Is Kabul Safe for Foreigners? Hard Man Vs Grey Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura Does Kabul and Rocks It

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry, got a little off track there.

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

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

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

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

Ashraf Ghani: Indeed.

Lara Logan: How long can that be sustained?

Ashraf Ghani: Until we secure Afghanistan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Atrocity in Afghanistan

Yesterday news broke of what appears to be a cold blooded shooting  by a US soldier of an Afghan truck driver. The story was first reported by politico and the short segment featured below was apparently part of a 3 minute video titled  “Happy Few Ordnance Symphony,” that was briefly posted to Youtube this week.

Speculation in the press is this incident occurred recently in Nangarhar province which is the only part of Afghanistan where US forces are operating outside the wire. I don’t think that’s the case as it is very rare to have snow in Nangarhar province and the portions that do see some snow would by in the Spin Ghar mountains where there are not any good hard ball roads.

If I were to hazard a guess I would say that this film was made on the ring road between Kabul and Ghazni….probably in Wardak province. That would mean the tape was shot before 2014.

I have written dozens of times about the unnecessary deaths US and NATO forces inflicted on civilians due to their tendency to shoot up cars that come too close to their convoys. This force protection measure was an attempt to stop SVBIED’s; the vehicle variant of the suicide bomber phenomenon.  This post on the Raven 23 travesty contains several links to my previous posts on this topic.

The press always points to Raven 23 (the Nissor Square shootings) as the behavior of trigger happy contractors while studiously ignoring the hundreds if not thousands of examples of military convoys doing the exact same thing. Having had two vehicles shot out from under me, one by the British Army and one by the American Army (both incidents happened in Kabul) I am very touchy on this topic.

But what happened in all the examples I cite above and what you see in the video pasted above are two different things. The video depicts a gratuitous assault (and possibly a murder) on the part of an American serviceman. The problem is that there are anomalies in the video which are difficult to account for.

The weapon used in this shooting is an M4 Benelli tactical shotgun. That is a semiautomatic shotgun and when fired it should automatically eject the spent shell. In the video we see some gas escaping the barrel as it is apparently fired into the cab of an Afghan truck. What we don’t see is any recoil or the automatic extraction of the spent shotgun shell. That’s a little strange and I’m not able to explain why that happened.

It could be a non lethal round was fired at the Afghan driver which may account for the light recoil but I thought even non lethal rounds generated enough energy to cycle the action. I could be wrong but if that is the case then we are not witnessing a cold blooded murder but a really stupid assault on an innocent civilian. I hope that proves the be the case.  If that kid fired buck shot from the M4 he killed that driver. You can see where the round impacted on the drivers window; there is no question buck shot would have resulted in a fatal wound.

My problem with the force protection measures used by ISAF military units in Afghanistan was that they not only killed civilians but they were also poor tactics. The gunners in those incidents could not have identified a threat, oriented on it and put enough fire on those vehicles to be effective. It was an OODA loop issue. I also think the Blackwater guys involved in the Nissor Square shootings reacted with excessive force. My problem there was they were prosecuted for doing exactly what the military did in similar circumstances.

When you’re operating in Afghanistan or Iraq where the battlefield is full of non combatants sometimes you have to suck up incoming, hunker down and drive like hell to get off the X. It;’s not fun and I’ve done it often enough to know what a raw deal it is. But it is what it is; I would not shoot at random civilians anymore than I would shoot at ISAF soldiers who fired on me. It’s not a rational response or legal option.

One of the reasons I’m an advocate of the PMC model is that contractors, despite the common perception of the media, are much less likely to drop the hammer on people than the military. Contractors don’t have the protection afforded military personnel by status of forces agreements. They are on their own and have to answer to host nation authorities when they use deadly force.

What we see in the video above has nothing to do with force protection. It is a straight up atrocity, an unlawful use of force and the soldiers involved should face the full force of the law for their criminal action. It is also a huge setback to America in our effort to get Afghanistan under control so we can leave. The prize now, as it has been all along, is the Afghan people. And the Afghan people are not going to forget this video anytime soon.

 

Armed and Dangerous: Should a Principal Carry in Afghanistan?

The new Secretary of the Navy caused a minor kerfuffle last week by carrying a sidearm while touring Afghanistan. Richard Spencer is a former Marine aviator, finance executive, and vice chairman of the nonprofit Marine Corps Heritage Foundation. He is a welcomed relief to the naval services after the hyper political reign of Ray Maybus. While on a tour of Marine units in Afghanistan he was photographed  wearing a sidearm which lead to all sorts of speculation in the press and in the PMC community.

Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer speaks with Marines and sailors assigned to Task Force Southwest at Camp Shorab, Afghanistan, December 23, 2017. Photo provided by US Marine Corps

The photo above caused CNN correspondent Barbara Starr to tweet  “Can someone explain why the head of our Navy is wearing a sidearm?” That is a question that is much deeper than the ensuing debate answered. Allow me to explain.

Most people would assume that secretary Spencer would have adequate training to carry a pistol due to his prior service in the Marine Corps. This is not true. Every Marine officer is required to pass an annual pistol qualification but qualification with a pistol is not the same as training. Unless a Marine officer is assigned to a special billet, or is a master boondoggler,  he will not receive the training needed to employ a pistol effectively from the holster under duress.

My industry friends like Tom Williams, who has a ton of PSD team leader experience, are unanimous in their opinion that a principal (in this case the SecNav) should never be armed. He hasn’t trained with or know the drills of his detail and thus a liability even if he has expert combat pistol skills – which he doesn’t because a quick read of his resume reveals he is not master boondoggle material.

Thomas is in this case is wrong (which I say in jest by the way as he is a close friend).  Before I explain the genius behind the SecNav carrying heat around the Helmand let’s review the why behind personal security details because they are now in vogue. Everybody who is anybody wants one which is strange because they rarely work.

Let me ask you – name an instance where a PSD detail stopped an assassination. I can think of only one and goggling the question is worthless as the results focus on JFK conspiracy theories, other presidential shootings and fake news from the legacy media about how evil guns are.

The one example I can think of happened in Afghanistan and involved an attempt, in 2002, on President Karzai. At the time his security detail consisted of SEAL’s and although they killed the gunman who was setting up to shoot Karzai they also killed one of Karzai’s favorite aids who had already jumped on the shooter. It could be argued that the aid stopped the assassination attempt and the subsequent shooting by the SEAL’s was overkill but, in the context of this post, that’s splitting hairs.

SEAL Team members moments after smoke checking the assassin (and everybody near him) during the attempt on Karzai in 2002

One thing most people don’t think about is that finding a highly trained, dedicated, assassin is rarer than finding a diamond hidden in a goats ass. It can happen but I never heard of a good example. Your average VIP/celebrity, trained on a steady diet of Hollywood movies and Brad Thor thrillers, probably doesn’t realize the threat comes from goof balls, not scary professionals.

Bill Lind contends the world ended on June 28th, 1914 when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated at the hands of Gavrillo Princip. Princip is a typical assassin; a loser who was part of a plot with other losers who screwed up their simple plan. One of the other assassins in the group, a nineteen-year-old student named Nedeljko Cabrinovic,  had thrown a grenade at Archduke Ferdinand’s vehicle but failed to account for the fuse delay or the speed of the vehicle and it detonated four cars behind his target.

The exact same thing happened to me when I was cruising through Shah Joy on my way to Kandahar during one of my bootlegging trips. I was going about  40mph when I see a guy step out of a crowd in the bazzar, look at me and then throw a grenade at my truck. I hit the gas and watched the thing go off in my rearview – it knocked some locals down too and I was amazed anyone would be so stupid as to think a grenade thrown at a moving vehicle would somehow impact the vehicle.

And speaking of stupid – check out young Master Cabrinovic who, after realizing he had failed and the crowd was about to close in on him, swallowed a cyanide pill that had been in his pocket for weeks and had deteriorated so much that it only made him throw up. Being dedicated the kid went to plan B  jumping off a bridge into the Miljacka river to drown himself but the water was only 4 inches deep…..you can’t make this kind of stuff up.

Princip, armed with  a pistol and stationed further down the motorcade route, realized the plan had failed and went down a side street to a sandwich shop to get a bite to eat.  Meanwhile Archduke Ferdinand insisted on being taken to the local hospital to pay his respects to the folks injured by the grenade attack but his driver got lost and he ended up on the same side street as the sandwich shop where his car stalled right in front of Princip. Does this, the most important assassination of the last century, sound anything like the plots you have read about or watched on the big screen?

Princip fired two rounds from a FN model 1910 pistol from 5 feet away striking the Archduke in the neck (hitting his juggler) and his wife in the abdomen (hitting something vital there too because she died minutes later). Although he was only 5 feet away he was shooting a 9x17mm round (essentially a .380 ACP we shoot the 9x19mm parabellum round which is a little bit mo better) so those two hits were lucky (or unlucky depending on how you feel about Austrian royalty). 99 out of 100 times that round fired at that distance by a poorly trained shooter would not result in a fatal wound.

Point is your average assassin team is little better than a insane clown posse squad.

What about your average protection detail?

