Special Forces Are Not The Answer

The Trump administration is casting about Europe in an, as of yet, un-successful attempt to find more troops to deploy in Afghanistan. As they ponder future force levels in that country the one idea that never dies is adding more special forces to the mix. That will not work; in fact what they should do is remove the remaining Special Operations Forces (SOF) units from the fight entirely.

FRI favorite Herschel Smith at The Captains Journal recently posted on the over-use of special operators where he contends the repeated use of SOF is a symptom of the loss of fighting capacity in the general purpose force. Long time readers of FRI know I’m a big fan of the Captains Journal; Hershel has a no-nonsense, direct style of writing that appeals to me and the thousands of loyal followers he has accumulated over the years.

One of the big selling points of Special Forces is their alleged competence in unconventional warfare and foreign internal defense. These are two of the five missions (the remaining being special reconnaissance, direct action and counter-terrorism) that require specialized language skills and deep understanding of the host nations culture. The performance of our special forces in Afghanistan over the past 16 years have proven these alleged core competencies are marketing hype designed to attract money from Congress and talent from the segment of our population who can qualify to serve in the armed forces.

Example #1 for my case is this screen grab from the TV series Profiles From The Front Line (episode 5). Here it is:

What you are looking at is an SF A team commander who is wearing his body armor over a cut off tee shirt. He is going into a village he doesn’t know searching for an alleged high value target (HVT) who is known to these soldiers as ‘Red Beard’. He is operating in Khost province where every village elder dies his beard with henna; which is red….are you getting the picture?

The only way you could offend Afghans more than showing up bare chested and forcing your way into their compounds is to walk around naked. The level of cultural tone deafness on display (from an SF guy who is supposed to understand the culture) in the linked video is beyond my ability to explain. If I had showed up in any Afghan village (especially a remote mountain village) without wearing a long sleeved shirt and long trousers I would have never returned. Failure to respect the local culture is the first step in mission failure and SOF guys like this one have a 16 year (and counting) run of mission failure.

Now look at the picture I lifted from the Captains Journal post Abolish Socom:

Same guy; proof that great minds think alike. Here is what Herschel had to say about the photograph:

If he is SOF performing direction action operations along with other SOF operators, then with the backwards ball cap, sleeveless shirt and lack of a uniform, he simply looks like an undisciplined thug.  Nothing more.  He doesn’t need to look like he does.  He has no compelling reason to appear thuggish and silly.

He does indeed appear thuggish and silly and while doing that he is sending a message to every Afghan he comes in contact with. That message consists of two words starting with the letter F and ending with the word you.

Around the same time that Herschel wrote the post linked above I wrote one on a 60 minutes segment called the Quiet Professionals. The post was titled Laura Does Special Forces and it was one of the more popular posts I ever wrote. This is from that post:

Want to know something our ‘elite’ SF guys don’t seem to know? Afghans don’t cuss. To call an Afghan a motherfucker (a word used frequently in every conversation by the American military) is a grave insult that would, in the local context, need to be atoned by blood. I cannot stress this point enough and if, during my frequent forays into the tribal bad lands, I used that word even in jest I would have been killed long ago. One of the secrets that I and my fellow outside the wire expats use in the contested areas is respect for local culture coupled with big confident smiles;  that’s why we are able to do what every USG expert contends cannot be done.

The way the SOF team in that 60 minutes video treated the Afghan Commando’s they were supposed to be training was deplorable. The soldiers displayed a complete lack of cultural understanding and were dismal failures at training their Afghan charges on the most rudimentary soldiering skills. Worse yet during one of the missions they conducted with their poorly trained Afghans one of the SF team members shot two children for reasons I found to be questionable. Read the post and you’ll see what I mean.

Last March I wrote about the introduction of SF teams into the Helmand province back in 2003. In a stunning display of cultural unawareness the first thing they did was offer bounties for ‘Taliban’ which resulted in the arrest and deportation to Gitmo of street orphans who had no family or tribe to protect them. This misguided policy was followed by the introduction of nighttime raids; a tactic that never resulted in any metric of success which is obvious as the Taliban grew stronger each year despite the constant loss of ‘High Value Targets’ to these raids. If your enemy continues to get stronger and take more ground while you take more and more of their leaders in dubious night raids how would you consider the tactic successful? I don’t know but we never stopped doing them which is a symptom of linear thinking in a nonlinear world.

