Fellow Afghanistan Free Ranger Dr. Keith Rose released a podcast the other day describing where we are now in Afghanistan as Ground Hog Day. The people of Afghanistan are talking a beating with no end on the horizon which is 180 degrees out from where I thought they would be when I flew into Kabul in 2005.
Using Keith’s analysis as a point of departure (it’s a great podcast) there are some dynamics in play with Afghanistan that need require emphasis as our involvement continues. Fans of the international hit podcast The Lynch/Kenny Hour on All Marine Radio have heard Jeff, Mac and I talk about our campaign in AF/PAK at length using blunt terms that sound harsh to those not familiar with infantry guy talk.
As I pointed out last week, that podcast (and this blog) have a ton of Afghan fans who know me. Afghans do not communicate with each other in blunt, no- BS terms, but I know they appreciate it when we do. Nothing will freak out Afghan project managers more then saying the word “inshallah” at the conclusion of a discussion about a scheduled payday.
Blunt fact number one is our stated reason for remaining in Afghanistan is an obvious fabrication. The US Government has consistently maintained we have to stay to make sure al-Qeada does not come back, establish training camps, and conduct terrorist deprivations on the international community from safe havens in Afghanistan.
The fact is they already have training camps in Afghanistan, we took out “Probably the largest” one in Kandahar province back in 2015. The leader of al Qaeda, Ayman Al-Zawahiri has had a safe haven in Pakistan since 2001, and has now (obviously) drone proofed his lifestyle. Why would he leave Miranshah to live in Khost or Kandahar? The international airport in Peshawar is much nicer than any airport in Afghanistan, it is served by more international airlines (including Emirates, my favorite), and it services more destinations. Who in their right mind would fly Kam Air Kabul to Dubai when you can fly Emirates from Peshawar and rack up the sky miles?
You are thinking terrorist don’t use sky miles but I must point out the largest covert operation ever launched by CIA agents (not contractors which is the norm) was compromised because the agents used their covert ID to fly into Italy but had used their own credit cards to book the flights and hotels. That’s the CIA who are supposed to be high speed and low drag – the Taliban has to be worse on the operational security vs. sky miles test.
Blunt fact number two is that the American people in general, and her military veterans specifically, believe we have done more than our fair share to give Afghanistan a chance, and they blew it, so the hell with them. Clearly President Trump is looking for a way out and is willing to do almost anything (to include inviting former Gitmo detainees to Camp David for a round of ‘Let’s Make a Deal’) to end our commitments in the region. President Trump has said we are not getting any return on our considerable investments and asks why should we stay in Afghanistan or Pakistan?
The reasons to remain in the region are no doubt varied and complex but the fact is that as long as we have thousands of servicemen, along with thousands more internationals in the country, we have to keep funding the government in Kabul. The next round of international funding is in 2020 and the funds are tied to anticorruption metrics that have not been met. If the international money pipeline closed suddenly how do you think the tens of thousands of internationals would get out of the country as the government folds and the security services crumble?
That is a scenario you don’t have to worry about because the specter of Gandamak II will keep funding going indefinitely. Nothing terrifies western government politicians more than the slaughter of their citizens for which their accountability is unavoidable. The Taliban will continue to attack both military and civilian targets because they are terrorists and that is what terrorists do. The Taliban no longer resembles the popular uprising of the religiously righteous in the face of anarchy. They are now narco-terrorists first, Islamic Jihadi’s second, and Afghan nationalists (maybe) third.
TheTaliban were once competent enough to protect the people of Afghanistan from anarchic violence, but they are now the source of anarchic violence. Tyrannical rule is bad, but chaos is worse and there are many Afghans who have lived through both. The Afghan people will side with the side that delivers them from chaos; especially if that side is committed to keeping Pakistan the hell out of the country.
That is the other great unknown; what happens to the safe havens in Pakistan when the Taliban cut a deal with us? The Afghan Taliban claim to be their own movement but they are Pakistan’s puppets just as sure as the government Kabul is America’s. In fact it is obvious Pakistan exerts more direct control over the Taliban then America has ever been able to establish in Kabul. For the past 50 years the Taliban have been Pakistan’s bitch.
America no longer has the stomach for staying in Afghanistan but that’s too bad; we’re not going anywhere for the reasons outlined above. So how does this end? I have no idea but I’m a fan of the Afghan people and I believe they can, and will, sort things out given time and space. It is arguable if our continued meddling is helping, but that is irrelevant now. We aren’t leaving and are incapable of staying without meddling, so there it is.
We (the international community) have made serious investments in Afghanistan’s human capitol. We have no idea how that is going to pay off in the long run. There are plenty of smart, dedicated, tough Afghans who want nothing to do with Taliban rule (but aren’t too thrilled with us either). Inshallah they will prove decisive at some point in the future.
There is one known (in my mind) regarding Afghanistan and that is the Taliban will never rule that country again. Their day has passed and they are now little more than petty narco traffickers with mortars and a ton of machine-guns. They no longer have a route to legitimacy as a governing entity but it may years before they figure this out on their own. In the meantime…..Groundhog Day.
For Eighteen years the American military has fought the Taliban, al Qaeda, and ISIS from the Hindu Kush to the Philippines Seas and most lands in between. The one common denominator between those Jihadi scum is their view on smoking cigarets. They are militantly anti-smoking, as in cut off your fingers for smoking, anti-smoking. One of the first things people do when they see Americans rolling into villages after thumping ISIS or al Qaeda or whoever, is to light up and enjoy the right to ‘smoke them if they got them’.
I was told repeatedly as a young officer that there are no atheists in the foxholes, and went on to observe there are no non-smokers there either. The closer you are to fighting infantry the more uniform their behavior regarding smoking becomes.
This is is with great mixed emotions I make the following announcement: On 1 October, at every Veterans Administration Facility in America, all smoking and smoking related products will be banned. The ban will include parking lots and facility grounds and will be enforced by the VA police who issue tickets on behalf of the Federal Court. Try dodging one of those and the Men in Black show up to shoot your dog and yoke you up for smoking a cigaret.
As a local VSO (veteran service officer) I frequent VA facilities throughout the Rio Grande Valley. I see the occasional smoker in the designated smoking areas and have never seen anyone smoking in a non-designated area. This new directive is addressing a problem that is not evident, and using the iron fist of Federal law enforcement to isolate, alienate, and eventually incarcerate the most vulnerable in the veteran population.
Most veterans, like most people, understand that smoking is no longer popular or considered acceptable behavior in public places. Most will comply with posted signs prohibiting smoking. Those who ignore those signs and refuse to refrain from smoking on private property have a problem, but it is not tobacco addiction. They have other issues and the last thing they need is a federal police officer in their face issuing them a 300 dollar fine they cannot afford to pay because they felt like having a smoke
Somehow I’ve ended up being the co-chair of the local VA system Management Advisory Council, and I have been doing it long enough for the members to anticipate my reaction to a policy like this. They were hesitant to bring it up, when they did everybody in the room looked at me. I was smiling, trying hard not to laugh out loud, struggling to regain what passes as composure for me these days.
Eighteen years….. was how I started, and rejecting the temptation to describe my minor contributions in reducing the number of Islamic Harm Reduction Totalitarians during delightful sojourns in Afghanistan and Iraq I focused on the point.
That point is this new rule has nothing to do with smoking. It is an obvious attempt to force compliance on a small segment of the population that the mandarins running the VA find deplorable. I used deplorable on purpose too just in case anyone was slow on the uptake.
The VA maintained that their concern is exclusively veteran health which is why, in addition to throwing the full weight of federal law upon the head of hapless Vets, they now offer smoking cessation classes, 5-days a week. Having declared a smoking jihad the VA decided that Vets can even bring their spouses to smoking cessation class where they can participate for free.
If smoking cessation classes actually worked that would be a fair point, but they do not work, and that is a long-known inconvenient fact. Being rather pedantic on the “fact-stuff” I pointed out there is a drug with over 80% success at treating life-long smokers with just one application. Some of the VA folks knew where I was going and hung their heads because that drug is psilocybin. Here is an abstract from an NIH study conducted at John Hopkins in 2014 telling you all about it.