So there I was, hanging out at the American embassy when the guard force got the word to clear the streets, President Karzai’s motorcade was coming through. Being the PM on that contract I figured I didn’t have to clear the street so I went out the sidewalk to watch. Rolling in front of Karzai’s vehicle were two Hummers from the DynCorp protective detail and to my utter astonishment there were American guys leaning out of the rear windows with their rifles on their shoulders aiming in at anyone who was on the side walk. Once the left the embassy that would have been about 3,000 or so Afghans. They didn’t aim in at me so I guess they weren’t total jerks but what kind of tactic is that? Talk about bad optics, talk about a failure to understand the basics of an OODA Loop.…to this day the image fills me with wonder at how goofy men can be given a rifle, a boring mission in a foreign country and no adult supervision.

Back in the heyday of overseas contracting (2003 – 2006) when the money was good and the jobs plentyful there was more of this kind of foolishness going on than you would believe. Many of the PSD jobs went to the lowest bidders who were often Brit’s or Aussie’s or Kiwi’s and these are not countries where men can train with or even own firearms. The only two companies I saw out there who did pre deployment training and developed solid SOP’s were Backwater and Triple Canopy. Everybody else was making it up as they went along.

Tom Williams worked for Blackwater back then so when he starts ranting about live fire training and IA drills and putting the principal inside the diamond he’s on the money. My buddy Frank Gallagher also worked for BW and wrote a good book (with John Del Vecchio) about his PSD time called The Bremer Detail: Protecting the Most threatened Man in the World). Now that I plugged this on the blog I’m going to have to get a copy and read it. I normally avoid books on boring topics and nothing is more boring than PSD work, which why I never did it. However it is true that both Frank and John are cool cats so I know the book will be worth the time and encourage you too to score a copy soon.

Having said that let me say this; your  average PSD team has little to no collective training, and little to no ability to stop an insane clown posse assassin if the crazy dude has worked his way in close proximity to the principal.

The SecNav was visiting Marines in Afghanistan where the threat to him would not be Bernie Sanders supporters (like it is in the US) but Afghan troops loyal to the Taliban who would willingly sacrifice their own lives to take out an American VIP. What’s the best solution for that scenario? Don’t look like a VIP which is why it was good, non – linear, almost master boondoggler level thinking to wear a sidearm so he looked like he was part of the PSD team and not the principal the PSD team was guarding.

I would have given him a rifle too but no rounds. In that respect I agree with My buddy Tom – I don’t like having people with loaded guns around me when I don’t know their capabilities.

And there you have it; another CNN generate mystery solved with a history lesson bonus.

A Reason for Optimism with Our Afghanistan Effort (Not What You Think Addition)

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

The Snake Eaters: Counterinsurgency Advisors in Combat is one the best accounts on the Iraq conflict I have come across. I’m not alone in that assessment; check out the review from his new boss:

“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.

Do We Still Drug Test General Officers?

Yesterday an article showed up in the press consisting of an interview with one of the general officers stationed in Afghanistan. He made a series of statements that were so delusional that were he a junior enlisted man he’d be subject to mandatory drug abuse screening.

The article can be found here and is titled US General on Trump’s Afghan strategy: ‘This will be a very long winter for the Taliban’.  It is hard to know where to start; literally every claim made by the general is factually wrong, supremely stupid, and just embarrassing for the home team.

So let’s start with the who; Air Force brigadier general Lance Bunch:

BGen Bunch – Air Force Academy grad and career fighter pilot.
My friend Colonel Eric Mellinger, USMC, is also an Air Force Academy grad: does he look like the kind of guy who would try to sell you a bill of goods? I include this to preempt acquisitions of Air Force bashing by my Hollywood buddy Kerry Patton. It’s not the uniform; it’s the man; right Kerry?

Lance is was promoted to BG last summer so he is a junior one star. Brigadier general is an awkward rank just like 2nd Lieutenant is for the company grade and Major is for the field grades. Combine the awkward rank with the fact that Air Force pilots are not known to be authorities on ground combat matters and you could forgive Lance for being a bit naive. But we’re not talking naivete or garden variety obsequiousness; we’re talking crazy:

“The Taliban strategy is moving backwards. As they are unable to conduct offensive combat operations, they have transitioned back to high-profile attacks, assassinations and kidnapping for ransom, all of which indiscriminately target the Afghan people,”

“We are able to go after their [Taliban] weapons cache sites, their revenue generation, their C2 [command and control] nodes, all the areas where they thought they were safe and they are no longer so,” Bunch said. “It has definitely been a game-changer, and the Taliban is definitely feeling it.”

In just three weeks, U.S. and Afghan airstrikes, coupled with Afghan special operations raids on the ground, have eliminated 25 Taliban narcotics processing labs, destroying an estimated $80 million in drugs, and denied the Taliban more than $16 million in direct revenue that is passed on from local drug kingpins, the U.S. military said.

