling class and their technical experts hate being proven wrong.

In 2008 young boys from the dirt poor hamlet of Bagrami will building their own bots

The boys pictured above, if they are still alive, are in the fight now; on one side or the other. They wanted to be in university, they wanted a chance to live a productive life. What the can you say to them now? Sorry just doesn’t seem to cut it.

Baba Ken reaching out to village elders and I’m not sure where because he did this all the time. Going to shura’s alone is considered madness by military folks but it was the safest way to do business in contested lands. Afghans respect men of courage and conviction who travel alone to their villages to offer their help; something both Baba Ken and the late Dan Terry taught me early on.

I’d like to report how this story ends but I cannot do that without your support. If you can please consider a donation to the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page in support of accurate reporting from the front lines.

What Did I Tell You Part II

Yesterday I posted the following breaking news on FRI:

The Afghan defense minister, the army chief of staff and (although not in the press and maybe an inaccurate tip) four Afghan army corps commanders have been sacked.

My sources for this kind of information have never failed me but the media and Resolute Support staff are failing you by refusing to allow the news to come out unfiltered. This mornings news feed carried conformation of the scoop in this mealy mouthed way:

Ghani also reshuffled the local army leadership, as the Taliban threatened further attacks.

There are six corps in the Afghan army. Four of them have just had their commanding generals relieved. I do not believe the Afghans have a deep bench of senior general officer talent and know this move will cause turmoil in ongoing operations. It’s devastating to morale and  not well timed either as it’s spring and time to start a new fighting season.

So, at this point, what difference does it make?

I don’t know. As many of my friends have said nobody cares about Afghanistan anymore.  I respond that people will start caring when we start losing troops again but it is possible we’ll continue to avoid casualties (with the exception of the occasional SF soldier because they are staying in the fight). If that pattern holds then it means our train and assist missions are locked down inside FOB’s and never leave them. Which is to say they are wasting their time because you can’t mentor combat troops unless you’re fighting with them too. That approach is the exact same type of kabuki theater that is inflicted on the public daily by TSA agents at our airports.

Yet I still smell danger; not in the form of a threat to our country but in the form of refusing to learn from repeated past mistakes. I remain unable to track down who agreed to the deployment of 300 Marines and why. I’ve talked to general officers up to the three star level and they don’t know either nor are they optimistic about achieving mission success. I could have pressed general Turner on the issue but he’s a friend and I’m not a real reporter and would never put a friend on the spot like that.

I know the Pentagon will contend that the currently level of secrecy involving the Afghan commitment is to prevent enemies from knowing what we are up to. I also know the one entity that knows exactly where American troops are and in what number is the Taliban. They don’t need the press to tell them where we are and what we’re doing. This brings up the disturbing possibility that the Pentagon could fall into the same position of distrust and contempt that they were in at the end of the Vietnam war.

Recently in the news was another story about a gang of youths robbing and beating people. This was on a BART train but in the past similar things have occurred in shopping centers, state fairs or the high end retail property in Chicago. These stories always say the perpetrators are “youths” but look at the comment section following any of these reports and note the commentary concerning the ethnicity of the “youths”. The media won’t report on ethnicity concerning mob assaults which is one of the reasons Americans despise our main stream media. The media lies by omission and fools no one; our military leaders should not emulate their strategy; we’ve been losing enough lately.

I don’t  want to see the military become the home of the “five o’clock follies” again.  Nor do I want to see Afghanistan descend into civil war again. Both these possibilities are inevitable if we continue to do the same thing over and over expecting different results.

As I mentioned yesterday I am comfortable that whatever Secretary Mattis decides is the correct course of action because I respect the man that much. However it is dangerous to put that much faith in one man. Knowing him and knowing his level of understanding about war I would have expected him to drive a stake through the heart of all this females in the infantry bullshit. He hasn’t yet and he may not ever say a word on the subject. If that happens then I’ll admit I was wrong about the man; even our heroes are, in the end, only human and thus vulnerable to the twin curses of hubris and pride.

If there was ever a time in our history we needed a hero to step up an interject reality into the narrative it is now. If we don’t find one soon we’re doomed to descend into the third world status. History tells us that descent can be rapid and when it happens we’ll learn what the Afghans already know; death waits just around the corner and cares nothing about race, gender, annual income, or altruistic feelings. Death cares about death; we can be a free people or a dead people. Everything rides on the truth and treating reality with respect by not feeding a pretend narrative that makes coastal elites feel good about themselves.

Mattis Goes to Afghanistan

This morning’s news contained the best news (for Americans) yet to come from Afghanistan. Our Secretary of Defense, former Marine Corps General James Mattis flew into Kabul to assess our efforts there. His visit was unannounced and I am willing to bet his entourage small. Secretary Mattis is the best general of his generation and is revered by the American military. America saw why if they watched him at his confirmation hearings.  He comes to Kabul at a critical time because the Afghans just got some bad news.

The Afghan defense minister, the army chief of staff and (although not in the press and maybe an inaccurate tip) four Afghan army corps commanders have been sacked. The press is contending the two ministerial level officials resigned but that is not what I am hearing from my sources in country. This level of senior leadership turmoil will crush the already fragile morale of the Afghan National Security Forces while throwing current operations in disarray.