The number one health problem facing veterans (and non-vets) in the Rio Grande Valley is morbid obesity and the resulting problems of diabetes and hypertension. If there were a way to magically remove the excess lipids in every human within 100 meters of our meeting we could have (in theory) built one hell of an elephant with which to remind people reality has a vote in the affairs of humans.
The signature injury of the current war is low testosterone in the men who fought it. Is the VA doing anything about that? No, of course not; in America cutting edge therapy that address hormone imbalances, addiction, PTSD, Insomnia, chronic orthopedic problems, and Traumatic Brain Injuries are only available to the wealthy and connected. You can listen to hours of discussions about new innovative treatments for those problems on the Joe Rogan podcast. But to access the treatments you need to make Joe Rogan money.
Harm Reduction Totalitarians are annoying, joyless, pale creatures who could be dangerous in countries with a feminized culture and unarmed citizenry. Here Harm Reduction Totalitarians remain a source of amusement because they are crazy people. What are you supposed to do when a 350 pound bald man tells you that smoking will ruin the quality of your life? If your answer is to laugh I’m warning you right now that is a bad move. Fat shaming is as bad as dead naming and you wouldn’t call Bruce Jenner, Bruce would you? Actually his son did say that in an interview and even he caught social media shit for it, but that’s not the point.
The point is it is time to make a stand for freedom. I know how to do that too so in support of the millions of muslims liberated from anti smoking tyranny by the American armed forces I’m going to start smoking. All the right people hate it so it must be the right thing to do.
I was finishing up a post for the Freq about riot control and migrants when I suddenly discovered I was being oppressed, endnote just a little, but on all four recognized levels of oppression. This insight jumped out at me when I went looking for information on a topic I know something about. When I first saw it I didn’t think much of it but after spending hours on additional research and days thinking it through I decided it was time to write a post, an important one, free of F bombs (to show I’m serious) in hopes of restoring a sense of calm. Calm is good when dealing with “isms”.
Let me set this up; the discussion was about the requirement to use overwhelming force to remove leaders, agitators and natural fighters from a rioting mob. I was writing about the Marine Corps experience with Haitian and Cuban asylum seekers in the early 90’s. The post on that topic can be found here on The Freq website that I contribute to weekly.
As I was describing how the SNCO’s managed their snatch teams I mentioned the “rule of opposites”, a term first coined by Gavin Debecker, in his world famous (should be mandatory reading) book The Gift of Fear.
The rule of oppisates is mentioned frequently in law enforcement and shooting publications, I searched FRI for that term and four articles with that phrase pop up. I went to goggle to get a hyper link and guess what I found?
What are the chances there are more people looking for Native American counseling paradigms then the definition of the most common heuristic used in the law enforcement and firearms training industry? They are zero, the results from that phrase are being manipulated to present material considered, by the companies running the search engines, more acceptable.
That has little impact on news consumers like myself who know what they are looking for. But what is the impact, over time, of this kind of deliberate manipulation of search engine results?
Keep in mind references to the “rule of opposites” in law enforcement journals appear just after the examples in the screen shot above. I’m not trafficking in conspiracy theories, just pointing out an inconvenient fact when it comes to search engines.
I can promise you one thing about search engine manipulation; it will not work as planned and the unintended consequences could be significant. They always are when you launch a cleaver plan inside a complex system in the belief everything will work out exactly as you think they will.
As I was milling this over while procrastinating (i.e. looking at facebook) I saw a post about Global Warming by my FB buddy and fellow IMOA Frank Gallagher; look what was inserted below it:
I challenge anyone to go through that cimatefeedback.org rebuttal and find one citation that backs the claims they are making in their report. It is difficult to decipher their academic speak, but I can sum up their point. It is an argument from authority and the authorities say that climate change is real therefore skepticism is wrong.
The author of Manhattan Contrarian, Francis Menton, is a partner in the Litigation Department and Co-Chair of the Business Litigation Practice Group of Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP in New York. Mr. Menton specializes in complex and technical commercial litigation, and has a nationwide trial practice. Mr. Menton is not a climate scientist, he is a demonstrably competent man with a passion for analytics coupled with a refusal to be bullied by “experts”. That is a very American trait which is interesting because what is, or is not, an “American trait” is now a point of bitter partisan debate.
I don’t care what you believe about climate change. I find the argument from authority approach suspect after living through global cooling, the population bomb, the “running out of food” scare, the “you can’t drill your way out of energy dependence” fraud, AIDs, bird flu, acid rain, alar on apples, etc… All of these emerging global emergencies proved to be wrong; and not a little wrong; completely wrong.
This is why I self identify as a “public defense intellectual” during my weekly gig on All Marine Radio with my fellow expert Jeff Kenney. It’s an ironic dig at the pretensions of self identification validated through ‘lived experiences’. Mac, Jeff, and I aren’t experts on American foreign policy, we are victims of it, which is why our weekly podcast is so popular.
In a perfect trifecta of outrage I then stumbled upon the new trailer for Top Gun II. I even wrote an intemperate comment a friends FB page about the trailer I was so pissed, but it took me hours to figure out why. And it is not just this:
It’s the premise of the movie that I found so offensive. Cruise is a 30-year Maverick who refused promotion like the other corporate shills and stayed in the cockpit. He routinely flies along the southwestern desert mere feet off the deck and keeps his cat like reflexes sharp with some sort of vertical ascent high speed, low drag move used to inverted over a Mig. The admirals admonish him saying he should be in command like them, not bumming around navy fighter squadrons for 30 years, but Cruise knows better, he’s a singleton with his own creed. In the end he’ll show them all that he, the anti social, non-conformist, was right all along and is the true hero.
We have long known that China dictates to Hollywood what is and is not acceptable for new releases and Hollywood always complies. It does not work the other way around. The newest Chinese hit, Wolf Warrior II, pits elite Chinese Special Operators in Africa battling former US Marines turned corporate mercenaries for some international evil corporation that I assume is not Goggle.
Top Gun II is not a movie about naval aviators or naval aviation, it’s not about the American military – non conformists don’t last there and “mavericks” fly desks, not aircraft in the American armed forces. It’s not about traditional American military virtue or an accurate reflection of the military culture. It seems the Top Gun movie is about Tom Cruise and making big bucks off nostalgia for another re-boot.
The character in the Tom Cruise movie is an anti-American he is used to show that our traditional values, mores, and systems are corrupt. Read this description of Wolf Warrior 2 from the National Review article linked above:
“In Wolf II, China is the only powerful, responsible, and benevolent world power. Chinese workers help Africans build their economy. Chinese doctors work to discover a cure for a deadly endemic. And the film unabashedly takes several swipes at the U.S. When African and Chinese civilians inside a factory are under attack by rebels and mercenaries, the only good American in the movie, Rachel Smith, a Chinese-American volunteer, fanatically tries to contact the U.S. embassy for help. Leng asks her, “Why are you calling the Americans? Where are they? It is a waste of time.” After she tells him that she tried to reach American government by Twitter, Leng responds that “the Americans are good for nothing.”
Why do I care that Hollywood movies bash America just like Chinese movies?
Consider the following propositions:
There is no truth, only competing agendas.
All Western (and especially American) claims to moral superiority over Communism/Fascism/Islam are vitiated by the West’s history of racism and colonialism.
There are no objective standards by which we may judge one culture to be better than another. Anyone who claims that there are such standards is an evil oppressor.
The prosperity of the West is built on ruthless exploitation of the Third World; therefore Westerners actually deserve to be impoverished and miserable.
Crime is the fault of society, not the individual criminal. Poor criminals are entitled to what they take. Submitting to criminal predation is more virtuous than resisting it.
The poor are victims. Criminals are victims. And only victims are virtuous. Therefore only the poor and criminals are virtuous. (Rich people can borrow some virtue by identifying with poor people and criminals.)
For a virtuous person, violence and war are never justified. It is always better to be a victim than to fight, or even to defend oneself. But “oppressed” people are allowed to use violence anyway, they are merely reflecting the evil of their oppressors.