Night raids enraged the Afghan population for what they considered a gross, cowardly, violation of their people which resulted in an unknown number of dead innocent Afghans. A grade school level of cultural understanding would have allowed SOF to predict the negative consequences of their night raid policy but they either didn’t know or didn’t care.

The Village Stability Operations (VSO) introduced late in the war were a joke. Only one SF officer (Jim Gant) had the balls and ability to do it correctly and he was done in by a chain of command who resented his success. Mimicking his methods was something his fellow SF officers refused to do because that meant no DFAC with it’s hot chow, unlimited ice cream and pecan pie; no cushy FOB with central air and nice bunks, no gyms to work out in, no internet and no crappy AFN TV to watch. I’m not making that up. The lack of amenities was sited the book American Spartan and several news articles as the reason Jim’s qalat in Chowkay was abandoned by the team that replaced him.

It turns out everything the SOF community said they could do they couldn’t do with the exception of night raids. And, of course, they can fight like demons; decimating any formation foolish enough to stand and fight them. That’s a good skill that should be directed at the other threats that have developed after 8 years of leading from behind. Marine and army infantry can do the same thing which was the point of the posts in The Captains Journal.

With an unending list of commitments that grows by the day in places like Somalia, Yemen, Syria and Iraq it is time to for the SOF teams to leave Afghanistan. Without SOF in-country the Afghans will not be able to launch operations into the countryside and thus will be forced to pull back into important towns and cities to guard them as well as the roads that are vital to the Afghan economy.

That would mean the Afghan government would control only the provincial administrative centers, the main roads and Kabul which, historically, is all the central government has ever controlled. Afghanistan is a complex problem that will never be solved by the American military who has always solved both tactical and strategic problems using linear thinking. If we remove our SOF units the Afghan government will be forced to do more talking and  less fighting with the various insurgent factions it faces today. That is the only rational way forward and although it will be painful in the short run it will result in an Afghan solution to an Afghan problem.

Friendly Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Did I Tell You Part II

Yesterday I posted the following breaking news on FRI:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mattis Goes to Afghanistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Momentum Is Not With Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INSKEEP: With the guns.

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

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

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

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

Dealing With Moral Trauma By Doing The Impossible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Did I Tell You? Even More MOAB Madness

Afghan Security Forces (ANSF) have apparently reached the cave complex targeted by last week’s MOAB strike. There are no western (or local) reports from the bomb site but Tolo news (Kabul based Afghan news service) reported with some specificity on the casualties from the attack.

Five days after U.S Forces dropped its most powerful conventional bomb on a system of tunnels and caves used by Daesh in the eastern province of Nangarhar, a security source told TOLOnews that the majority of insurgents killed in blast were members of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and members of Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group.

As with most new ‘news’ out of Afghanistan FRI readers already knew this. But here’s something we didn’t know and it’s interesting. ANSF has had the time to identify bodies and nationalities; they found 12 Tajikistanis and 13 Indian nationals and a few Filipinos.

When I was part of Ghost Team we had Filipino’s in every province we were working as financial officers. They were excellent company, honest to a fault and kind, gentle fella’s who were not interested in weapons, war and mayhem. It’s hard to imagine ISIS Filipino’s all the way in Nangarhar province…they just don’t seem to be that kind of culture.  I was once with my favorite finance officer on a road trip to Kabul when we rolled up on a hot ambush of then President Karzai’s brother and I thought “excellent get the camera in action…time for a Pulitzer” but this is how it turned out:

I was on the road that day too with my faithful finance officer Misael, who hails from the island of Mindanao but claims to be a Catholic and not a Abu Sayef member. When we turned a corner in the Tangi Valley and saw all the expended brass in the road, he ignored his collateral duty as photographers mate and wedged himself firmly under the dash board.   Misael has spent the last year in Kandahar and has developed an exaggerated sense of danger but I’ll get him snapped in soon enough. So there are only a few marginal pictures from a point and shoot camera due to the insistence of the ANP that we keep moving …  probably a good idea.