There is no longer a question about our intentions regarding Afghanistan; we are staying to see things through. You can hear for yourself below:

ANSF is taking a beating reportedly losing 9,000 KIA in 2015 and 10,000 in 2016. Attrition from desertions average 1/3 of the force per year but buried in that number are soldiers who are late coming back from leave and marked as new joins when they return. How big or small that number is remains unknown. Ghost soldiers (having men on the payroll who are not there) has always been a problem but  it is a different phenomena than it was in the days before all pay was distributed into individual bank accounts. In the past ghost soldiers were a sign that the commander was pocketing the cash himself. Now it is a sign that commanders are seeing that the families of their soldiers who were killed in action receive financial support without which they will be destitute. The next big idea we should be floating in Afghanistan is adequate compensation for the families of soldiers lost in combat.

Secretary Mattis contends that the levels of cooperation between NATO and the Afghan military and government has never been better. He also has said the ANSF security forces continue to improve in the face of excessively high casualties. If that’s true then how did the Taliban pull of such a spectacular attack in the prosperous and safest city in Afghanistan? I’ll tell you how.

The Taliban approached the base in Mazar-i Sharif with wounded men in their vehicles telling the guards at the first checkpoint they had to get their men to the hospital immediately. They were let past the first checkpoint but stopped at the entrance by guards who wanted to see the wounded men before allowing them to proceed. That was when the first suicide bomber detonated himself killing those guards and allowing the rest to race towards the Mosque and chow hall. Soldiers in the mosque attending Friday prayers would be unarmed; it would be an insult to Islam if they were. Soldiers eating chow are normally not armed either and no military in the world allows its recruits to run around armed. Once through the gates the attackers had everything they need to kill hundreds of unarmed troops.

Attacking troops in a mosque is an affront to Islam; it has enraged many Afghans (it should enrage them all) and the location of the attack is important to understand. Mazar is as anti-Taliban as Dearborn Michigan. Wait, that’s probably not true actually – it is as anti-Taliban as San Antonio. Populated by mostly Tajik and Uzbek peoples it draws thousands of itinerant laborers including Pashtuns from the south of the country. The people of Mazar are now afraid that the central government cannot protect them and they will turn to those who can; the former Northern Alliance which is another way of saying local warlords. They also could turn on the Pashtuns by lynching innocent men in the streets (like they did in 2001) sparking another nasty civil war.

The Mazar attack was a professional operation that was well planned, obviously rehearsed and has the hallmarks of a Haqqani network operation which is to say it was sponsored, directed (and possibly lead) by Pakistan’s secret police, the ISI. The goal of Pakistan is to keep Afghanistan prostrate, unorganized, and at war because they cannot handle a stable state to their west when they are fighting India to their east. Plus they are making millions off us allowing our equipment and supplies to transit their country.

This attack is part of a campaign to bring civil war to Afghanistan and it comes at a time with the progressives seem to be doing the exact same thing in our country. Witness this headline from the odious Think Progress organization The US has failed Afghanistan and the Trump Administration isn’t helping. The article contains no new news and was written to stoke anti Trump feelings. I wrote about these jerks in 2011 after they swooped into Kabul to line their pockets with consulting fees while leaving behind a report that proved them to be masters of the obvious.

So we are staying in Afghanistan to see things through. I’ve got no problems with that but how are we going to make a difference? I’m not sure because the only way to mentor effectively is to fight with the men you’re mentoring. Secretary Mattis knows more about this topic than any man alive and if he’s backing the plan then I’m with him. How this renewed commitment will play out on the ground is something we will not be able to judge due to the lack of reporting coming out of the country.

This is why I’m trying so hard to get the funding required to go back and report from a country I really am passionate about. But my efforts are clearly not bearing fruit so I’m being forced to resort to more extreme measures like this:

When magazine cover came out in the 70’s it was the funnest thing ever. Today it would result in rioting and moral outrage; we don’t seem able to take a joke anymore

Don’t make me do it man. Donate to the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page to support accurate reporting from the front lines.

The Momentum Is Not With Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INSKEEP: With the guns.

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

That sounds a little higher than 2.6% per month but 2.6 x 12 = 31 so the NATO brief is about right but looks better than the stats provided in the interview above.  And this is why I feel it imperative to go back and cover this deployment. There is too much blood and treasure riding on this mission to condemn it to the mediocre coverage of the main stream media.

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

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

Dealing With Moral Trauma By Doing The Impossible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EFP’s

After the ceremonies described in the last three posts we had one more task to complete before we went home. In the ANSF after action report on the ambush of Haji Nematullah, they reported seizing three large buckets of Home Made Explosives (HME) and three “milled metal devices with explosives inside”. We had no idea what they meant and were afraid they might be Explosively Formed Penetrator (EFP) mines. EFP’s were a big problem in Iraq and their source of origin is Iran. Iran being about 1/2 mile away from our safe house in Zaranj we took this report seriously and wanted to see them for ourselves. We also submit reports to the Marines at Camp Leatherneck when we get to verify stuff like this not because they asked to but as a courtesy on the off chance they too were wondering what the three “milled metal devices with explosives inside” were. We have no idea if they already know what we are reporting but it seems like the right thing to do.

On our last day in Zaranj we headed over the Provincial ANP headquarters to talk with the provincial commanders of the Afghan national Police (ANP) and National Directorate for Security (NDS) and to inspect the explosives recovered from the October 5th ambush.