When confronted with terror, the only moral course for a Westerner is to apologize for past sins, understand the terrorist’s point of view, and make concessions.
As I previously observed, if you trace any of these back far enough, you’ll find a Stalinist intellectual at the bottom. (The last two items on the list, for example, came to us courtesy of Frantz Fanon. The fourth item is the Baran-Wallerstein “world system” thesis.) Most were staples of Soviet propaganda at the same time they were being promoted by “progressives” (read: Marxists and the dupes of Marxists) within the Western intelligentsia
esr and the (actual) intellectuals he references in his writings may be spot on or they may be wrong. It does not matter how that list of propositions got here; it has been here, for decades.
What I know is that 50 years ago, on this very day, when I stayed up all day and night with my family to watch Apollo 11 land on the moon; the ideas listed above would have seemed alien, absurd, and repulsive to most people — at best, the beliefs of a nutty left-wing fringe, and at worst instruments of deliberate subversion intended to destroy the American way of life.
Joel Kotkin, in his post Age of Amniessia at Quillette, describes the consequences of progressive policies as they are manifesting today:
Liberals like Cass Sunstein suggest that students raised in an atmosphere of homogeneity “are less likely to get a good education, and faculty members are likely to learn less from one another, if there is a prevailing political orthodoxy.” Yet too few university administrators counter these trends. One college President in Canada, for example, justified efforts to tamp down on “free speech” by arguing that doing so created “better speech.” At many schools, professors are now asked to sign “diversity” pledges that eerily reprise the kind of “loyalty” pledges common during the darkest days of the Cold War. This passion for thought control extends even to comments such as “America is the land of opportunity” or professing to believe in a colorblind society, views which can now be categorized as punishable “microagressions.”
This ideological rigidity has shaped a generation of progressive activists who also now represent the best educated, whitest,and most politically intolerant portion of the American polity. A common tendency among progressives is to designate certain conversations as “hate speech,” an approach to free speech recently endorsed by the California Democratic Party.
That doesn’t sound like trends that bode well for a free peoples. My considered opinion on the topic , and I am a self identified defense intellectual, is that the progressive experiment is creating an enormous backlash that will sweep it into the dust bin of history.
It will not happen soon, there are potential large setbacks that could derail progress against progressives. I am confident that a major political change is at least six years away but Trump could lose in 2020. If he does the promises being made by the current field of democrat candidates will spell doom for their party if attempted. My post at the Freq talks about the last time they did that (Clinton’s first inauguration) and the consequences that followed. Consequences the press did not report on extensively and that are hard to find in search engines today. But the consequences were real and we now have an internet full of reliable sources who are not connected with the media or government. The next time around burying the story will not work.
Change is coming because the one thing you can take to the bank is our political system is functioning on borrowed time in its current configuration. Reality is going to introduce this change, let us hope the lesson it inflicts is not too painful.
I have articulated a theory based on two known facts concerning the loss of our newest national hero, Droney McDroneface, to Iran last month. I based my theory from two known facts; the drone that was shot down was a demonstration model for a program that has been completed. It was, to the pentagon, an expendable asset, and it was shot down four days after arriving in theater.
To buttress my speculation I have been searching the news for more information the cyber attack. What I have found was not what I was looking for.
First up is the New York Times and I have the perfect cartoon to set this up:
The article states that the CIA has been running a program for years targeting the supply chain for Iranian missile components. It implied that allies such as Great Britain, France and Germany are cooperating with us on this program. There is something the observant professional knows to be true, but is rarely written about, and that is the CIA’s use of leaks to disseminate misinformation. when I read a story saying the CIA has gotten dozens of parts manufacturers, in Europe (where the CIA is less popular than President Trump), to insert flawed parts into a supply chain, I am skeptical.
The CIA historical record regarding human intelligence is spotty at best. An intelligence operation involving some many different people, firms, governments and international organizations would be an extraordinary achievement requiring extraordinary evidence to be considered believable.
Then I noted the insertion of legacy media spin as fact to enhance the believability of the story. Here is an example:
When Mr. Pompeo arrived at the C.I.A., there was relatively little nuclear activity underway in Iran. Most of Tehran’s centrifuges had been dismantled under the 2015 agreement, and 97 percent of the country’s nuclear fuel had been shipped to Russia.
There is not a shred of evidence to back that claim. The United States (and the UN) have no idea where the 8.5 tons of enriched Iranian Uranium, reportedly turned over to Russia, is currently located. Hit this link and you can watch youtube footage of Ambassador Stephen Mull, the Obama administration’s State Department lead coordinator on Iran, tell the house exactly that back when he was testifying before congress.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to tease facts from the media narrative. The New York Times does some excellent, in depth reporting, but they have often been accused of publishing damaging national security secrets. Everyone in the game knows this, and it is another reason to doubt their sources are intentionally revealing real secrets. If I were concerned with information operations for the United States Government the first thing I would do is establish a reliable back channel feed to the New York Times. That way I could get them to print deception pieces when I needed that done. It’s not like it’s hard to get a bite from the press these days; any Orange Man Bad angle will do.
Digging deeper into the mystery of Cyber Warfare I turned to my facebook buddy and managing editor of the Lima Charlie website, John Sjoholm who just published Cyber Warfare Now – Tales From the Digital Battlefield. John is a former Swedish Army Ranger as well as a contractor who I consider a trustworthy source, particularly in the cyber warfare realm.
I was working my way briskly through the piece thinking it was great stuff (and it is an excellent read that I recommend highly) when I ran into this:
One of the premier Russian hacker signatures, Guccifer 2.0 has been tied to the GRU as well. Guccifer 2.0 became known for the so-called “DNC Hack”, the 2016 Democratic National Committee email theft which appeared on Wikileaks.
In March 2018, details from the Mueller investigation leaked attesting that Guccifer 2.0 was in fact a collective of persons working for GRU’s Unit 26165 and Unit 74455. This after server logs revealed that on at least one occasion someone utilising the Guccifer 2.0 persona had failed to activate a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to obfuscate his IP address. It was then revealed to investigators that his connection originated from a computer at the GRU headquarters on Grizodubovoy Street in Moscow.
I don’t know John well enough to know his political leanings (if any) and I acknowledge that the Muller report may well make this claim. What I also know, for a fact, is the data breach on the DNC server was an inside job. The data transfer rates were too high. The narrative has always ignored this point which is how it finds it way into legitimate reporting by guys like John. This is from the website Knowledge is Good:
The time stamps contained in the released computer files’ metadata establish that, at 6:45 p.m. July 5, 2016, 1,976 megabytes (not megabits) of data were downloaded from the DNC’s server. This took 87 seconds, which means the transfer rate was 22.7 megabytes per second, a speed, according to VIPS, that “is much faster than what is physically possible with a hack.” Such a speed could be accomplished only by direct connection of a portable storage device to the server. Accordingly, VIPS concluded that the DNC data theft was an inside job by someone with physical access to the server.
The truth is that Muller and the FBI never examined the DNC servers and have no idea what was or was not on them. The reporting concerning the data breach was done by a firm hired by the DNC. My assumption is whoever included the time stamp did not realize that it invalidated everything that followed regarding “Lucifer 2.0.”. But it did, and it is the one fact that cannot be explained away, so the narrative moves on knowing full well their story is false, but that you won’t care because Orange Man Bad.
For two years and counting the American public debate has been focused, by our media and elites, on a story concocted out of thin air, and paid for by the DNC, concerning the legitimacy of our elected President. While that has been happening our economy, stock markets, and jobs have grown while federal taxes dropped. North Korea is not launching missiles over Japan or South Korea. Iran’s missile control systems are crippled, the European powers are escorting their own tankers through the Persian Gulf. Which caused the Iranian President to accuse the United Kingdom of being “scared” of Iran’s military prowess.
Things appear to be on a positive trend which defies the predictions of imminent doom, by our credentialed elites, featured prominently in the recent resignation of the British Ambassador to America. The reason President Trump is so popular with the American people is he is not a politician or one of the credentialed elite. He is getting things down while pissing off all the right people.