And that was the best I could do while still driving….these guys were just shooting (see the expended brass at their feet) but turned around when I stopped  the SUV to take the picture.  They weren’t impressed

Filipino Jihadi’s getting MOAB’d in Afghanistan…the world is truly a small place. And getting smaller too; looking at the list of the ISIS-K commanders the ANSF said were killed in the strike you’ll find:

Commander Mukhtar, retired Pakistani army officer

Commander Abu Bakr, Daesh’s chief of operations

Sheikh Weqas, member of Lashkar-e-Taiba

Commander Mohammad, an Indian national

Geeta, an Indian national

Commander Aftab, from Pakistani province of Punjab

Indians, Filipino’s, Punjabi’s and retired Pakistani army officers…that is a hell of a mix this late in the game.

But no reason to buy a lottery ticket right? Right! but this is; Police HQ Attacked in Kabul; 22 killed, over 100 wounded. Yesterday I wrote:

How will this attack affect ISIL-K? As I mentioned in the previous post they could very well shake off this attack and use it to prove how resilient they are in their propaganda. I’ll tell you the worst thing that can happen now is ISIS-K pulling off another spectacular suicide attack inside Kabul like they did last month.

The attack in Kabul last night was claimed (by the Taliban) to be the work of the Taliban but I’m not so sure about that. First reports on attacks like this are not always accurate. ISIS-K could very well claim responsibility for this attack and if/when they do we’ll see how effective the psychological component of the MOAB was on its intended audience. I don’t enjoy being correct (and I may not be about this attack) on my prognostications on Afghanistan but I usually am. I know the country which is why I want to go back and cover our continued efforts there.

Knowing I’m on some sort of streak I was just fixing to go out and get a lottery ticket when this popped up on the net:

Antifa girl is kicking my ass on the Go Fund Me front and that, my friends, is just not right. There may be many good reasons to dump 45k on this young unfortunate but none come immediately to mind. But having America’s reporter on the ground in Afghanistan telling you the truth about what the hell is going on there….one word friends; worthy. Yes, a worthy expenditure in support of truth, our troops and the new American way. The old American way involved getting all your news for the established media but those days are long gone.

Support free, independent, expert, Journalism by donating today to the worthy, yet getting left in the dust by #Moldylocks,  Baba Tim Go Fund Me page.

Mo MOAB Madness

This weekend I read a Macedonian paper to get a read on what India had to say about Pakistan’s involvement in the MOAB strike. An Indian paper to get a read on what Afghans not associated with the government thought about the attack and a Qatar-based Arab news network for the most even handed and comprehensive coverage of the incident and its aftermath.

India is claiming over 500 Pakistani nationals were killed in the attack. The Taliban said “using this massive bomb cannot be justified and will leave a material and psychological impact on our people” and Afghan journalist Bilal Salwary tweeted:

And that is a short summary of all the new news on the MOAB strike.

The New York Times published a piece on the visit of Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, President Trump’s national security adviser, to Kabul over the weekend confirming what we already knew about the request for more troops. Gen McMaster also:

… appeared to take a tougher line on Pakistan, which has been accused of using the Taliban as a proxy force and giving its leaders sanctuary. Many analysts, as well as some coalition partners, have been critical of the United States’ uphill struggle to persuade Pakistan to crack down on the Afghan Taliban leadership, which has used Pakistan as a base for its battles in Afghanistan.

We already know Pakistan’s Internal Security Service (ISI) drives the instability in Afghanistan and we already know the administration is tired of it. The last administration was tired of it too but who cares? There is not much we can do about it for the same reason Afghanistan can’t allow ISIS to gain a foothold in Nangarhar province. The supplies required to sustain (or commit more troops) have to come through Pakistan via the Khyber Pass.

Pakistan’s continued involvement in destabilizing Afghanistan is a problem that will have to be managed, not solved. And the problem is complex.

As covered in a previous post the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant Khorashan (ISIS-K)  was started by Pakistani Taliban who had fled from various tribal agencies in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier into Nangarhar province of Afghanistan. They were mainly Tehrik-e Taleban Pakistan (TTP) fighters (and their families) from the Orakzai, North Waziristan and Khyber tribal agencies.  But there were also fighters from Lashkar-e Islam; a group group led by Mangal Bagh who was described by the Long War Journal as a:

Robin Hood-like in character, claiming to mete out egalitarian social justice and rooting out crime, which to some extent is true. But he does this with an iron fist; any resistance is swiftly and permanently quelled. He has visibly reduced the criminal activities in the area, while also having a huge impact on decreasing drug trafficking in the area. At the same time he is engaged in a bitter ideological and sectarian struggle with a rival faction, a feud that has claimed many lives, and has blatantly and forcefully defied the state.