The day started with a 45 minute grilling of the Police Chief by Michael Yon. He sounded like a 60 minutes reporter doing a "gotcha" on a hapless Republican pol. The Chief was clearly not accustomed to such a direct line of questioning but was than happy to answer all of them
The day started with a 45 minute grilling of the Police Chief about Taliban and Iranian activity in the Province by Michael Yon. He sounded like a 60 minutes reporter and the Chief was clearly not accustomed to such a direct line of questioning but was happy to answer all of them.  Mike is like a pit bull when he starts questioning someone and I found it fascinating for about the first 10 minutes or so.

 

I had heard all this before and my attention wandered over to the TV screen where an Iranian station was blurring out the cleavage on a 24 episode
I had heard all this before – having a handle on ground truth is critical to our ability to operate independently. My attention wandered over to the TV screen where an Afghan station was blurring out the cleavage of female actresses on an episode of the American TV show 24

 

Looks like they missed a good 30 seconds of this money shot
Looks like they missed a good 30 seconds of this money shot – bet a thousand bucks because the censor was staring.

 

But they caught that mistake after a whiel
But he caught up after getting an eye full (I’m guessing)

After talking with the Chief of Police we went out to inspect the take from last weeks ambush in their explosives locker.

These are the three large IED's with pressure plates captured on the raid
These are the three large IED’s with pressure plates captured after the ambush

 

Looked to be very high grade home made explosive
It looked to be very high-grade home made explosives but I’m no expert on the subject

 

One of the officers explains how the pressure plate functions - a topic we already more than we wanted to know about from first had experience
One of the officers explains how the pressure plate functions – a topic we are already all too familar with .

What we had come to see is what was described as a “milled metal device with explosives inside” and that turned out to be true except they were not EFP’s; they were artillery fuses.

This is one of the arty fuses outside of its packaging container
This is one of the arty fuses outside of its packaging container

That was good news – EFP’s are a devastatingly effective weapon able to easily penetrate military grade armor.  I have not heard of them being in Afghanistan but I checked with The Bot who had heard of one being found around Ghazni last year. A flood of them entering Afghanistan would be alarming to put it mildly.

I notice that one of the large IED's still had the electric blasting cap inside it. An EOD tech would probably tell you this is still perfectly safe - I'm not sure but us old infantrymen are spooked about being around any explosives armed with blasting caps. Right after I took this picture we headed out of the storage room.
I notice that one of the large IED’s still had a blasting cap inside it. An EOD tech would probably tell you this is still perfectly safe – I’m not sure, but us old infantrymen are spooked about being around explosives primed with blasting caps. Right after I took this picture we headed out of the storage room.

As we walked back towards our vehicles Mike Yon asked our escort – one of the local NDS men who spoke English – what else they needed and he replied “somebody to fix our trucks”.

The ANP seem to have more vehicles down than running. There was an American contract that placed mechanic teams headed by internationals (mainly British citizens) and comprised of Filipino mechanics who mentored Afghan mechanics on the art of Ford pick up maintenance but that contract died back in 08 as I recall. They would have never sent a team to a place as remote an isolated as Zaranj - only Ghost Team can operate in these types of environments
The ANP seem to have more vehicles down than running. There was an American contract that placed mechanic teams headed by internationals (mainly British) with Filipino mechanics who mentored Afghan mechanics on the art of Ford pick up maintenance but that contract died back in 08. They would have never sent a team to a place as remote and isolated as Zaranj  anyway – only Ghost Team can operate in these types of environments

We continued on to find the Chief of Police having a Press Conference about a recent drug bust.

Afghan pressers are fun to watch because they appear to be utter chaos but the results are pretty professional when you watch the news on local TV stations
Afghan pressers are fun to watch because they appear to be utter chaos but the results are pretty professional when you watch the news on local TV stations

 

It looked like they had confiscated about 10 kilos of dry opium which would be (I'm guessing here) around 0.0000001% of this years harvest. Still a bust is a bust and if the guys who were muling these drugs across the border had been caught in Iran they would have been tried, convicted, and hung in about 48 hours
It looked like they had confiscated about 10 kilos of dry opium which would be (I’m guessing here) around 0.0000001% of this years harvest. Still a bust is a bust and if the guys who were muling these drugs across the border had been caught in Iran they would have been tried, convicted, and hung in about 48 hours

I appeared on the Aloyna Show last week and talked to the current conventional wisdom about the need to keep some sort of military presence in Afghanistan for the next 10 years.  A link to that show is here and my segment starts around the 34 minute mark.

Our military is a big cumbersome leviathan designed to do one thing and one thing only; crush other nation state armies. Our military is good at killing bad guys. But killing bad guys is the easy part of war. It is everything else you have to do simultaneously that’s the hard part. We once knew how to do the “other things besides killing people” part of expeditionary warfare but that was long ago when the units dispatched half way around the world took a month or two to get there and remained in country for the duration. Our military can’t do that anymore – contractors can (stay in the same Province for years and years) and in doing so could fill in for fighting infantry but then you are outsourcing the fighting to mercenaries and have little reason to maintain such a large force structure.