For progressives virtue signalling has replaced civic virtue. This is how open borders and giving free health care and a college education to any person in the world who wants to come here becomes acceptable rhetoric.
Buried in the news last month was a story announcing the most significant tactical adaptation in the history of Afghan Security Forces. The international media company AFP broke the story with this article Under US pressure Afghan army starts closing checkpoints. The article was reprinted in various legacy media outlets, Stars and Stripes ran their own reporting that included a little more depth, and the subject disappeared from the news cycle without further examination or comment. This should not be as it is a fundamental change in how Afghan Security Forces are handling a resurgent Taliban.
For eighteen years western military advisors to the Afghans have repeatedly pointed out that dispersing manpower out in small, poorly built, militarily unimportant, easily overrun checkpoints is a pointless waste. The Afghans counter that small forts flying the Afghan flag demonstrates to the people that the government holds that area.
The photographs below are from one of the better organized checkpoints I ran across during a road trip with Ralph Ward a.k.a The Skipper. He was heading into Nuristan province to blow an ammo cache the ANA had uncovered, something he normally we not do which was why I was tagging along.
In 2016 the American military estimated that there were 8,400 Afghan police and army checkpoints in the country. Despite insisting that the Afghans start closing them the number of checkpoints grew in 2017. It is obvious these poorly manned, undefended, far flung, unsupported positions contribute to low morale, high rates of desertion and high casualties. In fact a week after this policy was announced Afghan Security Forces suffered 23 KIA’s in two attacks on checkpoints, one in Ghor and the other in Logar provinces.
If it is so obvious that these checkpoints are a bad idea why is it they proliferate? The motorbikes in the picture above are a hint and here is another:
The checkpoint Shem and I are looking over had reported they were overrun the night prior and fired all the rounds on hand to drive off the Taliban. The building, on all four sides, is pockmarked with bullet and shrapnel holes, as the structure pre-dates the Soviet invasion. None of the battle damage on this building was new, and not one piece of brass could be found on the ground. The troops (all Hazara’s from Ghazni province) were obviously selling ammo and AK rounds, at the time, cost 65 cents each on the black market.
When soldiers “benefit” at their checkpoints they are expected to kick a percentage up. It’s similar to the mafia, or at least The Sopranos version of the mafia, and that is the main reason the Afghans have refused to take them down. Afghan police and army officers assigned a certain area have normally paid serious cash for the position and expect a return of their investment. The practice is so common it doesn’t require footnotes (but here’s a link anyway). I have been told that this is changing as younger officers in the Afghan Security Forces reach ranks of responsibility. I hope so, I’m a big of the Afghans.
If the Afghan Security Forces are now willing to forgo revenue from their checkpoints to focus on offensive operations targeting the Taliban they have crossed the Rubicon in military professionalism. Time will tell, but this is the most positive development I’ve seen regarding Afghanistan in a long time. Inshallah it is a sign of a tide starting to turn.
The war in Afghanistan took a catastrophic turn for the worse when General Abdul Raziq was assassinated last Thursday (18th of October). He was killed after attending a regional security meeting with the commanding general for the NATO forces in Afghanistan General Scott Miller. The Kandahar provincial intelligence chief, Gen. Abdul Momin Hussain Khel was also killed. The governor of Kandahar, Zalmai Wesa, and Gen. Nabi Elham, a senior police commander responsible for several provinces were also hit as were two unidentified Americans. At this point it is a safe assumption that the wounded Americans were from Gen Miller’s PSD team. They’re high end contractors, not American military and so their names may never be reported as contractors are not normally included in DoD personnel reporting procedures.
General Raziq was from the Pashtun Adozai Achakzai tribe in Spin Boldak which is a port of entry with Pakistan. The tribe has always opposed the Taliban and Raziq had lost several members of his immediate family to the Taliban over the years. He got his start as a border guard at age 17 and steadily advanced through the ranks the way all warlords rise to prominence in places like Afghanistan. He was ruthless, efficient, a natural leader with a knack for making money; he hated the Taliban and was relentless in driving them out of his area. That attracted the attention of the American Special Forces and the CIA who mentored him for years. By the time the Americans pulled out Raziq was a general officer who was responsible for the security of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban. He locked Kandahar down, making it one of the safer cities in Afghanistan and he did it the old fashioned way; he didn’t take prisoners.
For this the foreign policy establishment condemned him. The most positive establishment spin is summed up well in a paragraph from a 2016 Foreign Policy article:
Considered by many as a “special case” due to his outsized and abnormal means of exerting influence and holding power, Raziq serves the interests of the state-building elite by crafting an image of strength and stability in southern Afghanistan, even if that comes at the expense of accountable governance, human rights, and long-term stability. Raziq road the coattails of a coterie of ruthless warlords empowered by western intelligence and security organizations like the CIA, U.S. Special Forces, and NATO military allies. He is a leading figure in the Achakzai tribe, a major power bloc along the southern border and strong auxiliary security component through formal and informal militias. Raziq grew up in Spin Boldak in southern Kandahar, and was mentored by strongmen such as Gul Agha Sherzai, Ahmad Wali Karzai, and Asadullah Khalid, who protected Raziq from prosecution when 16 Nurzai tribal members were murdered in 2006. Numerous stories link Raziq, or men working for him, to human rights violations, torture, and murder of prisoners. While such stories of abuse are disquieting, it seems even more alarming when Raziq openly boasts of such acts. In the summer of 2014, Raziq, along with other Afghan security officials, issued a take no prisoners directive: “My order to all my soldiers is not to leave any of them alive.”
There are very few military leaders who, if lost, cannot be replaced. Ahmad Shah Massoud was one and Raziq is the only other when it comes to modern Afghanistan. His loss is a crippling blow in a year that has not seen any positive news concerning the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). ANSF is taking casualties on the battlefield that are unsustainable. We have no idea what their true desertion rate is but can assume it’s not good in those formations that have taken a beating all summer long.
The most important election since 2001 in continuing despite sporadic attacks in polling sites. In Kabul a suicide bomber detonated inside a polling station in northern neighborhood of Khair Khana killing at least 10 people. The station is inside the upgraded Kabul Ring of Steel which is yet another failure on the part of the Kabul security forces who are being mentored by the Turkish army.
The established narrative is that the US and her allies are going to stay in Afghanistan and continue to train Afghan forces while helping them fight by providing enablers in the form of brigade level operational support, fixed wing close air support and ground to ground rockets. Over time the increasing proficiency of the ANSF’s combined with the casualties being inflicted on the Taliban will force them to realize they cannot win and thus come to the peace talk table.
Here’s a news flash for the credentialed elite who are leading our efforts in Afghanistan: the Taliban already know they cannot win. They don’t have to win, they just need to keep doing what they are doing and that is controlling the population where they can and pressing the government forces in the rest of the country. They don’t have to win to get what they want which is a degree of autonomy in the areas they control and the areas they control seem to be increasing.
Any hope that the Taliban is going to reach an agreement with the government on anything other then their own terms is fantasy which you can see by their behavior. In 2011 the Taliban opened an office in Qatar to conduct peace talks. The US asked that they not do is use the name of the old Taliban regime in Afghanistan which was the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The day the office opened they put up their sign identifying themselves as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and that is what they are called to this day. Does that sound like a group who are looking for a way out of continued fighting? Of course not and they’re winning anyway so why even bother with negations?
There is a lot going on in Afghanistan and it is being driven by one simple fact: the burn rate for operating the ANSF and the central government is unsustainable. The aid dollars that run the country are going to dry up soon but our operational strategy for Afghanistan is playing the long game. If we can keep the Afghans in the fight long enough they should, according to historical statistics, prevail.
Eric Prince has been in Afghanistan seeking local support forces plan to introduce contractor trainers down to the battalion level along with contracted air crews and air frames for close air support. President Trump also inserted a powerful player into Kabul in the form of U.S. Special Advisor Zalmay Khaliizad who was the ambassador to Afghanistan when I arrived in Kabul back in 2005.
Zalmay Khalilzad is popular with the Afghan people but I remember him mostly for the introduction of the SNTV election system which is why the elections going on today will be a gigantic mess. I wrote about this in 2011 saying: 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.
