Apocalypse Not #4: What Now?

I was convinced if the Wuhan Corona Virus was as virulent as advertised we would have already seen evidence of it. My theory that  a nasty strain of flu that swept the Rio Grande Valley last December was the S strain of the Wuhan was a SWAG and we can now see I was wrong. I then thought the data driven analysis explained the lack of an outbreak but that too, has been debunked.

New York City has been hit hard, but at least one hospital, Lennox Hill is using HydroxyChloroquin, and they have yet to lose anyone of the 100 plus cases that they are treating. That is encouraging. Although the number of positive tests for COVID-19 will skyrocket there as testing comes on live there has yet to be a flood of pneumonia patients outside of New York City.

That too is encouraging.

One of the most popular videos in my area on the pandemic  is this one from Dr Emily Porter, an Emergency Medicine physician from Austin, Texas.  In her analysis she assumes a low end infection rate of 45% of the population and then does the math to show how large a catastrophe  that would be.  I’m certain the forecasted numbers have decreased since she made her presentation and I don’t think we are going to see those kinds of numbers. But again I base that on the assumption that we would already be seeing a surge in emergency room admissions for pneumonia. Maybe I’m wrong and we will see a surge in hospitalizations in the coming weeks. I sure hope not.

Tokyo,  despite being one of the most densely populated places on earth, has weathered the Wuhan virus well.  The Japanese success at stopping the virus is an excellent argument for taking our shoes off before we enter the house. It’s not a bad habit to adopt these days.

I can no longer traffic in “Do you know anyone with Wuhan?” meme’s because my friend Smari McCarthy, who lives in Iceland, tested positive. He’s going to be OK which is good news. He reminded me about riding out the Swine Flu epidemic in Jalalabad, Afghanistan in 2009. I don’t have the ingredients for the malaria chai though, that needs some #1 hash ghee and a little tincture of opium and those are in short supply in Texas. Helps to have somebody who knows what they’re doing brewing the stuff too.

Without the malaria chai we are left to do little else but stay off the streets, help our neighbors as need and wait to see what happens.  The President was quoted as saying he will reassess where we are in two weeks and maybe lift the bans as appropriate.

I still suspect we should have isolated the venerable while protecting our economy but future events may well prove me wrong. I’m just encouraged by each new day that arrives without another cluster overwhelming a local hospital system. As long as that continues we’ll be OK, and if it doesn’t continue I think we’ll see Americans, at the community level, coming together to work through the crisis at hand.

For now the only thing to do is stay at home, look after your neighbors and check up on the elderly folks who are not getting out much to see if they need anything.

Apocalypse Not: The Fear of COVID-19 is Unwarranted

There is something about the current Wuhan virus response that is not adding up. The first case appeared in America on 17th of January, we then stopped direct flight from China on the 31st of January. From the time this pathogen surfaced in November until the end of January, there were daily flights from the Wuhan area to Seattle, LA, San Francisco, New York and Toledo, Ohio. This flu strain is unusually virulent and if that is true (which is not in doubt), by the time it surfaced in America it had already spread across the land.

Farr’s Law, named for British epidemiologist William Farr in 1840, states that epidemics, develop and recede according to a bell-shaped curve. This happens with or without human intervention. Farr’s Law undoubtedly is in play for the Wuhan virus.

Last Christmas my wife and several neighbors had a horrible flu bug that mimicked the Wuhan virus symptoms exactly.  She was miserable and did not respond to a Z-pack or a course of Levaquin our family doctor prescribed.

The bug she had was no joke, and when she mentioned my theory that the Wuhan had already washed through the population last Christmas her friends saw it immediately. She started hearing other stories about the Christmas bug that ravaged the Rio Grande Valley for a good four weeks. The stories all matched up to the symptoms for Wuhan virus.

The President’s early attempts to calm the situation were ridiculed as was his suspension of air travel to China. Then the narrative changed on a dime and the cancelations started with, as I recall, the Ivy League Universities leading the way. Once they did that every other major sports league (with the exception of the UFC) did the same.