If I remember my Roman History correctly Rome started down the road to ruin when they became unwilling to bear the burden of military service and outsourced fighting to Barbarian tribes. We have not reached that point. I know the Marine Corps is currently so flush with tier one (99.9% of the current pool) enlistment applicants that the wait for boot camp is 7 months minimum. The wait for candidates entering the officer training pipeline is over a year. We still produce the men needed for our military force structure but the amount of money it takes to do so is ridiculous. Using what the Romans called Auxilia for contingency operations makes perfect sense from a financial and political point of view and I support it 100% but our elites won’t.

When you are unable to do what is important, the unimportant becomes important which is why we spend millions to fly 5 pound bags of crushed ice from Saudi Arabia to our FOB’s. I saw that in Nangarhar – in Helmand there is an ice plant on Camp Bastion run by the Brits but the Marines I rode around with did not have coolers full of ice, which was mandatory with the American army units in Nangarhar. The Vietnam War may not be the best example of doing things right, but my father spent 13 months fighting in Leatherneck Square and the Arizona Territory of Northern I Corps (on the DMZ between South and North Vietnam). In all that time he saw ice once – it was flown in off a Navy ship – but by the time they had divided it evenly among the rifle companies it had mostly melted. Today crushed ice for coolers full of expensive sports drinks and bottled water is considered essential for troop morale.

There are Marines and soldiers in Afghanistan now who man small patrol bases and never see hot chow; let alone ice. I blogged about them in the past.  But the guys (and now gals) who are out at pointy end of spear are at most 4% of our deployed military. Everyone else gets ice on demand and has access to unlimited amounts of high quality chow, pecan pie and ice cream.

The press rarely tells the story of the small minority of deployed troops who live, fight and die in conditions their forefathers would recognize unless it involves some sort of tragedy. I read one of the best pieces in this genre this morning in the Wall Street Journal. The story was well told and as supportive of the fighting men as such a piece can be. The journalist who wrote it played the story straight and did a fantastic job with such a tragic topic.

Yet by far, the most common story line concerning the troops deployed to Afghanistan are like this piece, which claims half of the vets returning from Afghanistan need medical treatment for the lingering effects of blasts and psychological trauma.  At the very most 15% of those deployed to Afghanistan ever leave the FOB so how can half of them be so damaged?

Do I sound conflicted to you?  I know I do, and it will take some distance to get things in perspective. And distance is what I have; I’m back in the US staying with friends while undergoing treatment for the lingering effects of a blast injury. Ironic, I know, given what I just wrote above. I am clean shaven, wearing normal American clothes no longer hear the call to prayer being blasted from speakers all over town five times a day. I miss hearing that call and don’t know why but I really miss it. That is so strange but it is and it is also nice to be back home.

Sanctuary Denied?

Last week I received and heads up from Mullah John that General Allen and Ambassador Crocker were on 60 Minutes and was able to watch the show on AFN.  The one thing I noticed when watching General Allen was the emotion clearly evident as he discussed the truck bomb has had asked the Pakistani military to help stop.That bomb hit a US base in Wardak Province injuring over 8o soldiers. General Allen was told that one of the Pakistani politicians  remarked that if he knew about the truck bomb why did he not stop it?  He was clearly not amused by the question. I also saw something from Ambassador Crocker I really like.  When asked why he came out of retirement he said that when the President tells you he needs you do a job there is only one correct response. I respect that.

I make no claim to having a clue what or how General Allen is thinking as he approaches this war. I knew him 20 years ago when I was an instructor at the Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course where he was our group chief. I like General Allen and count him among the finest officers I served with during my time in the Corps.  I don’t know Ambassador Crocker at all – I just liked his response on 60 minutes and I am sure he is an exceptionally talented leader.

Having qualified my expertise on the matter  I’d like to make an educated guess, and that is General Allen is not the kind of commander who will grant enemy sanctuary indefinitely.  I doubt Ambassador Crocker is any different. General Allen is backed up by the Commander of CENTCOM, General Mattis who has a well earned reputation as an exceptionally aggressive and successful general. General Allen also spent three years as the Deputy Commander CENTCOM and the Marine Corps rarely leaves a three start general in one job for three years. During those years General Allen was General Petraeus’s right hand man and he did that while, for the most part, remaining off the main stream press radar. General Allen has juice – and it is not the kind of juice one normally associates with politically powerful people because it is not obvious main stream media juice. It is back channel juice and that is powerful stuff.

The topic is Pakistan and I thought it the perfect place to put in photos of my travels through the Khyber Pass. I’ve done the low budget Khyber Pass visit and the high budget (escorting a senior diplomat from Japan) tour too. The pictures calm me as I’m venting my spleen about the stupidity of our political class below – hopefully they do the same for you too.

Lunch at the best kabob stand in Landi Kotal - the last Pakistani town before the Torkham border with Afghanistan
Lunch at the best kabob stand in Landi Kotal – the last Pakistani town before the Torkham border with Afghanistan.  This is where low budget travelers eat.  It was good kabob too.  Honest.
Lunch when you go the VIP route is a lot better
Lunch when you go the VIP route is a lot better

Herschel Smith is unimpressed with the reported build up in the east of Afghanistan and I can’t remember a time he’s been wrong about anything. His assessment could prove to be spot on but this is one time I hope it isn’t. And for more bad news check this out: President Karzai has threatened to back Pakistan if the US conducts cross border operations. Secretary of State Clinton stopped by for a few words with President Karzai who immediately gave a TV interview telling the world he would side with Pakistan. I guess the SecState failed to get her message across. Big frigging surprise there.