Armed Afridi tribal fighter outside one of their compounds in the Khyber Pass during the fighting between Lashkar-e Islam and the Afridi’s in 2009. Photo by Freerangeinternational

Mangal Baugh and his crew were courted by both tribal elders and the Afghan government as related in the excellent analysis of the organization by the Afghan Analyst Network:

 The Afghan government’s support to Mangal Bagh’s men is an open secret among residents of the Spin Ghar districts near the Durand Line. Residents from Achin recall the generous hosting of groups of long-haired Lashkar-e Islam fighters at the houses of Shinwari tribal elders, such as Malek Usman and Malek Niaz, in Achin. They had introduced their black flag to the area long before ISKP hoisted a flag of the same colour with different symbols and slogans. According to residents, Lashkar-e Islam’s flags were flying over many houses in the Mamand valley in Achin in the summer of 2014.

Mangal Baugh was killed by a drone strike in Nangarhar province on 22 July 2016. Since then his fighters have apparently gone over to ISIS-K which seems to enjoy the support of Pakistan’s ISI which is why Pakistan appears to be so upset about the attack.

Signs of recent attacks by Mangal Baugh’s Lashkar-e Islam on an Afridi compound adjacent to the Khyber Pass road in 2009. Note the half dozen RPG strikes along the front of the building. Photo by Freerangeinternational

Pakistani Taliban come to Afghanistan in flight from the Pakistani army. While in Nangarhar province they are courted by the government; probably because they would be causing cross-border mischief easily deniable by Kabul. Then they turn on the Taliban and declare themselves to be a franchise of ISIS. The government in Kabul reacts (I’m not sure when) by attacking them and then NATO starts to drone them but mainly it’s the Taliban who lead the fight against ISIS and even drive them out of the Mamand valley…..for a day. How the hell does the ISI figure in all this…it appears they have agents fighting with and supporting various Taliban mahez commanders and they had some with the ISIS villains too. ISI agent vs ISI agent – reminds me of Mad magazine,

Complicated right? And how does the Taliban shift so much combat and fire power into Achin district? A better question is how did so many militants and their families find and settle on so much land in Nangarhar province? It’s not like the local tribes are timid about defending their land. My guess is that the locals have lost too much manpower over all the years of fighting. I just don’t understand how Pashtun’s from the Pakistan side of the Durand Line can take so much land and power from tribes on the Afghan side. I guess armed tribal migration still happens in the modern world. When everyone is a renter use is solely according to possession. …which is an old world concept.

NBC news helpfully pointed out that President Trump was not consulted by Gen. Nicholson prior to the MOAB strike. That is technically true but irrelevant. The MOAB was already in Afghanistan and the criteria for using it as weaponeering solution would have been well established. Gen Nicholson is an American combatant commander of a NATO mission who has served in Afghanistan longer than any of his predecessors. He’s a smart guy and I can promise you, without having a news source to site, that he notified CENTCOM of his intention to drop the MOAB. The bomb is (obviously) too controversial for him not to do that. And if CENTCOM knew then Secretary of Defense Mattis knew too because that is how these things are done. That the military can now weaponeer solutions without micromanagement from the White House is a good thing.

It’s interesting that Afghanistan Security Forces (ANSF) personnel were moved back two kilometers from their forward line of troops (FLOT in mil-speak) and issued hearing protection prior to the strike. The MOAB was obviously a big impressive boom that must have been a real shocker for the people in the targeted area who survived the blast. ANSF has yet to close with the targeted area due to fighting on the route leading into the cave complex. That’s a series failure by both ANSF and NATO.

The MOAB would have cleared all IED’s within a kilometer or so of the blast and the Afghans have line charges to clear routes through mine fields too. They should have attacked and held the complex following the MOAB strike especially if they knew important leaders were meeting there. Dropping a big bomb and not using the shock it generates to clean up the survivors and sieze the targeted area is an amateurs mistake and both Resolute Support (NATO) and ANSF should be better than that by now.