The various leagues and venues that have closed had no choice, ignoring the experts advice and example would risk a devastating backlash if the Wuhan virus turns out to be as deadly as advertised.

But  Ivy League role in starting the current chain reaction of closing public venues is not a coincidence. The very experts who are on the TV daily had just  staged a Pandemic table top exercise. The response we are seeing is based off the dire predictions made in that exercise.

On the afternoon of Friday, 18 October 2019, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, World Economic Forum and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation hosted  a Virtual Exercise Called Event 201 and described as:

“a 3.5-hour pandemic tabletop exercise that simulated a series of dramatic, scenario-based facilitated discussions, confronting difficult, true-to-life dilemmas associated with response to a hypothetical, but scientifically plausible, pandemic”.

The pathogen used for the exercise was a COVID virus with properties similar to COVID-19. The exercise predicted that the virus would overwhelm the medical systems in North America resulting in catastrophic loss of life.

Tabletop exercises like Event 201 happen all the time, the fact that this one was played out a month before COVID-19 surfaced in Wuhan China is not that significant. What is significant is how different the current crisis is playing out compared to the one our experts war-gamed.

There were a seven recommendations made following the exercise (they can be found here). Every recommendation focused on the need for international cooperation with the free flow of information and people across national borders which is consistent with the ethos and vision of globalists like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other major donors, like Open Philanthropy .

But our response to the Wuhan virus has been the exact opposite of the “viruses know no borders” narrative of Event 201.  Instead we (and the rest of the world) have closed the borders, rebuffed international offers of help and turned to the private sector to fight the virus ourselves.

The Centers for Disease Control was not up to the task of testing for or tracking the Wuhan virus and they were rapidly sidelined by the President. This was the exact opposite of  Event 201 in which the CDC and every other similar international organization performed flawlessly. The ‘experts” may have been surprised the CDC failed so spectacularly but this is expected from those of us who know and understand government bureaucracies.

When the CDC failed the President  went straight to the private sector, suspended regulations inhibiting the development and production of test kits and protective wear, and solved the testing problem rapidly. He then held a press conference with these Titans of industry and did a good job of calming frayed nerves. After his poor start briefing the nation last Wednesday night watching him get back into the grove was gratifying.

This is not playing out as the experts who ran Event 201 thought. Then, in another move a blatant dishonesty, on the same day that China launches an IO campaign to deflect criticism from them onto the USA, our legacy media decides the Wuhan virus is now to be called COVID-19.  Any mention of the word Wuhan was now racist and news anchors were getting apoplectic about this new muh racism.

As events across the land started to close. Governors and DC mandarins ran to the TV cameras to announce the draconian measures they were going to take. These pronouncements have to moldy scent of Virtue Signalling. The men and women making these decisions have themselves, no skin in the game.  Regardless of how long this lasts or how bad it gets the people running Ivy League institutions, the federal legislatures, state governors and the media infotainment complex insiders – all of them will weather the storm just fine. In fact, most of them will make millions off  low interest rates while buying blue chip stock at a significant markdown.

You and your family? Not so much.

“I don’t claim to know what’s motivating the media, but, my God, their reporting is absolutely reprehensible. They should be ashamed of themselves. They are creating a panic that is far worse than the viral outbreak. The bottom line, everybody, is to listen to Dr. Anthony Fauci of the CDC [Centers of Disease Control and Prevention]. Do what he tells you, and go about your business.… Stop listening to journalists! They don’t know what they are talking about!” Dr. Drew Pinsky commenting on the media yesterday (17 March 2020)

An anonymous  source quoted in The Spectator points out the only salient (and obvious) fact now which is:  “We know the numerator (the number of deaths), but we don’t know the denominator, which is the number of people who have been infected by COVID-19. And without the denominator, we have no way of estimating either the spread or the fatality rate of COVID-19.”

That bothers me and it should bother you too, but at the moment there is nothing to be done except hunker down, avoid panic shopping, and wait to see what happens. How long Americans will tolerate these measures will be interesting to see.