Come on man. The Taliban control’s more districts today than they have since ejected from power in 2001. We have spent 16 years going after command and control nodes; that is what the night raid program was all about.  That is why year after year officers in Afghanistan have crowed about intercepting panicked phone calls to Taliban central in Peshawar or Quetta from ‘commanders’ on the ground freaking out about getting whacked. Yet every year the Taliban gets stronger, every year they gain more ground, every year the moles dig deeper while every year we say this is the year we whack them for good.

Where do you think the Taliban converts dry opium to heroin? Around the highly contested, kinetic towns like Musa Quala or across the border in Pakistan or Iran? All the ‘drug labs’ reportedly destroyed were in northern Helmand near Musa Quala, Sangin and the Kajaki Dam. Recognize those names? Do you want to give odds that the Taliban are not so stupid as to try and use this area of the country to convert opium to heroin knowing the Americans consider these towns free fire areas?

Air campaigns are only as effective as the intelligence they base their targeting on. Identifying drug labs and drug shipments requires solid human intelligence; trying to unmask them using signal intelligence or drone based pattern analysis is nearly impossible. This is why, after 16 years of fighting in Afghanistan, we still air strike wedding parties we mistake for Taliban.  We don’t have good human intelligence but for some reason believe we can cripple the drug business by taking out laboratories in Afghanistan despite knowing that most of them are across the border in Pakistan?

Another article from Afghanistan caught my eye yesterday puts this “game changer” crap in proper perspective. The Walking Dead; published in Foreign Policy, was an excellent, original, investigative piece on the Afghanistan Army’s treatment of its wounded soldiers.  Written by Maija Liuhto, a journalist from Finland, (home of the White Death winter campaign and the White Death sniper….Finns are cool) it is not a pleasant read.

A bullet pierced his stomach, and he lost a lot of blood, he says. “My friends wanted to come and help me, but I told them not to because it was an open area and they could easily get hit, too.”

Jawad had to use his shirt to tie the heavily bleeding wound. In the end, it was civilians who helped him get to a clinic. Jawad belongs to the Hazara minority not native to this area. He does not speak Pashto, the dominant language in the south and east.

Jawad, 20, stands on the runway waiting to be loaded onto a medevac flight at the Tirinkot Airbase in Uruzgan Afghanistan on May 4th 2017. Jawad was ordered to rescue injured soldiers when he was shot. He insisted on getting on the flight himself despite that his wound was still bleeding. Photo by Ivan Flores

Afghans are tough people; look at the picture above. An Afghan cop gets shot in the stomach, is treated with a crummy ace bandage and some 4×4 gauze and hours latter is standing on a runway bare chested and pissed off waiting to get evacuated to Kandahar for definitive treatment. It’s not the Afghan grunts who are failing; its their leadership, which is evident by the excellent reporting in the article linked above.

I feel compelled to say this again; the Pentagon’s plan is not going to work. We are supporting a central government that is not legitimate in the eyes of the Afghan people. As soon as we go the government will be forced to settle things the Afghan way and the best they can hope for is Ismail Khan or a few more like them are around to help.

The handful of grunts and operators still on the ground in Afghanistan need to trust their general officers. Blatant cheerleading consisting of the regurgitation of ridiculous talking points from the alternative reality that is Bagram is not helpful. It is indeed going to be a long winter in Afghanistan for somebody and odds are it’s not the Taliban.

Rare Earth Elements, Private Spies and Renditions…..More Fake News?

Last week was terrible for the legacy media. Glen Greenwald at the Intercept started his article on recent news room debacles  this way:

FRIDAY WAS ONE of the most embarrassing days for the U.S. media in quite a long time. The humiliation orgy was kicked off by CNN, with MSNBC and CBS close behind, with countless pundits, commentators and operatives joining the party throughout the day. By the end of the day, it was clear that several of the nation’s largest and most influential news outlets had spread an explosive but completely false news story to millions of people, while refusing to provide any explanation of how it happened.

It is ironic that The Intercept is leading this charge after they recently published an obvious bogus story concerning the Eric Prince proposal to privatize the Afghanistan War. Trump White House Weighing Plans For Private Spies To Counter “Deep State” Enemies was the title of the intercept article that tried to tie Eric Prince to the ghost of Dewey Clarridge by asserting:

“In addition to Prince’s former assassination network, the hidden cadre of spies with no official cover — NOCs in CIA jargon — includes the assets of another key player in the Iran-Contra affair, CIA Officer Duane Clarridge, who died in 2016”.

Having spoken to members of Mr. Prince’s staff last summer when they were preparing their pitch I can assure you private spy’s were not part of the plan. What the Intercept (and also Buzzfeed) did was take the Prince Plan (which was dismissed last summer)  throw in some speculation on Mr. Clarridge’s group, link Eric to some people allegedly part of that group and than tar him with the guilt by association brush.