How will this attack affect ISIL-K? As I mentioned in the previous post they could very well shake off this attack and use it to prove how resilient they are in their propaganda. I’ll tell you the worst thing that can happen now is ISIS-K pulling off another spectacular suicide attack inside Kabul like they did last month.

ISIS-K has obviously inherited part or is working with the old Haqqani (HiG) network. The Haqqani’s group was the only group that could consistently get inside the Kabul “Ring of Steel” and set up complex attacks. ISIS-K has shown they can do that too. If they pull off another attack they can boast that the only people impressed by our big bombs are us.

And for yet another example of how totaly worthless the American media has become we have this helpful segment from Fox news concerning how ISIS may respond to the MOAB attack. The news persons are operating with the assumption that ISIS is a connected, integrated, hierarchical organization which it most clearly is not. Thus every assumption they make in this piece is absolutely ridiculous. Watch it for entertainment value only as I swear these people do not have one clue about what they are talking about.

That silliness passing as news reporting is yet another reason why it is important to send America’s reporter back to Afghanistan. The fighting there is not over and we’re going to stay so it is important that somebody who knows what he’s doing return to cover this important story. Visit the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page today and donate to support professional reporting of this confusing conflict.

Gandamak

Last week I received and polite email from Professor Richard Macrory of the Centre for Law and the Environment, University College London asking me for permission to use some of my photos of the Gandamak battlefield in his upcoming book on the First Afghan War. I said that it would be an honor and I believe the book will come out next year. In the meantime I’m re-posting my Gandamak story because it is different then every other Gandamak story you’ll hear from Afghan based expats. This Gandamak tale is about the battlefield, not one of the best bar/guesthouses in Kabul

Traveling into contested tribal lands is a bit tricky. I had no doubt that the Malicks from Gandamak would provide for my safety at our destination but I had to get there first. Given the amount of Taliban activity between Jalalabad and Gandamak the only safe way to get there and back was low profile.

The first of three downed bridges between Gandamak and Jalalabad
The first of three downed bridges between Gandamak and Jalalabad

The road into Gandamack required us to ford three separate stream beds. The bridges that once spanned these obstacles were destroyed by the Soviets around 25 years ago. We have been fighting the Stability Operations battle here going on seven years but the bridges are still down, the power plants have not been fixed and most roads are little better then they were when Alexander the Great came through the Khyber Pass in 327 BC. The job of repairing and building the infrastructure of Afghanistan is much bigger than anyone back home can imagine. It is also clearly beyond the capabilities of USAID or the US Military PRT’s to fix given their current operational tempo and style. These bridges are still down (as of 2015) and may never be fixed in our lifetimes.

Also destroyed 25 years ago - how do we expect the farmers to get their produce and livestock to market over this? What the hell have we been doing for the past seven years? I watchd the tallest building in the world go up in Dubai, with about 300 other super sky scrappers over the past four years but we can't even repair a few stone bridges in seven; check that, make it 14 years?
Also destroyed 25 years ago – how do we expect the farmers to get their produce and livestock to market over this? What the hell have we been doing for the past seven years? I watchd the tallest building in the world go up in Dubai, with about 300 other super sky scrappers over the past four years but we can’t even repair a few stone bridges in seven; check that, make it 14 years?

It took over an hour to reach Gandamack which appeared to be a prosperous hamlet tucked into a small valley. The color of prosperity in Afghanistan is green because vegetation means water and villages with access to abundant clean water are always significantly better off than those without.

My host for the day was the older brother of my driver Sharif. When I first met Sharif he told me “I speak English fluently” and then smiled. I immediately hired him and issued a quick string of coordinating instructions about what we were doing in the morning then bid him good day. He failed to show up on time and when I called him to ask why it became apparent that the only words of English Sharif knew were “I speak English fluently.” You get that from Afghans. But Shariff is learning his letters and has proven an able driver plus a first rate scrounger.