The low rent way to visit the Khyber Pass; you need a permit and a tribal policeman and of course some Afridi's never hurt to have along too
The low rent way to visit the Khyber Pass; you need a permit and a tribal policeman and of course some Afridi’s never hurt to have along too
The VIP trip scores you a good 40 minute brief in a glass room in the Michni Post overlooking the eastern end of the Khyber
The VIP trip scores you a good 40 minute brief in a glass room of the Michni Post overlooking the western end of the Khyber
There was once a time when world leaders would travel into the Northwest Frontier because Pakistan was a trusted ally
There was once a time when world leaders would travel into the Northwest Frontier because Pakistan was a trusted ally
That time is well within living memory
That time is well within living memory
The story behind Michni Post so you can get an idea of how far into the NWF international leaders once traveled
The story behind Michni Post so you can get an idea of how far into the NWF international leaders once traveled

Suppose for a moment that the one glaring problem we face is no longer considered acceptable. That problem is that our enemies have sanctuary once they cross over the border to Pakistan. What if we have reached a point where we are no longer going to tolerate it?  The reason I ask is because what exactly are the Pakistani’s going to do about it?

They can threaten to cut off our supply lines. We have alternative supply lines running out of Central Asia and seem to have stockpiled enough of the 4- B’s (beans bullets, bandages, and beer). Wait, that can’t be right as everyone in the military knows drinking beer is one step away from consorting with Satan (according to Armed Forces TV and radio and social media outlets). Drink just one beer and the next thing you know your thumping the wife and trying to sell the baby for poker money.  So we have stocked up the three B’s and we can hold out with our stash much longer than the Pakistani economy can withstand a sea and air blockade because that is the level of punishment you have to be ready to dish out if you plan to go into Waziristan and start taking scalps.

Part of the VIP brief at Michni Post is the use of large reference points marking their side of the international boarder
Part of the VIP brief at Michni Post is the use of large reference points marking their side of the international boarder

We have known since the very first days of this conflict that the Taliban use the border area for sanctuary.  We have been good about not going across in “hot pursuit” having limited incursions into Pakistan to one that I know of.

The Pakistani army has a big display of all the Soviet rockets shot at them back in the day. Of course if we wanted to get shitty with the Pakistanis instead of shooting some low rent rockets we could turn the whole Michni Post into a big smoking hole in the ground. Rockets my ass
The Pakistani army has a big display of all the Soviet rockets shot at them back in the day. Of course if we wanted to get it on with the Pakistanis instead of shooting some low rent rockets we could turn the whole Michni Post into a big smoking hole in the ground. Nothing gets your attention faster than watching a fort full of soldiers get blown sky high.  Remember the World Trade Center?  Did that get your attention?  I have no ill will for the Khyber Rifles who are a good group of guys with a formidable Polo team but we’re talking business here.

We have alternate supply lines, we have stocks of stuff on hand, we still need to move supplies through Pakistan so what to do?  How about this famous quote “Never take counsel in your fears”.  The Pakistani’s have been playing us for fools since about December of 2001 when we let them rescue Osama bin Laden. Before that they were all about cooperation, as was every other country in the world except the ones that don’t matter anyway. The reason they were so cooperative was they knew we were in the blind rage stage of being pissed off about 9/11. That is several steps up the pissed off ladder and nobody at that time was sure what we were going to do. All they knew was that we were capable of doing whatever the hell we wanted to do. We still are. In fact given the billions spent on high tech platforms we could destroy more, faster, and with greater efficiency than we could a decade ago.

Looking east at the Khyber Pass from the Michni Fort. The narrow pass has been militarily significant since the assent of man but it isn't now - we could roll through it, fly over it, or take it with infantry in a matter of hours.
Looking east at the Khyber Pass from the Michni Fort. The narrow pass has been militarily significant since the assent of man but it isn’t now – we could roll through it, fly over it, or take it with infantry in a matter of hours.

After watching the 60 minutes segment with General Allen I am certain of one thing.  He’s pissed.  And he’s pissed about how Pakistan has been playing us and he is not the kind of man you want pissed at you. Take it from me because I’ve been there with him and it’s not pleasant. Most of you do not know General Allen or anything about him.  What you need to know is he understands that unlimited sanctuary is no way to fight a war. And even though he doesn’t have the political capitol of General Petraeus he has his confidence.  As he does with General Mattis – another fighting general who is not too keen on granting anyone sanctuary.  I know calls like going across the border in hot pursuit are the Presidents to make but we all now know (thanks to Ron Suskind) that the White House is dysfunctional and getting the President to make a firm decision about anything almost impossible. National level leadership of that kind allows for subordinates to make “interpretations of intent”. A fancy way of saying they can make their own decisions and take the actions they think fit Obama’s intent.

At the moment nobody is too sure about Obama’s intent on anything let alone Pakistan. Pakistan has proved a most unworthy ally. They actively support cross border incursion and have done so with impunity.  What is to stop General Allen from coming across the border and reducing Miramshaw to a heap of smoking ashes?  Nothing.  And when Pakistan starts wailing and moaning about it do you know what we should tell them?  First word starts with an F  the second with a Y. What are they going to do about it?  Fight us?  That one would be over quick.