Implied in this dubious reporting was a Prince funded “assassination network” was standing by overseas; ready to go. That is silly, this so called network involved former American SF operators training for a classified program which required the participants to maintain a TS SCI level clearance. It never went beyond the initial training stage and the participants never left the country. There were never operators overseas and thus no “network” that could be reactivated.

The CIA was once able to justify its lavish budgets. In the 1960’s it designed, built, and fielded the SR-71 Blackbird in less time than allotted and under budget. The CIA, in conjunction with Howard Hughes, designed a ship that salvaged the Russian nuclear submarine K-129 which was 3 miles under the surface of the Arctic Sea. I believe that project also came in under budget. Have you ever heard the term “under budget” when referencing a federal program before?  Me either.

The glory days of the CIA are long past and despite the superior work of the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology their record of human intelligence exploitation is dismal. One of the best books written on the topic is The Human Factor which makes for some disappointing reading if you believe the CIA is capable of fielding spies in the field (Non Official Cover or NOC’s) instead of mediocre paper pushing bureaucrats embedded inside embassy staffs.

This acknowledged gap in capabilities motivated a former CIA legend (now deceased) Dewey Clarridge to start a private spy network in Afghanistan. His efforts were exposed by the NYT’s and promptly terminated by the Pentagon. The value of the intelligence he generated remains unknown but if you read the initial reporting through to the best selling book written by the lead reporter (The Way of the Knife) you’ll note Mark Mazzetti’s opinion of the intel reporting by Clarridge improved over time. It appears he was providing a good product which is why the idea of using “private spies” is not as far fetched as one would reasonably suspect.

The Intercept article was book-ended by two Buzzfeed articles on the same topic. The first states that the Trump Administration was “mulling” over a pitch for a private intelligence outfit that could also perform renditions.  The second contends that Eric Prince has his eyes on Afghans rare earth metals. That Buzzfeed article had a PowerPoint presentation that they claim was used by Prince to pitch the White House.

The PowerPoint in that article was interesting and the plan to start the privatization effort in Nangarhar and Helmand provinces sound. I skimmed through the slides rapidly but stopped when I got to Nangarhar. I stopped because I smelled a rat. Check out slide number 10 from the PPT  linked above:

The FOB locations on this map are wrong. FOB Gamberi is in Laghman province were the FOB named Qarghayi is depicted. There is no FOB named Qarghayi (that is a district in Laghman province) and the FOB at the Jalalabad airport is named Fenty but is not identified as such. FOB Khogyani is closer to the Spin Ghar mountains and FOB Shinwar is also at the foot of the mountains, near, but not in Shinwar district. It’s named for the tribe not the district. This slide was made by somebody who does not know a damn thing about Nangarhar province.

Eric Prince and his staff may not know Afghanistan as well as I do but they know where the FOB’s are because they regularly flew aircraft into them. There is no way they would float an idea for privatizing the war in Afghanistan to the President of the United States  with slides as inaccurate as the one above. No way. So where did these slides come from?

I don’t know Eric Prince but I do admire him. He has been depicted as an immoral war profiteer because his companies made money (like thousands of others in the military industrial complex) and one of his teams was involved in a screw up in Iraq. I say screw up because they happen in combat zones. I don’t say murder spree because our military did the exact same thing on countless occasions yet none of them faced federal prosecution. Read the links in this paragraph to see what I mean.

Prince’s company fielded good security teams that were trained to standard before being sent in country. That was rare in the PMC business; the only other company doing that back in the early 2000’s was Triple Canopy. I think more companies are doing pre-deployment training now but they weren’t back then.

Prince also rescued three American college coeds who were trapped in an Kenyan orphanage that was about to be overrun by marauding tribesmen protesting a recent election. Within an hour of getting the call Prince had his Afghanistan country manager ( who I know and liked) heading to Kenya where he had served at the American embassy as an FBI liaison agent.  The next day the girls were rescued, when asked how much the operation was going to cost the parents Eric Prince said not one penny. Had it been any other PMC of that era the price would have been 35k each plus expenses. I was in the business back then and know the price structure for in-extremis country evacuations.

I may not know Prince but I do know Secretary Mattis and General Kelly. I can promise you that they are not, in this year or any year, going to entertain plans for private spies or privatization of an ongoing military operation.

I don’t agree with them. The routine unmasking of partisan political agendas in our federal agencies (who are supposed to serve the constitution, not the damn Democratic party) is alarming. An independent, non-politicized, professional intelligence service focused on collecting overseas and not meddling in domestic affairs would benefit the executive branch and the American People.