If you want to read some in depth, original reporting on the inherently flawed Afghan election system check out this outstanding piece by Mattieu Aikins.
Kahlizad is not sitting around Kabul waiting for something to do. One would assume he is working closely with the ambassador and General Miller but who knows? He’s a deal maker and problem solver who had been known to go his own way for reasons unknown which is what I think the SNTV incident clearly shows.
I also hear, although I’ve found no verification yet, that China is most interested in assisting the Afghan military with tons of equipment, aircraft, trainers and both combat and combat service support. The combat service support piece is, to be honest, about 10 times more important than contractors advising at the battalion level. And I think having contractors take on that role is a good idea, particularly in the cost effectiveness category.
The Chinese, like Mr. Prince, are also interested in mineral extraction which can only be accomplished with significant infrastructure development that can only be accomplished if people stop blowing things up and shooting at the ANSF.
Unlike Mr. Prince the Chinese are self funding, and there are more of them, but my understanding is there is significant pushback from both the US and India on the matter. Which may not, in the long run, matter because the donor money has already started to dry up and that trend will continue. If the Chinese really want to come into Afghanistan and invest in both security and natural resource development I don’t see a better option.
As long as Secretary Mattis and General Dunford remain in their respective positions both the Prince and Chinese plans are D.O.A. But both Kahlizad and President Trump are practical men who are not afraid of counter narrative options. The narrative is a product of elite thinking and the billions spent on credentialed elites, both in and outside the government, to think, has not produced in reasonable path forward. What the elites don’t think about is the fact that they have little idea what is happening in Afghanistan outside the wire of our embassy and military installations. If they could get their brains around that and mitigate it maybe reality and the narrative would come in closer alignment.
But that ain’t happening and I do not believe the elites narrative will survive much more contact with reality.
Editors Note: This is there first of a series of reflections that may become a book. I could use some help with this project; if I made a decent start and have hooked you into wanting more, that would be helpful to know. It would also be helpful to know if the hook doesn’t have enough bait. Comments are most welcome – hitting the donation tab is even more most welcome as I have yet to find a publisher interested enough in the project to fund it. I appreciate any and all help I can get with this project.
I had just cracked open the first beer of the afternoon when I heard the rockets coming in. Wise now to the ways of war I stayed in my lawn chair on the deck of what was once a salt water pool where Saddam Hussein’s sons kept crocodiles that were fed with unfortunates who had crossed them. I was too far away from cover to make a run for it and in less time than it took to write this they hit. A thunderclap sounded from the American army camp next door and I watched a plume of dust and leaves shoot upward. The soldiers were up wind of us so the cloud of leaves and dirt started drifting over the wall towards the giant vat of chicken curry the Gurkhas were preparing for my going away party that night.
FOOKING HELL MATES STAND FAST bellowed my 2IC a short unassuming Welshman who was famous for his undercover work in Ireland. THAT’S 50 QUID WORTH OF CHICKEN DAMN YOUR EYES COVER THE POT; COVER THE POT QUCIKLY LADS. The 2IC was galloping around the pool to head the Gurkha’s off at the pass as they scrambled for cover. Being a Welsh lad he was slight of stature and appeared malnourished. I had asked him about that once sending him into a 30-minute harangue about the British but I couldn’t understand most of what he said. I gathered he looked malnourished because as a kid he had subsisted on chicken parama and chips which I have since learned was mystery meat hamburgers and french fries.
Our project manager, a Rhodesian (they don’t like to be called Zimbabweans so we called them Zims) who had been in the Sealous Scouts, started yelling at us just as two more rockets hit home; one inside the other American army camp next to us and the other somewhere behind in an apartment complex outside the Green Zone. Those impacts were down wind so I paid them no attention focusing instead tracking the debris field that was heading in slow motion towards our giant pot of curry.
The 2IC had gotten his hands on three of my Gurkha’s including the Gurkha of Rap (his kill number, which were sewn on his uniform, was 123 and he was prone to rapping ‘I’m Gurkha 1,2,3 you better listen to me. If I see the flag black you know I’ll attack…..he couldn’t find a rhythm for kukri so he didn’t get far with his rap but he worked on it constantly) rallying the men back to the bubbling cauldron. They quickly stripped off their uniform jackets and fashioned some sort of web with them that covered most of the pot as the debris field lost momentum in the wind and crashed down onto of the curry cauldron.
GET A FOOKING SIEVE MATE FROM THE FOOKING DFAC the 2IC yelled to no one in particular; the Gurkha of rap sprinted off to the KBR DFAC (the dining facility was abandoned by the Kellogg Brown and Root cooks who deathly afraid of rockets) to find something to get the leaves and dirt out of the cooking pot.
The PM stalked up and started lecturing me in his sharp British schoolboy voice which meant he was pissed.
“Mate your supposed to set the example for the men and yet here you sit in the exact spot the last rocket hit, the one that killed four of your men mind you, as if the threat can be ignored”.
“Boss (that’s me being passive aggressive; Zims don’t like being called boss) I am in the exact spot of the last impact because we both know the Iraqis cannot, in a million years, hit this spot again. It’s math boss and I’m a Uni (college in commonwealth speak) grad who understands math”.
“The chance they can hit the same spot twice with a rocket – it’s a math problem that involves pi or something and when you’re working with pi the numbers you’re working with big numbers right”?
“Mate are you mental”?
“No boss, I just know math. It’s the same thing for lightning striking in the same spot…it just doesn’t happen”
“Mate do you know how many times lightening strikes the same spot on your Empire State building in New York?
“Do I want to”?
“0n average 25 times each year; the record for repeated strikes stands at 8 times in twenty minutes”.
The PM scowled at me and headed back to the CP to get a roll call. I smiled and thought about how much I was going to miss this.
I had been in Baghdad for just five months, entering the fray in the usual way for contractors back then. I had sent out my CV to every security company I could find on the net after watching my best friend in the Marine Corps interviewed on Fox News. I couldn’t take being out of the game anymore so off I went to touch the elephant.
Two days after sending my CV out I got a call from London; “Mate do you want to go to Iraq or Afghanistan”? After explaining the Afghan gig was voter registration and the one in Iraq was guarding the American embassy I chose Iraq. That job included arming authority and paid more. “Can you come to London the day after tomorrow mate to sign your contract”? I could and did; six days after sending my CV out to the security world I was in a C-130 that had launched out of Kuwait and was corkscrewing down to slam onto a runway at BIAP (Baghdad International Airport).
There were no customs to clear back then so contractors were met by drivers from their respective companies on the tarmac. My driver was a huge Fijian guy who, like most Fijians, had a perpetual pleasant smile. He grabbed one of my bags and walked me to his SUV where his brother was waiting. The brother (who also had a huge smile) reached into the back seat and came out with an AK 47 and three magazines. “Here you go mate” he said as he handed them over. I took them and looked at the brothers who were watching me like a pair of smiling hawks.
I locked the bolt to the rear, looked down the barrel, felt into the chamber for any excessive grit and ran the action a couple of times. I looked over each magazine for dings or deformaties, stripped a couple of rounds from them to check the tension on the follower springs, loaded them back up, seated one in the rifle, loaded it and put it on safe while placing the other two in my high speed 5.11 vest pockets. The vest was made for this don’t ya know.
The older bother remarked “I think you’re one of the good ones maybe”. I had no idea what he was talking about. He then handed me two M-67 fragmentation grenades telling me they may come in handy. I looked at them saying “you’ve got to be shitting me” which made them smile even more. I took the grenades, checked to make sure the thumb safeties were attached and the pins secure; both the spoons were taped down so I took that off before putting them in my cargo pockets. The brothers looked at each other and nodded. I was sure the reason for handing me the grenades had little to do with an actual threat but I wanted to be ready just in case.
We mounted up and started on my first of many trips down route Irish; at the time the most dangerous road in the world. We did not have armored vehicles on this contract so the driver had his window down and a Browning pistol in his left hand. His brother had his window down with an AK pointing outboard. I put both the back-seat windows down so I could cover both sides of the vehicle. I asked why we didn’t have brand new armored SUV’s like the other companies had ; the younger brother turned to face me, “they’re target’s mate, death traps and you should never roll in one if you can avoid it.