Free Ranging Balochistan

I’m back in my compound after attending a bunch of ceremonies in Zaranj marking the end of our efforts in Nimroz Province.  When we flew in last week the skies were dark and it rained that night.  The next morning was clear as a bell making for excellent photography and perfect weather for what turned out to be 15 hours of driving through the Dasht-e Margo (Desert of Death).  Our mission that day was the dedication ceremony for the Charborjak Irrigation system which we had built, mostly with shovels, wheelbarrows and lots of man power, over the previous 11 months.  We had originally scheduled the ceremony for the 5th of October but changed the date at the last minute.  On the 5th there was an ambush waiting for us; when we moved out last Thursday we were a mobile ambush looking for anyone who was looking for us.

The Provincial Governor of Nimroz Province is Al Haji Karim Barahwi and those of you who have read this blog know I’m a big fan of his.  He’s a graduate of the Kabul Military Academy and served in the Afghan Army as an officer until the Soviets invaded.  Governor Barahwi then became a Muj commander who fought the entire war without any help from the United States.  He was working out of Iran and obviously had a little help from them despite the fact that he is not too happy with Iran at the moment.  The trip he took us on was remarkable because we did not go the way we have always gone to Cahrborjak; we jumped the Helmand and moved deep into the desert where the Governor wanted to show us something.  This story is best told through pictures and I have around 1800 from that one drive alone.  So stand by for a story told the Marine way – lots of pictures, no big words, and no cussing.  I was an officer in the Marines and know that cussing is good for morale, but only enlisted men rate morale, so, only they can cuss with impunity.  Officers are supposed to find more appropriate language to record observations, write reports, etc…  My Dad reminded me of this fact due to my proclivity for inserting colorful language in my posts – which, for the record, I think is (word deleted)  but I’m trying to talk him into writing for the blog and therefore am compelled to entertain him.