I understand the appeal of a private spy network but that has nothing to do with Eric Prince or his pitch to replace military trainers in Afghanistan with contractors. There is nothing in the articles that connects Prince to an intelligence collection pitch.  Eric Prince does have a connection to the Trump White House because Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, is his sister. There is not an article written in the past year that fails to make that point. I like her too; know why? Because she uses her own airplane for government travel and doesn’t charge the government for it. When is the last time the American taxpayer caught a break like that? Never probably but what she has to do with her brothers access to the President has yet to be explained.

The attempts to tie Eric Prince to the ghost of Dewey Clarridge use the same innuendo and speculation that has already ruined the legacy media. So too the alleged link in Prince’s Afghan plan to a rare earth element exploitation scheme. These articles are, in my final analysis, evidence of a subset of Trump Derangement Syndrome called Prince Derangement Syndrome. I wish all these so-called investigative reporters would look into the who, what, where and why behind the congressional sex harassment fund.  I’m growing weary of the fabricated hysteria concerning Eric Prince, private armies and deceased CIA agents.

 

The Afghans Want To Solve Their Problems The Old Fashioned Way

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:

  1. It would work
  2. It would reduce the amount of future fighting and dying to near zero
  3. It costs the United States nothing
  4. It would allow us to bring all our deployed units home
  5. 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 article was an interview with former Afghan warlord Ismail Khan and he states an obvious truth; even centuries of foreign presence cannot fix Afghanistan.

“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.

Ismail Khan; tanned, rested, fit and waiting. (Photo from Khama.com)

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.

Boost airfield where the Marines working with the Afghan Police are based. There were very few houses around the airfield in 2011 when I was last there. Now there are hundreds of houses built outside the wire of the airfield. These are a problem as they can be used to shield an attacking force massing to overrun the airfield. They also impeded our ability to use supporting arms against attacking infantry given the number of civilians who would be caught in the cross fire. Another good reason to get out now why the getting is good.

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.

Saving Afghanistan

Something interesting popped up on the cover of Politico this week concerning Afghanistan. The Man who Thought He Could Fix Afghanistan is about  Scott Guggenheim, the most influential development expert that you’ve never heard of.  Apparently Mr. Guggenheim is famous for “pioneering the kind of bottom-up approach that rejects the older, headquarters-oriented style of proffering aid” in Indonesia.

Mr. Guggenheim has a solid track record in the humanitarian aid community. He has the proper credentials  (PhD from John Hopkins), has spent his professional life working for the World Bank and most importantly he has a unique relationship with Afghanistan’s president Ashraf Ghani who he has known since 1981 when both were if grad school. Mr. Guggenheim seems to be a decent, smart, motivated guy and if there is a chance that America can help get Afghanistan develop into a functional state  he would be the linchpin of our effort. From the article:

He has been called “the brain of Dr. Ghani,” but in interviews in the months after the election, he was at constant pains to deflect attention. His business card contains just his name and a Gmail address. This is deliberate. “Ashraf likes having someone who has no political or economic ambition,” Guggenheim told me. He sees his role not as a consigliere but as a kind of a fixer for Ghani, the executor to the president’s blue-skied vision. “Ashraf has a pretty clear agenda. I always thought my job was to help him realize it,” Guggenheim said.

My buddy Boris and I have a lot of experience at implementing bottom up aid and were chatting about the article over the weekend. Here’s his take on Guggenheim:

“…he represents the actual US government-its informal wing. Like there’s a military and paramilitary institutions, there are parts of the government which are technically not governmental. Pure power, no responsibility, but also no clear decision-making authority or processes-rule by committee. In other words, cancer.”

The cancer is in our foreign policy establishment which has proved to be unable to generate positive change in our rapidly changing world. They have no answers for what is plaguing Afghanistan so empowering experts like Mr. Guggenheim is their best option. But it is not going to work because trying to nudge the Afghan President to be more democratic and less authoritarian is not the answer.

Further along in the article our current answer to Afghanistan was presented when ” In the absence of civilian leadership, the generals stepped in.” Again from article:

“McMaster was also good at calling out whoppers. “Our side would try some standard bullshit on how we have great plans to fix everything,” Guggenheim said, “and McMaster would say, ‘I heard all this in 2012. Tell me what’s new.’”

The bluntness of General McMaster is appealing. The current strategy of maintaining a military life line to the Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF) until they can stand on their own is a reasonable play. But it too is not going to work because of this: sixteen years of fighting in Afghanistan and we are still bombing wedding parties and killing innocents. Last month we dropped more ordnance than we have since 2012 yet the casualties sustained by ANSF  are up by 52%. And that’s not counting the Afghan police we killed in our latest drone attack.

Why would our military shoot a Hellfire missile at a few guys shooting their AK’s off into the air? That’s a rhetorical question, there is no logical answer to that kind of stupid. The guys shooting off their AK’s could have been Taliban instead of off duty Afghan police and it would still be a stupid move coupled to an egregious waste of money.