Once past the security check point the driver put the throttle down and did not let it up until we entered the Green Zone. I had passed my first test by not being a whanker and knowing how to load an AK 47. Standards were not high in the industry back then.
The contract called for third country national guards (in our case Gurkha’s from Nepal; most of whom were not really Gurkha’s) and supervisors who could be American or Commonwealth citizens. We had Canadian’s, Brits, Welshmen (who claim not to be Brits) a couple of Irish guys but mostly the expats were South Africans and Rhodesians. I was one of two Americans.
The South Africans ran the show and they are an impressive lot. On my first morning a couple of them took me to the public affairs area to introduce me to two guys he said were retired Marines. This was my second test; they had several previous new joins who claimed to be prior American military but were so clueless about things military they were run off as frauds.
When we arrived at the PA shop it turned out one of the two retired Marines was my first rifle company commander. I had been a good infantry lieutenant; my old CO was excited to see me, I was in like flint. He had already told the SA guys about requesting a DD-214 from former American military but the Brits running the show would have none of it. Getting bodies on the contract was how they got paid and they didn’t want to slow their process down for a second.
Doing a good job on the Baghdad American Embassy contract was not difficult. The supervisors supervised or trained; the posts were manned by our Nepalese who had an internal chain of command that did all the detailed work of watch rosters and shift rotations. We had cell phones issued to us with US numbers (NYC area code) that allowed friends and family to call without incurring overseas charges. We had a large armory with weapons that had been gathered up by the military the year prior where I found a H&K G3 (7.62 x 51mm) with a folding stock. The markings indicated it had once belonged to the Pakistani army; how it got to Iraq was a mystery.
Having an American cell phone number was great fun because we’d often get unexpected calls from the states. I was on the range one Friday morning when my friend ‘The Big Guy’ called. We had been instructors at Front Sight, a firearms training center outside of Las Vegas. It was Thursday evening in the US so I knew he had probably been drinking before deciding to give me a call. I signaled the guys on the range pointing to the cell and telling them it was my buddy from the States and he’s on the piss. They moved in close and started cranking off rounds and yelling as I connected the call on speaker mode.
Me sounding tense “Lynch”
B.G. “ Hey man….what the hell is going on”… instant concern in his voice.
“… a little busy here brother hold on” I put the phone on a bench and cranked off 3 or 4 rounds yelling “somebody shoot that prick…I’m on the phone damnit”. I picked the cell up and said in a calm voice “Hey brother, little bit of an issue here but how’s it going back home”?
B.G. clearly upset “what’s happening Tim…holy shit are you Ok”?
Me “Of course brother….hold on a sec..” I dropped the cell and all of us started shooting and yelling as if we were repelling a human wave attack in Korea circa 1951. After shooting our magazines dry I picked up the cell. “We’re Ok Big Guy how are things in Vegas”?
But he wasn’t on the line, his wife was and she was pissed. “What are doing Lynch, where the hell are you”?
“We’re at the range and um…..just having a laugh because ummm….”.
“You’ve got the big guy crying for Christ sakes Lynch, why would you do that to him? He’s been scared to death for you and you think it’s funny to do this to him?”
“Bonnie, love, we’re guys…this is what we do to each other when we care”.
“Bullshit Tim (at least she called me Tim) that’s it, you’re on a 2-week time out and the next time the Big Guy calls you’d better not even think about pulling another stunt like this”.
We were rolling; laughing so hard it hurt but I felt bad…for about 3 seconds. The Big Guy didn’t call again until Thanksgiving Day; I was walking out of the DFAC and as I connected the call a 122mm rocket slammed into our camp knocking me on my ass. We took casualties, lots of them, so I went into rescue mode and left the cell in the dirt where I dropped it. The State Department soon turned them all off anyway after the costs they had racked up made national headlines. I sent the Big Guy an email telling him I was OK and attaching one the the news reports about the rocket attack. Mrs Big Guy still put me on a year long time out.
Around this time (the end of 2004) being outside the Green Zone became problematic for expats so our project manager put together a team to start bringing folks inside the wire. The various entities; engineering firms, other security companies, our companies country team, NGO’s etc…. couldn’t pay us for the service but the PM knew how to barter. Our armory grew, our ammo stockpiles grew, we accumulated ample stores of free booze and beer and the Nepalese were never without a goat to butcher up for curry. Some things are better than money in a combat zone.
While doing this work with the South Africans and Zims I learned a valuable lesson on how to work in a hostile environment while avoiding the stupidity of an avoidable gun fight. At some point in every move we would run into a massive traffic jam. As soon as we stopped moving shooters would dismount to create a buffer zone, free of unknown pedestrians, fore and aft of our vehicles. The first time I did that I was paired with a South African named Jerri who was one of the more experienced (I learned later famous) former 32 Commando veterans.
We exited our vehicle moving onto a packed sidewalk, Jerry looked at me and said “lose the body armor mate you look like a Robo Cop, take a spare mag and put it in your back pocket”. I did as requested and walked back to the side walk. Jerry said “now smile man; In South Africa we always say be friendly to everyone you meet but always have a plan to kill them”.
I shot back “you don’t say that, General Mattis says that… why are stealing lines from my favorite Marine Corps General”? He replied they had always said that in South Africa and the line was stolen from them which I wouldn’t accept so we started arguing.
But we were laughing too which was the point and Jerri said in a low voice “see all the people smiling at us mate? They’re relaxing because we have big guns but don’t seem inclined to use them. Smile, keep talking to me and relax, confidence is a language all humans understand got it”?
It was true, the people walking down the street towards us smiled when they saw us teasing each other an laughing. “What are you looking for” I asked Jerri who never really looked at me when he turned his head to talk; he was obviously concentrating on what was showing up in his peripheral vision.
“We’re looking for any chap who glares at us mate”.
“What do we do then”? I was laughing still while asking this.
“I walk up and glare back, you cover our back; the lads will see us and reinforce if we need them and our glaring asshole Iraqi friend can lose face by backing down or go to guns. Makes no difference to me mate”.
“Remember this Timothy (they called me that to annoy me or when they were dead serious…just like my Mom) they have to make the first move. It’s bad for morale if you shoot a civilian who didn’t have it coming. Your General Mattis teach you that mate”?
The sidewalk was crowded, the people seemed amused at the two infidels who were teasing each other and laughing. Nobody gave us the stink eye that day or any day we were in the red zone walking our vehicles through a traffic jam.
Just after Christmas the PM told me that I’d be heading to Kabul to stand up the US Embassy security guard contract there. I would spend eight years in Afghanistan traveling to every province in the country. When Route Irish lost it’s designation as the most dangerous road in the world it was replaced by the Kabul to Jalalabad road; I drove on it several times a month for years, often alone. The lessons learned in Baghdad would serve me well in the years to come.
One of the most popular posts I wrote while in Afghanistan was Laura Does The Special Forces and it was not a flattering review of Ms Logan or the Special Forces. It’s time for another review of Ms. Logan’s work on 60 minutes and this time she hit the ball out of the park. It was outstanding and you should take the time to watch her segment below.
Many years ago a 60 minutes report like this would have caused a major reaction with the American public and our do-nothing shysters in congress. That time has long past which is mostly a good thing but not in this case. The course we are taking in Afghanistan will not work and this 60 minute report made that painfully obvious.
The report starts with the flight from Kabul International Airport to the US Embassy which is a trip of less than 2 miles by road. Laura points out that no US official or military member travels on the road in Kabul. The American leading our effort, army general John Nicholson (not to be confused with Marine general Larry Nicholson who kicked the Taliban’s ass in Helmand back in the day) replies that force protection is his number one mission and that it’s safer to not use the roads in Kabul.