The Maliks (tribal leaders) from Gandamak and the surrounding villages arrived shortly after we did. They walked into the meeting room armed; I had left my rifle in the vehicle which, as the invited foreign guest, I felt obligated to do.  Gandamak is Indian Country and everybody out here is armed to the teeth.  I was an invited guest, the odds of me being harmed by the Maliks who invited me were exactly zero. That’s how Pashtunwali works. The order of business was a meeting where the topic was what they need and why the hell can’t they get some help. Then we were to tour the hill outside Gandamak where the 44th Foot fought to the last man during the British retreat from Kabul in 1842 followed by lunch. I was not going to be able to do much about the projects they needed but I could listen politely which is all they asked of me. Years later I would be in the position to lend them a hand when they really needed it but at the time of this meeting I was a security not an aid guy.  I have enjoyed visiting old battlefields since I was a boy and would go on staff rides with my father to Gettysburg, The Wilderness battlefield and Fredricksburg.  I especially enjoy visiting battlefields that not many people can visit and I’ve not heard of any westerner poking around the Gandamak battlefield in decades. It would be foolish to try without armed tribal fighters escorting you.

Sharif's Great Great Grandfather and son waiting on the Brits to make it down from Kabul
Sharif’s Great Great Grandfather and son waiting on the Brits to make it down from Kabul

As the Maliks arrived they started talking among themselves in hushed tones and I kept hearing the name “Barack Obama.” I was apprehensive; I’m surrounded by Obama fanatics every Thursday night at the Taj bar. It is unpleasant talking with them because they know absolutely nothing about the man other than he is not Bush and looks cool. They are convinced he is more then ready to be president because NPR told them so. Pointing out that to the NGO girls that Obama can’t possibly be ready to be the chief executive because he has zero experience at executive leadership is pointless and I did not want to have to explain this to the Maliks. They have time and will insist on hashing things out for as long as it takes for them to reach a clear understanding. I have a wrist watch and a short attention span; this was not starting off well.

As I feared the morning discussion started with the question “tell us about Barack Obama?” What was I to say? That his resume is thin is an understatement but he has risen to the top of the democratic machine and that took some traits Pashtun Maliks could identify with. I described how he came to power in the Chicago machine. Not by trying to explain Chicago but in general terms using the oldest communication device known to man a good story. A story based in fact; colored with a little supposition and augmented by my colorful imagination. Once they understood that lawyers in America are like warlords in Afghanistan and can rub out their competition ahead of an election using the law and judges instead of guns they got the picture. A man cold enough to win every office for which he ran by eliminating his competition before the vote is a man the Pashtun’s can understand. I told them that Obama will probably win and that I have no idea how that will impact our effort in Afghanistan. They asked if Obama was African and I resisted the obvious answer of who knows? Instead I said his father was African and his mother a white American and so he identifies himself as an African American. I had succeeded in totally confusing my hosts and they just looked at me for a long time saying nothing.

What followed was (I think) a long discussion about Africans; were they or were they not good Muslims? I assume this stems from the Africans they may have seen during the Al Qaeda days. I think the conclusion was that the Africans were like the Arabs and therefore considered suspect. They talked among themselves for several more minutes and I heard John McCain’s name several times but they did not ask anymore about the pending election praise be to God. They assured me that they like all Americans regardless of hue and it would be better to see more of them especially if they took off the helmets and body armor because that scares the kids and woman folk. And their big MRAPS  scare the cows who already don’t have enough water and feed so scaring them causes even less milk to be produced and on and on and on; these guys know how to beat a point to death.

Maliks of Sherzad district
Maliks of Sherzad district

We talked for around 35 more minutes about the anemic American reconstruction effort, their needs and the rise in armed militancy. The American military visits the district of Sherzad about once a month and remain popular with the local people. They have built some mico-hydro power projects upstream from Gandamak which the people (even those who do not benefit from the project) much appreciate. The US AID contractor DAI has several projects in the district which the elders feel could be done better if they were given the money to do it themselves but despite this DAI is welcomed and their efforts much appreciated. When I asked who had kidnapped the DAI engineer (a local national) last month and how we could go about securing his release (which was another reason for my visit) they shrugged and one of them said “who knows”?  That was to be expected but I felt compelled to ask anyway. They know I have no skin in that game and am therefore irrelevant.

The elders explained, without me asking, that they are serious about giving up poppy cultivation but they have yet to see the promised financial aid for doing so and thus will have to  grow poppy again (if they get enough rain inshallah). They also need a road over which to transport their crops to market once they get their fields productive. Then they need their bridges repaired, and they need their irrigation systems restored to the condition they were in back in the 1970’s and that’s it. They said that with these improvements would come security and more commerce. One of them made a most interesting comment and that was something to the effect of “the way the roads are now the only thing we can economically transport over them is the poppy.” A little food for thought.