This is why the only rational course of action was the contractor modeled championed by Eric Prince and poo poohed by all the elites in DC and the media. Contractors don’t shoot Hellfire missiles at random gunmen who are shooting their rifles in the air. Contractors, under the Prince model, would have been working for and at the direction of the ANSF; improving combat performance while realizing billions in savings. Contractors would  not have spent 500 million dollars on planes that could not fly in Afghanistan and were sold for scrap at 6 cents a pound.

And contractors who know how to operate in Afghanistan (meaning they’re armed) and stayed long enough to develop strong relationships (because they were armed) can do bottom up reconstruction work without losing money to bribes or dodgy subcontractors (because they’re armed and thus taken seriously by all the players). Boris and I know this because, being plank owners in Ghost Team, we did it, for years, without drama (because we were armed).

USAID hated us being armed but tolerated it because we delivered. The Karzai government hated us being armed because it allowed us to be successful thus depriving them of another chance to siphon off aid money into their Dubai bank accounts. The provincial governors loved us being armed because it enabled up to travel to every job site and keep people honest while ensuring projects were on track and on spec. The local people loved it too because nothing brought more calm to turbulent lands than a couple (or just one) armed westerner showing up with the monthly pay roll. If you are working in a warrior society it is most helpful that you too are a warrior. Afghans respect men who take responsibility for their own protection and don’t pay other Afghans, from outside the local area, to do it for them.

As we scan the news of the day we can see the Internet has collapsed the Narrative and laid bare the corruption of Hollywood, politics and the media. This is causing the long-term loss of the progressive elites authority when it comes to lecturing the rest of us from a pretended position of moral superiority. Change is in the air but will not happen fast enough to help the people of Afghanistan. Men like Scott Guggenheim, who has his picture on posters scattered around Kabul with the caption  Ghani ba ehsara-e en shakhs meraqsad: (Ghani dances on the order of this man); are not the answer.

The answer for playing the Great Game in a region full of cut throats involves being a cut throat. Advocating for an independent Pashtun home land and one for the Baluch while staying on to keep an eye on China would be a great example and one Michael Yon just wrote about. That kind of thinking would place American interests first and I know that’s a great idea because John McCain was in Annapolis yesterday lecturing the midshipmen of the folly of putting America first.

Mr. Guggenheim needs to come home and stay home or he will be killed by the players in Kabul who are jockeying for attention from the President. America needs to listen intently to the words of Senator McCain and do the exact opposite of whatever ridiculous prescription he’s selling at the moment.  The man is an idiot as seen by the “plan” he came up with for Afghanistan a few months back. Afghanistan needs to hang tough until they get a leader strong enough to force his will on the various factions that comprise Afghan leadership while understanding a strong central government operating out of Kabul is never going to happen.

For now all we can do is wait, hope that enhanced training and access to American combat enablers keeps the ANSF in the fight and pray that somehow we have learned enough to never repeat the mistakes we made in Afghanistan. Given the recent drone attack that may be expecting too much…but a man can pray.

G-Men

One of the distinct pleasures of football free Sundays is reading  good books. I just finished another classic from Stephen Hunter about Bobby Lee Swaggart’s grandfather and the FBI which is apropos as the FBI is currently the subject of many different story lines in the 24 hour news cycle. There is the inconvenient story about our Russian obsessed media, unable to push the fake Russia collusion narrative, trying to provide cover to the democrats Fusion GPS opposition research firm. That would be the firm the FBI paid to get a fabricated dossier written by an alleged Brit spook. That would also be the firm who had several high ranking members exercising their 5th amendment rights in front of congress.

Then we have what is now termed the Uranium 1 scandal where the FBI spent years investigating –

“Russian nuclear industry officials were engaged in bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering designed to grow Vladimir Putin’s atomic energy business.

But that’s just the beginning. Based on both an eyewitness account and documents, The Hill report goes on to say that federal agents found evidence “indicating Russian nuclear officials had routed millions of dollars to the U.S. designed to benefit former President Bill Clinton’s charitable foundation during the time Secretary of State Hillary Clinton served on a government body that provided a favorable decision to Moscow.”

Isn’t that called bribery?

Who supervised this Russia investigation? Rod Rosenstein. Who was the FBI director when the Russia probe began in 2009? Robert Mueller. Who was running the FBI when the case ended with a whimper and an apparent cover-up? James Comey. And now these same guys are at the center of an effort to dig up dirt on President Trump? In what parallel universe does that pass the smell test? 

I have little faith that justice will be served in the cases above because I have little faith that the rule of law applies to all citizens evenly. For example; Comey, while reading an indictment that would have seen me locked away for the rest of my life, then pulled the “but there was no intent” lie right out of his behind to clear Hillary Clinton. When he did that the fact that there are two sets of laws, one for the little people and one for connected elites was confirmed beyond a reasonable doubt.