We drove to the Governors compound where a large escort of various Afghan Security Forces and a dozen or so Baloch fighters who did not wear uniforms.  All of the Afghans escorting us on that day were Baloch men from Nimroz Province
We drove to the Governors compound where a large escort of various Afghan Security Forces and a dozen or so Baloch fighters who did not wear uniforms waiting to escort us to Charborjak.  All of the Afghans escorting us on that day were Baloch men from Nimroz Province
We exited Zaranj and headed towards Charborjak on the Lashkary Canal road
We exited Zaranj and headed towards Charborjak on the Lashkary Canal road
I note the Lashkary Canal was dry - we just finished that project last year and I ask Bashir why the canal is dry - he claims to have no idea
I note the Lashkary Canal was dry – we just finished that project last year and I ask Bashir why the canal is dry – he claimed to have no idea
We entered the choke point of ambush ally spread put and moving fast
We entered the choke point of ambush ally spread out and moving fast
Moving out of ambush ally we passed the spot where the Highway Patrol Commander's truck was torched after the ambush last week
Coming out of ambush ally we passed the spot where the Highway Patrol Commander’s truck was torched after the ambush last week
And stopped on a plateau for what turned out to be a brief on the days route
And stopped on a plateau for what turned out to be a brief on the days route
Governor Barahwi walking along with the Provincial Chief of Police and Haji    the Chief of the Highway Police and the man who fought his way out of the ambush last week is directly on the Governor's left
Governor Barahwi walking along with the Provincial Chief of Police and Haji Nematullah, the Chief of the Highway Police and the man who fought his way out of the ambush last week.  Haji Nematullah is directly to the Governor’s left
The ANSF convoy team - most of them are from the Zaranj QRF - gets the word from Gov Barahwi and that word is we are sending a small force up the regular route while the rest of us ford the Helmand and head out into the desert.  We will ultimately arrive at the Charborjak site from the opposite direction and on the other side of the Helmand River then originally planned
The ANSF convoy team – most of them are from the Zaranj QRF – gets the word from Gov Barahwi and that word is we are sending a small force up the regular route while the rest of us ford the Helmand and head out into the desert. We will ultimately arrive at the Charborjak site from the opposite direction and on the other side of the Helmand River then originally planned
Our escorts head back to their trucks for the next stage of the trip
Our escorts head back to their trucks for the next stage of the trip
Once we crossed the Helmand we were in the bad lands of the Dasht-e Margo.  There is nothing out there is this triangle of land that borders both Iran and Pakistan.  The Taliban (and smugglers) move through this area regularly
After crossing the Helmand we were in the bad lands of the Dasht-e Margo. There is nothing out there in this triangle of land that borders Iran. The Taliban (and smugglers) move through the area regularly
Once on the other side of the Helmand we passed no less than 25 old forts and walled cities - they were literally dotting the horizon for miles and miles in this empty desert
On the other side of the Helmand we passed no less than 25 old forts and walled cities – they were literally dotting the horizon for miles and miles in this empty desert
About 90 minutes into the desert we stopped so Governor Barahwi could explain in great detail why this area was not under his control and what he needs to seal the area.  Michael Yon video tapped the entire discussion and it is interesting.  What the Governor needs is helicopters and a flying squad with soime Americans in it so they can fly around and pounce on anything moving through the desert.  That's apparently what the Soviets did to him back in the day and he admitted that tactic had cost him a ton in weapons, vehicles and manpower
About 90 minutes into the desert we stopped so Governor Barahwi could explain in great detail why this area was not under his control and what he needs to fix that. Michael Yon video tapped the entire discussion and it is interesting. The Governor needs helicopters and a flying squad with some Americans in it so they can fly around and pounce on anything moving through the desert. That’s apparently what the Soviets did to him back in the day and he admitted that tactic had cost him a ton in weapons, vehicles and manpower
We headed back towards the Helmand - the old truck on the right was the Chicken Truck and carried all the food and drinks for our lunch
We headed back towards the Helmand – the old truck on the right was the Chicken Truck and carried all the food and drinks for our lunch
This is the first of about 15 times that the Chicken Truck got stuck in the sand
This is the first of about 15 times that the Chicken Truck got stuck in the sand
We had one armored HUMVEE with us and it didn't handle the sand any better than the Chicken Truck.  The Toyota and Ford light pickups had no problems
We had one armored HUMVEE with us and it didn’t handle the sand any better than the Chicken Truck. The Toyota and Ford light pickups had no problems
We arrive at the ceremony site - you can see dust trails from the escorts who have been working the flanks and are just now crossing the Helmand.  Which is dry downstream.  Because we built a check dam that is apparently checking the entire river at the moment.  I ask Bashir if maybe this dam had something to do with the Lashkary being dry and he said "maybe".
We arrive at the ceremony site – you can see dust trails from the escorts who have been working the flanks and are just now coming towards the Helmand.  Which is dry downstream. Because we built a check dam that is apparently checking the entire river at the moment. I asked Bashir if maybe this dam had something to do with the Lashkary being dry and he said “maybe”.  Five minutes after sending this picture in with my official report my email lit up like a Christmas tree.  Did you know that at Camp Leatherneck there is a PhD Hydrologist who is in charge of the lower Helmand water basin?  Me either, and she was pretty upset to see this dam, that she had no idea existed, plugging up the Helmand.  What could I say? It was in the proposal although to be honest this damn dam is much bigger than I thought it would be.  The Iranians are pretty upset about the water too and will make their ire known to all by launching missiles into a hamlet  just outside Zaranj later that evening.  That act caused the Governor to miss the morning ceremony the next day which is why I was sitting the following morning frozen in place as my bladder remorsefully filled from all the coffee I drank before I arrived.  
And here it is - the Charborjak canal intake.  Not bad for a cash for work program is it?  Know how much water it takes in when running at full capacity?  Six cubic meters per second. I had to find that and a lot more out about the project after receiving so many emails from agitated Americans who were trying to determine exactly what the hell was going on in Nimroz Province.
And here it is – the Charborjak canal intake our signature project for this year. Not bad for a cash for work program is it? Know how much water it takes in when running at full capacity? Six cubic meters per second. I had to find that and a lot more out about the project after receiving so many emails from agitated Americans who were trying to determine exactly what the hell was going on in Nimroz Province.
Governor Barahawi addressing the local folks who had made it out for the opening ceremony and the free chow which followed.  This is a sparsely populated area which I bet you can figure out from the photo
Governor Barahawi addressing the local folks who had made it out for the opening ceremony and the free chow which followed. This is a sparsely populated area which I bet you can figure out from the photo
Some of the QRF troops hanging out while the Governor talks
Some of the QRF troops hanging out while the Governor talks
After speeches by the local politicians, a prayer by the senior mullah followed by our ops manager Zabi (his dad is the senior Mulllah in the province) singing an Islamic hymn which I didn't understand but Zabi can sing - I mean he is really really good and I've since found out quite well know for his voice.
After speeches by the local politicians, a prayer by the senior mullah followed by our ops manager Zabi (his dad is the senior Mulllah in the province) singing an Islamic hymn which I didn’t understand but Zabi can sing – we cut the ribbon and opened the gates.  As the senior American present I had to relinquish my camera so I asked Mike if I could use some of his pictures for the post.  
After the ribbon cutting the Chicken Truck swung into action and we sat down on the VIP rug for an hour or so to eat lunch and drink warm soda.  I haven't been this sunburned in a long time but it was still an enjoyable afternoon
After the ribbon cutting the Chicken Truck swung into action and we sat down on the VIP rug for an hour or so to eat lunch and drink warm soda. I haven’t been this sunburned in a long time; note how I’m trying to keep the scarf up over my beet red ears, but it was still an enjoyable afternoon.  
After lunch we headed back across the Helmand towards the desert
After lunch we headed back across the Helmand towards the desert
But we didn't go into the desert hugging the bank of the Helmand instead which is why the Chicken Truck and Hummer got stuck so many times.  There really isn't a road here at all - just sand and every few miles a dirt poor small village
But we didn’t go into the desert hugging the bank of the Helmand instead which is why the Chicken Truck and Hummer got stuck so many times. There really isn’t a road here at all – just sand and every few miles a dirt poor small village
We crisscrossed the Helmand about 5 or 6 times
We crossed the Helmand about 5 or 6 times
We ran into these boys at one of the fords.  They are miles from anywhere and as I look at this pic I wonder what people back home will make of it.  Kids alone in a desert riding donkey's and without safety helmets!!!!!
We ran into these boys at one of the fords. They are miles from anywhere and as I look at this pic I wonder what people back home will make of it. Kids alone in a desert riding donkey’s and without safety helmets!!!!!
On this side of the river the villages are small and dirt poor
On this side of the river the villages are small and dirt poor

Along the way back to Zaranj we stopped at the village where Governor Barahwi was born and raised.  It was slightly bigger than this one.  We also stopped at the village of the ANP soldier who was killed in the ambush last week.  We did not take pictures in either place and we hung out in the village of the ANP soldier for a good hour or so too, paying respects as it were.  It was a great day and my camera battery died after I took this picture so it is time for analysis and commentary.