Several points to make here starting with the fact that the helicopters being used are contractor air. Because the evil Eric Prince isn’t providing these aircraft nobody seems to mind but I’ll tell you this; they are charging a hell of a lot more than Blackwater ever charged the government and you can take that insight to the bank. The second observation is it is much safer for the Afghans to not have American military convoys on the road for reasons I have described about a dozen times over the years. Another obvious point is that if, after 16 years, we have gone from a Kabul where all foreigners were welcomed (which is how it was for at least the first 10 years of our involvement) to a city where no foreigner can travel anywhere without taking significant risks what does that tell you? Tells me we aren’t winning.
But General Nicholson says that we are winning. He tells Ms. Logan straight up that we’re killing Taliban leaders by the score and that they now have a choice to either come to the governments side or die. He goes on to say that there have been no attacks on our homeland from Afghanistan over the last 16 years and implies that if we leave Afghanistan that “International Terrorists” will take over the country and our homeland will be at risk.
This is madness disguised as conventional wisdom. Guess what? There has never been an attack on our homeland from Afghanistan. The 9/11 hijackers weren’t from Afghanistan and if you wanted to attack the city where they organized that would be Hamburg, Germany. All Afghanistan did was harbor bin Laden and we let him get away when the risk adverse Pentagon took over the original entry operation and prevented Delta (and a young Marine brigadier named Mattis) from smoke checking his dumb ass in 2001. What was their excuse back then? Force protection.
In the eyes of the modern general force protection trumps the mission as a priority in the American military. So does the imperative of foisting female machine gunners on the infantry. Do you know what a machine-gun section does in combat? It humps ammo, heavy 7.62mm ammo, along with their heavy gun and its tripod (which is heavy) and the traversing and elevation mechanism (which isn’t that heavy) and spare barrels and their own rifles…
Sorry, got a little off track there.
If there is anyone in America who thinks we did Afghanistan a favor by listening to the highly over-rated Colin Powell and staying in that country I can assure you that you’re wrong. A trillion later, an unknown number of Afghan and international lives later, who knows how many arms and legs lost later; our military is still there and in the hermetically sealed Kabul military headquarters there sits a four star general who says (and might even believe) that the Taliban now has two options, die or capitulate.
Nicholson went on to claim that if we lose in Afghanistan “It would embolden jihadists globally”. I don’t think that is remotely true after the Axis of Adults crushed ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Laura Logan pressed the general hard and then moved up the road to the Presidential Palace to press Ashraf Ghani, the leader of the so called ‘Unity Government’.
Lara Logan: Your soldiers and your policemen are dying in unprecedented numbers.
Ashraf Ghani: Indeed.
Lara Logan: How long can that be sustained?
Ashraf Ghani: Until we secure Afghanistan.
Lara Logan: How long is that? How long until you secure it?
Ashraf Ghani: As long as it takes. Generations if need be!
Lara Logan: The U.S. isn’t going to be here for generations.
Ashraf Ghani: We will be here for generations. We do not need others to fight our fights.
Lara Logan: People in this country say that if the U.S. pulled out, your government would collapse in three days.
Ashraf Ghani: From the resource perspective they are absolutely right. We will not be able to support our army for six months without U.S. support, and U.S. capabilities.
Lara Logan: Did you just say that without the US support your army couldn’t last six months?
Ashraf Ghani: Yes. Because we don’t have the money.
We have spent over a Trillion dollars on Afghanistan but they don’t have any money. Do you think a Trillion more will help? Do you think killing Taliban is the answer? Do you think mentoring the Afghan army from inside secured bases and then sending them out to get chewed up is the way forward?
We know how to mentor foreign troops plagued by low skills and low morale; our current Undersecretary of Defense for Special Operations wrote a book on it and you know what he said? You have to live with and fight with them to get them up to standard. That was why the Prince Plan made sense.
The only rational way forward is to allow the Afghans to solve this problem the Afghan way. General Nicholson said he’s giving himself two more years for his plan to work. I don’t what he’ll be saying in January 2020 but do know this much; there will be no significant changes to the situation in Afghanistan.
There have been several news items on Afghanistan that call for some optimism. Task and Purpose published this long piece by former Ranger and current journalist Marty Skovlund and it’s a great read. Marty also has done the War College Podcast and other media where he anticipates our continued involvement with the Afghans for decades to come.
Task Force Southwest is heading home after a successful deployment (they did not lose any Marines) and Vice News caught up with them before they left. You can get a good feel for what they’ve accomplished in the video below:
It is clear that the Marines in Helmand have stabilized the Afghan National Army in just as the Army has in Nangarhar province. Yet none of this has changed my opinion that it is not going to work and that we are wasting time, money and lives on a forlorn hope.
Last week former Marine Owen West was confirmed as assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict. His nomination had been held up by democrats who objected to this eminently reasonable article he published, in conjunction with his father Bing West, concerning women in the infantry.
Owen was a talented infantry officer who also served in the reconnaissance community before leaving the Corps for Goldman Sachs where he became the most badass banker on Wall Street. Owen remained in the Marine Corps reserves and did two combat deployments to Iraq. He also became, like his father, a successful writer publishing two thrillers as well as an account of his time as an advisor to the Iraq Army. That last book is the biggest reason for hope I have seen to date concerning our efforts in Afghanistan
“Stunning in its portrayal, this highly personal book conveys a tremendous sense of time and place, set in a wickedly complex war zone that our young men faced in a foreign land, coaching a foreign force, in a type of combat foreign to those who have forgotten that war is ultimately a human endeavor. Vivid and honest, it holds true the real lessons of counter-insurgent war and is essential reading for those who seek to understand what we demand from those we send to fight for us.” — General James Mattis.
What’s this have to do with Afghanistan? I’m not sure because I don’t know how much weight the assistant SecDef for Special Forces has in the big scheme of things. What I do know is that Owen West believes our current approach in Afghanistan is wrong. Check this out from the introduction of The Snake Eaters:
Only an advisor’s aggressive willingness to share risk—his performance under fire—with local troops gives him credibility with and influence over them. This gap in understanding is not limited to civilians. Our generals are uncomfortable prescribing advisors as a solution to these twenty-first-century wars. Advising a foreign military requires nontraditional training that takes years; soldiers need a wonk’s cultural awareness, the rudimentary language capability of a border cop, a survivalist’s skills, and the interpersonal savvy of a politician. Military hierarchy is built on control, so it feels unnatural for the leadership to dispatch these small bands of advisors, who on paper cannot give orders, to live among foreign, sometimes hostile soldiers in an effort to stabilize their countries.
Living with the troops and leading by example…..where have you heard that before? Not just in this blog; every legitimate resource on getting host nation armies from the third world into the fight says the same thing. We knew this a century ago when we were fighting in Banana Republic Wars. Now the belief that technology has changed the dynamic of counterinsurgency warfare has reduced our efforts to unsustainably expense parodies of an effective military solution.
The Snake Eaters details this without the rancor. It tells the story of a small group of untrained reservists controlled by a clueless higher headquarters who are thrust into the most deadly town in Iraq. Not every team member is a hero but the deadwood is replaced rapidly, those who see the mission through are classic representations of American fighting men. Some our career officers who step up and out of constricting formal roles associated with their rank and experience. Some are non conformists who learn the local language and advocate for the local people. All who remain display the two traits most important in the counterinsurgency battle; physical courage and placing the mission ahead of all other considerations.
The Iraqi’s they mentor run the gamut from cowardly sycophants to incredibly brave professionals. Ironically the Iraqi officer who holds the Americans in complete contempt is the favorite of the American advisors. When you are deep in the shit performance is all that matters but not enough American units have found themselves deep enough in the shit to have learned this basic rule of war.
Every institutional problem I have bitched about for over a decade on this blog is validated in the book. Placing force protection ahead of mission and the un-stabilizing effects of SF night rains that can destroy in a few hours trust that took months of blood, seat and tears to build are just two of those problems that are covered in detail. This is the first military book I’ve read that relates directly to the experiences I and my small group of Free Ranging friends had in Afghanistan. Take a couple of minutes to hear Owen explain the book to get a feel for why I’m raving about it.