What has me a little mystified is the FBI joining the investigation into the deaths of four SF soldiers in Niger.  I understand that the FBI does, on occasion, handle investigations into the deaths of Americans overseas. I’m not sure why given the constraints of FBI overseas operations.

My suspicions are based in experiences like one I had in Kabul back in 2009. I saw one of my former students from the Marine Corps infantry officer course during a trip to the American embassy and we had lunch the next day to do a little catching up. He was now an FBI agent working our of Southern California and was TDY (temporary duty) to the American Embassy for a 90 day stint. I asked him what he hoped to accomplish in 90 days and he replied that’s the way it was for the FBI adding that his wife would kill him if he stayed longer. He then asked if I could help recover the body of an American citizen who had been kidnapped and then killed by the Taliban in 2008. I told him the best way to accomplish this was to check into the City Hotel in Kandahar, have his contacts and my contacts offer a reward for the body, no questions asked, and we would have the remains of Cyd Mizell in under a month. The catch being we would need a way to confirm it was her quickly as we would probably be receiving dozens of bodies.

“We can’t check into a civilian hotel in downtown Kandahar” was his response. I told him that was too bad as they had the best chicken shawarma in Afghanistan. And then told him he could pay me an I’d sort it out for them. “We can’t pay you to do it….we’re supposed to do it”.  I wasn’t surprised. I remarked it was too bad Cyd Mizell didn’t come from a family with connections or I’d be down in Kandahar making sure her remains came home.

This story highlights the fact that the FBI cannot contribute to an investigation into the ambush of military members. Due to their conservative (to be polite) force protection posture they will not be allowed into the bush to see where this ambush went down. With their limited time on station (coupled with restricted movement outside the embassy security bubble) they will not develop the relationships or sources required to contribute to an inter-agency investigation.

I no longer trust the FBI to be an impartial arbitrator of legal vs illegal activity. The FBI is now a political operation with an agenda focused on protecting its senior members from the consequences of attempting to protect a criminal political class. It’s a shame; I have known and interacted with many FBI agents during my time in the Marine Corps and they were, to a man, dedicated, hard working professionals. But a fish rots from the head and there is clearly too much rot at work in the FBI.

The current level of interest in what happened to the SF team in Niger is as interesting as it is repugnant. The press and members of our ruling class are using it to score political points. The circumstances they are harping on are revealing. The SF team was traveling in unarmored trucks, they were outside the envelope of American supporting arms and tac air, they were recovered by contractors, nobody thought the mission important enough to brief John McCain who has become the most unpopular vet serving in the senate these days. That’s saying something given the stolen valor bragging of another vet senator, Richard Blumenthal, who fraudulently claimed service in Vietnam.

The one thing of which I am certain is that the Sahel region, which is the  biogeographic zone of transition in Africa between the Sahara to the north and the Sudanian Savanna to the south, has a serious Jihadi problem. This is another perfect set up for the use of contact military outfits (PMC’s) because they can spend years, not months in the area, they are orders of magnitude less expensive then American military and would prove much more effective for those reasons. There is a currently a huge increase in contractors being used in Afghanistan but there are not PMC contractors, they are contractors holding American security clearances and are assigned to every geographical command for use as targeting specialists, counter intelligence, training and maintenance and aviation support. The military cannot function without them but they are embedded inside the military support bubble and thus do not bring the cost saving found in PMC contracts.

There is no reason why the same companies supplying this manpower could not also supply mobile training teams that deploy into harms way. It’s cost effective and makes sense plus when these teams inevitably take some casualties they do not become political footballs to be kicked around by morons (like Frederica Wilson) who grandstand on the bodies of servicemen to garner political points and media attention.

At some point in the near future the PMC solution will be implemented because the Pentagon is currently broken. The navy can’t drive its ships, the Marine Corps can’t fly its aging air fleet, the Air Force is forcing  retired pilots back onto active duty because it cannot keep enough pilots on active duty and the army is lowering it’s recruiting standards. Combat readiness is at historic lows but mandated training on sexual harassment, women in the infantry, acceptance of trans-gendered service members, suicide awareness, homosexual integration, alcohol and tobacco use….all the important stuff is 100% across the board.

It is almost funny that Secretary Mattis has asked congress to not send anymore Pentagon reorganization requirements to the Pentagon until the Pentagon has had the chance to reorganize the old reorganization requirements. Isn’t that something? Here we have the congress reorganizing the unreorganized Pentagon but they can’t do anything about health care or tax reform. It would be refreshing to see congress start leveling reorganization requirements on the FBI given it’s disturbingly partisan efforts concerning Russia and connected democrats.