At the conclusion of the talking part of the meeting the senior Maliks and I piled into my SUV and headed to the Gandamak battlefield.

The Last Stand of the 44th Foot
The Last Stand of the 44th Foot

The final stand at Gandamak occurred on the 13th of January 1842. Twenty officers and forty five British soldiers, most from the 44th Foot pulled off the road onto a hillock when they found the pass to Jalalabad blocked by Afghan fighters. They must have pulled up on the high ground to take away the mobility advantage of the horse mounted Afghan fighters. The Afghans closed in and tried to talk the men into surrendering their arms. A sergeant was famously said to reply “not bloody likely” and the fight was on. Six officers cut their way through the attackers and tried to make it to British lines in Jalalabad. Only one, Dr Brydon, made it to safety.

The Gandamack Hill today
The Gandamack Hill today

Our first stop was to what the Maliks described as “The British Prison” which was up on the side of the Jalalabad pass and about a mile from the battlefield. We climbed up the steep slope at a vigorous pace set by the senior Malik. About halfway up we came to what looked to be an old foundation and an entrance to a small cave. They said this was a British prison. I can’t imagine how that could be – there were no British forces here when the 44th Foot was cut down but they could have established a garrison years later I suppose.  Why the Brits would shove their prisoners inside a cave located so high up on the side of a mountain is a mystery to me and I doubt this was the real story behind what looked to be a mine entrance.  It was a nice brisk walk up a very steep hill and I kept up with the senior Malik which was probably the point to this detour.

Enterance to the "Brit Jail
Entrance to the “Brit Jail

 

Heading up the slope to the Brit jail
Heading up the slope to the Brit jail – not an easy walk

After checking that out we headed to the battlefield proper. We stopped at the end of a finger which looked exactly like any other finger jutting down from the mountain range above us. It contained building foundations which had been excavated a few years back. Apparently some villagers started digging through the site looking for anything they could sell in Peshawar shortly after the Taliban fell. The same thing happened at the Minaret of Jamm until the central government got troops out there to protect the site. The elders claimed to have unearthed a Buddha statue at the Gandamak battlefield a few years ago which they figured the British must have pilfered from Kabul. By my estimation there are 378,431 “ancient one-of-a-kind Buddha statues” for sale in Afghanistan to the westerner dumb enough to buy one. Their excellent fakes and they better be because the penalties for trafficking ancient artifacts are severe in Afghanistan.

I do not know where these foundations came from. Back in 1842 the closest British troops were 35 miles away in Jalalabad and there are no reports of the 44th Foot pulling into an existing structure. We were in the right area – just off the ancient back road which runs to Kabul via the Latabad Pass. My guides were certain this finger was where the battle occurred and as their direct ancestors participated in it I assumed we were on the correct piece of dirt. I would bet that the foundations are from a small British outpost built here possibly to host the Treaty of Gandamak signing in 1879 or for the purpose of recovering the remains of their dead for proper internment.

Site of the final battle
Site of the final battle

 

Foundation from an unknown building on Gandamak Hill
Foundation from an unknown building on Gandamak Hill

The visit concluded with a large lunch and after we had finished and the food was removed our meeting was officially ended with a short prayer. I’m not sure what the prayer said but it was short. I’m an infidel; short is good.

Man I love Kabuli Pilau - and eating with my hands
Man I love Kabuli Pilau – and eating with my hands. Mehrab Siraj, a close friend and the Manager of the Taj guesthouse is sitting to my right

Post Script

The Maliks of Sherzad district never received the attention they wanted from the US Government or the Afghan authorities. Instead the Taliban came to fill the void and started muscling their way into the district back in 2011. By early 2012 things were bad enough that my old driver Shariff called me to see if there was anything I could do about getting the Americans to help them fight off the encroaching Taliban fighters.  I was in the Helmand Province by then dealing with my own Taliban problems and could offer him nothing. That bothered me then and it bothers me now but that’s life.

In August 2012 my old friend Mehrab was gunned down by Taliban outside his home. By then several of the men I had shared a pleasant lunch with back in 2008 had also perished fighting the Taliban. Gandamak is now Taliban territory, the poppy now the main source of income. It will be a long time before a westerner will able to visit the old battlefield again.