The American military has some serious, fundamental issues that need to be sorted out. The Marine Corps aviation in on it’s knees and currently unable to generate the sortie hours required to maintain proficiency with its fixed wing fighters. The Navy cannot drive its boats but worse yet it can’t even recognize an impending collision soon enough to sound the appropriate alarms; the ones that would have forced men from their bunks so they don’t get crushed and drowned when their ships hit gigantic civilian tankers. The Air Force can’t retain pilots; the Army can’t retain talent yet in the face of these problems our politicians are forcing women on the infantry and transexuals into the force structure.
Countering these powerfully negative trends is the most qualified Secretary of Defense and the most powerful Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the history of our country. They are on record as opposing social engineering they know will weaken combat power yet seem unable to put a stake through the heart of PC centric change.
Add to that an Assistant Secretary of Defense who not only knows, but has proven the risk adverse, reliance on high tech, Kabuki theater of advise and assist while leading from behind will not work.
Will this make a difference? I don’t know but sure is interesting.
Panjwayi Tim sent an article the other day worthy of serious consideration at the State Department if it were capable of serious consideration. It outlines a way forward in Afghanistan that has the following advantages:
It would work
It would reduce the amount of future fighting and dying to near zero
It costs the United States nothing
It would allow us to bring all our deployed units home
It would not benefit Iran or Pakistan
Because quantity has a quality all it’s own lets take a look at another plan for ending the fighting in Afghanistan and bringing our forces back home where they belong. I know I’ve posted a ton on this topic before but what the hell; I’ve got nothing better to do.
“The Americans should leave,” Khan said. “There can only be peace and security in Afghanistan if there is a just government in place that is backed by the majority of the people and is chosen through elections or a loya jirga (national council). It cannot be reliant on a foreign military.”
…He said foreign forces, which he described as “girls,” had failed in their fight against the Taliban.
I have written before about how the Afghan war will end and that will be when the people present a united front against the current belligerents. Historically this has been done when a militia or groupings of militia’s gain the peoples support. That is how the Taliban took control of most of the country back in the 90’s.
Ismail Khan is the one mujaheddin commander still standing who could build a coalition of Muj commanders, force an “understanding” on the Taliban, and win the support of the population. He is ready to re-mobilize his militia if given a green light from Kabul and if he can get the majority of his fellow mujaheddin commanders to do the same there is no question it would work.
Ismail Khan fought the Soviets, fought the Taliban, fought General Dostum who fought for and against both the Soviets and the Taliban and has never had allegations of human rights abuse directed at him. He is a Tajik and the former governor of Herat province who is highly regarded in Western Afghanistan, an area from which 90% of Afghanistan’s saffron crop originates. Saffron makes farmers a ton more money than opium which is why I mention it. He would need to incorporate the current Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and central government into the effort but that is not a hard job for prominent warlords; they have thousands of years tradition and a lifetime of experience on their side.
If the Afghans could figure out a way to link his militia to the Afghan Army and use them as auxiliaries they could probably clean up the Helmand province in a few months. Not because Ismail Khan’s militia is proficient but because Ismail Khan knows how to use the ulema (the body of Mullahs who are the interpreters of Islam’s doctrines and laws and the chief guarantors of continuity in Afghan communities) to reach the people. He carries series weight with the Afghan people and the people and the ulema are the only entities that can force peace in Afghanistan. In the context of ending the current war with the Taliban the Afghan military and central government are irrelevant.
The Marines in Helmand are winding down their tour and are a bright spot of good news for our military efforts in Afghanistan. Good news because they have taken no casualties while accomplishing the mission they were assigned. The LA Times ran a good story on them last Saturday; an incident described in that article is a perfect example with which to compare and contrast what would work against what is not going to work.
From the LA Times story linked above:
One recent morning, two convoys of Afghan security forces traveling south toward Lashkar Gah came under fire from a house inside the village of Malgir. Inside a windowless, high-ceilinged room at an operations center near Shorab, Marines, Afghan officers, and American civilian contractors watched footage from a U.S.-made ScanEagle drone hovering above the village.
Once Afghan troops in the area determined the shooters’ location and that there were no civilians nearby, officers in the control room requested airstrikes, which were carried out by U.S. Apache helicopters. One of the shooters was killed, two were wounded and two escaped, said Afghan army Maj. Abdul Wakil.
All that technology, all those assets, all those people deployed at lord knows what cost to kill one guy shooting small arms at a convoy? You get that with our efforts in Afghanistan and it’s old news; let’s focus on the village and read between the lines of the story.
Malgir, the village where the Marines directed an air strike with army Apaches, is in Nad Ali district near Gereshk. The area around Malgir belongs mostly to the Barakai tribe (who for the most part are pro government) with significant areas of Ishaqzai/Poplazai (who are mostly pro Taliban) tribal dominance . There is a concentration of Shia Hazara peoples in the southern end of the district who seemed to be on the short end of the stick regardless who controls the area.
In 2009 the British launched an operation aimed at Malgir to clear out Taliban. The Taliban ‘moved in’ after the collapse of the Barakzai militia who had been running the place until 2008 when they stopped getting paid. The Barakzai had over-taxed non Barakzai locals in the area which probably had something to do with their getting their stipend from the provincial authorities cut off. There were three prominent Muj warlords in the area at that time, Haji Kadus (Barakzai/Shamezai tribe), Qari Hazrat (Ishaqzai tribe and local Taliban commander) and former provincial governor Sher Mohammad Akhundzdza (Alizai from Northern Helmand and at that time a Taliban commander).
Haji Kadus was a favorite of the American Special Forces having dime’d out all his local rivals as ‘Taliban’ (most weren’t) which had landed them in Gitmo. When the British started planning their operation Haji Kadus divided up Malgar with Qari Hazrat allowing him to protect his communities. As the operation unfolded the British made Haji Kadus a Major in the Afghan police and then maneuvered into the village of Haji Gul Ehkitar Kalay.
The British decided to establish a patrol base in the house of Haji Gul Ehkitar (the village was named after him) and negotiated a fair rent which was paid to Haji Gul’s nephew Sur Gul, who happened to be a Taliban commander. The only Taliban mahaz commander to fight the British was Sher Muhamad’s who had been cut out of the pre-invasion deal making. Haji Gul’s Taliban did not fight but he, reportedly, used the British Army rent money to buy IED’s which he turned against his renters. Haji Kadus, who knew what Haji Gul was up to, said nothing to the Brits. When the foreigners went home Haji Kadus was not going with them so he had to make accommodations that made sense in the long game. A smart Indian doesn’t crap in his own tepee.
This is all very complicated right? But here’s the point; Muj commanders like Ismal Khan know this history and know how to put minor Muj commanders on a short leash without much (if any fighting). Know who else knows this entire inter-tribal history inside and out? BGen Roger Turner, the commanding officer of TF Southwest. The British learned from their mistakes and developed a detailed order of battle with comprehensive dossiers on every player inside their former AOA (area of operations). They spent the time and money to fly to North Carolina to bring Roger Turner and his staff up to speed.
Here’s the point. The intricate knowledge of tribal dynamics is not knowledge Gen Turner and his Marines can act on in the context of their current mission. It is good that they know how things got to be the way they are but that hard won knowledge is meaningless to the Marines now. They are locked down on the bases focused on improving the performance of Afghan Security Forces.
Ismail Khan, on the other hand, can use this knowledge to sort out recalcitrant Muj commanders quickly. He can generate change to the local tribal dynamics in a manner that the change sticks. He would probably be able to do so without any serious fighting. If he had to fight he would incorporate local tribal fighters because that’s the way Afghans fight. Those tribes on his side would be rewarded, those against him punished, in both cases this would involved acquiring or losing land. Nothing else matters in the Helmand; land ownership and water rights are the only game that matters.
Getting the Department of State to understand that offers like the one made by Ismail Khan should be taken seriously is impossible. As Upton Sinclair famously said “it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it”. State Department mandarins are not salary motivated but they are power motivated and giving up power is anathema to them. That is a crying shame; we’re running out of time and are already out of money for further adventures in Afghanistan. We should be giving Ismail Khan a shot a solving the Afghan problem we created. It will cost us little and is the only route to peace available now.