The kerfuffle over the dam being built is an interesting contrast between two styles of doing the “build” part of the current Afghanistan plan.  There are direct implementors like us who take USAID money and use it according to the priorities of the Provincial and District governments.  We did not build anything new – we restored a check dam and a major irrigation intake that had been destroyed back in the 80’s. We used the same plans and the same engineers who built those irrigation systems back before the Soviets arrived and depopulated the rural areas of southwestern Afghanistan.  The provincial irrigation department coordinated with their national level counterparts in Kabul on every step of this project and sent in regular progress reports.  We also employed every man who could handle a shovel in the district for almost a year which is the whole point to cash for work programs.

The dozens of very senior, highly credentialed people who reacted with great emotion boarding on distress when they found out about this project are the other side of the coin.  These are people who have been given a great deal of authority yet have no responsibility for tangible on the ground results.  They never leave the FOB’s and never see anything of the country except what they can see while flying over it. There is a PhD hydrologist working for the USG and also coordinating with a British subject matter expert to come up with the Helmand Water Shed Master Plan.  I am sure they are professionals who take their work seriously and spend 12 hours a day on the computers doing I have no idea what.  But, good intentions are meaningless and the hundreds of millions of dollars being spent to bring people like that to Afghanistan and keeping them here for a year might as well be thrown into a rubbish bin.  Do they honestly think that when we leave here their “master plan” will be worth more than a cup of warm of spit?  How can smart people be so stupid?

The Helmand River Valley will never reach its full potential unless every farmers field is dug up, the clay removed, and proper drainage put in its place.  We discovered that back in the 1960’s when Lashkar Gha was called “Little America” and the State Department was trying to salvage the disaster that was the original Hellmand River Valley project run by the engineering firm Morrison Knudsen.  Since the completion of that project local farmers have irrigated their fields by flooding them. The NGO I work for tried to introduce drip irrigation to the local farmers years ago but they pulled the hoses out of the ground and started using them to tether sheep and goats.  The only way to water a field is to flood it; everybody knows that, and that is exactly what the farmers told the men who showed them how to use drip irrigation 8 years ago.  You cannot force change on Afghan farmers any easier than you can force change in Americas’ two-party political system.  Proving that drip irrigation is efficient and works better turned out to be completely irrelevant; if proving yourself right mattered the entire Helmand River Valley would be using drip irrigation and about 1/3 of the water they are currently using to water their crops.

Not that using less water is a big deal because, as any Afghan sod buster will tell you, that just means more water for the Iranians.  Water is a zero sum game for Helmand Valley farmers; changing that mind set is not going to happen in my life time….or yours.

Last year Michael Yon visited our Nimroz projects and put up an interesting post called Please don’t forget us.  He was writing about a massive women’s training program we ran that year because Zaranj has a more Persian culture, woman can drive in Zaranj, work outside the home and attend training courses without any problems.  We tried to do an even bigger woman’s training program this year but we’re rejected.  The woman had already been forgotten and this year’s crew in Kabul wanted “capacity building” which is the new buzzword on the FOB’s.  For 1/10th of the cost of keeping just one hydrologist in this country for a year, and I’m talking the million bucks of life support and security costs, not the salary or cost of mobilization which would easily add another million to the sum, for 1/10th of that we could have trained 300 woman and sent them on their way with the tools they needed (Sewing Machines, beauty salon equipment, wool and weaving boards etc..) to start their own business.

I know I sound like a broken record.  It just seems like it is always one step forward and two steps back around here.  My PM Bashir is now gone having moved on to bigger and better things.  I’m right behind him as my time living here is rapidly coming to an end.  The people of Zaranj have already been forgotten and are now on their own.

It doesn’t have to be this way and probably will never be this way again because we can’t afford to spend  2 billion dollars per week (according to last nights 60 minutes segment) to field an army of fobbits.  We have no business foisting a “watershed master plan” on the Afghans – it’s their country, their river, and their breadbasket and when allowed to do so they will build things back to the way they were.  It may not be optimal, there may be inefficiencies in the system that a PhD hydrologist could fix (if she had freedom of movement and actually spent time on the river) but who cares? What is going to remain when we leave is an Afghan system, built by and for Afghans and to be honest, I have no idea why we think we should be bringing all these “subject matter experts” over here in the first place.  Who are we to dictate to them how to manage their own natural resources?  We should send all the hydrologists back to America to aid in a gigantic shovel ready program I’d like to see started called “Get all our oil from Alaska and the Western States Project”.  There is where we should be spending 2 billion a week and we’d even see a return on our investment.  How strange would that be?