There is no reason to think that this time the experts warnings about a catastrophic event are correct. They have a perfect record of being wrong with every prediction in the past because their models are incapable of predicting complex events reliably.

When the people discover that once again, they were manipulated by a partisan press, compromised academic shills, and virtue signalling politicians there is going to be hell to pay.  When the dust settles maybe we will de-couple science from politics and even dismantle the narrative driving legacy media.

It is time to keep your head down, and your powder dry. Courage and cowardice are contagions and few of our elected leaders seem to operate with an abundance of courage. Their default is finger pointing, name calling, and blame shifting. The rest of us should refrain from that behavior and focus on helping, not panicking our neighbors. When this emergency passes we may be able to hold incompetents to account but for now all we can do is what we do best; refuse to panic.

Peace in Afghanistan Inshallah

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo landed in Qatar’s capital city, Doha today for the signing of a peace deal with the Taliban. In a rare demonstration of presenting both sides of a contentious deal the Washington Post opinion section featured dueling pieces that capture this unique moment in time. The peace deal is a clear win for both the Trump administration and the Afghan people. As usual the devil is in the details but it appears we are on the way out of Afghanistan.

Barnett Rubin who is a senior fellow and associate director of the Center on International Cooperation of New York University and non-resident senior fellow at the Quincy Institute, outlines the agreement in his WaPo OpEd.

The agreement provides a timetable for troop withdrawal, counterterrorism guarantees, a path to a cease-fire and a process for political settlement. Implementation would also require dismantling Taliban infrastructure in neighboring Pakistan and assurances by external powers that none will use Afghanistan against others.

Mr. Rubin has considerable time on the ground in the region and his take on the peace deal (which is it is a good deal)  is identical to mine.

Max Boot, who is a Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, took the opposite view. In his WaPo OpEd he outlines three different scenarios for the near future in Afghanistan. He then goes onto to predict the worst case scenario (the Taliban rolling into Kabul and taking over the country) as the most likely. I can tell you unequivocally that is the least likely scenario.

Many of our foreign policy experts and more than a few of my friends caution that the Taliban is not a cohesive monolithic organization, and that negotiators are only speaking for the Quetta, Peshawar, and Miranshaw Shura’s. This is a fact that is true, but means nothing now. The Taliban were able to enforce the peace during last years Eid celebration across the country and I believe they can do so again. Regardless of what I and my friends believe the only thing that counts is how the Afghans feel about the deal.

Taliban fighters taking selfies with Afghan army troops during the Eid ceasefire last year.

The Senior Vice President-elect of Afghanistan, Amrullah Saleh, published his opinion on the Time website. I Fought the Taliban. Now I’m Ready to Meet Them at the Ballot Box is the title of his piece and that’s a strong endorsement of the process. Amrullah Saleh is the former head of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), a former Interior Minister and he survived a serious assault on his election headquarters last July. That assault started with a car bomb and was continued by suicide vest equipped assault teams. Amrullah Saleh survived by jumping off the roof of his four story headquarters onto the roof of a neighboring building.

It is reasonable to assume Mr. Saleh had engaged in a running gun battle before escaping to safety, he is that kind of guy.

In another fascinating development the Military Times published an article today with the headline ISIS taking a beating in Afghanistan setting  the stage for a potential a U.S. troop withdrawal.  Buried deep in the article is this:

The recent campaign in Nangarhar is one example. Effective operations by US/Coalition & Afghan security forces, as well as the Taliban, led to ISIS-K losing territory & fighters. Hundreds surrendered. ISIS-K hasn’t been eliminated but this is real progress,” Khalilzad tweeted Tuesday

Remember a few posts back I highlighted this article in the Washington Post about the defeat of ISIS because it failed to mention the Taliban’s direct role? It seem like the first draft of history is up for grabs regarding the defeat of ISIS-K in Eastern Afghanistan.  There is little to gain but much to lose in suppression of the truth. I doubt an experienced reporter would have not known about the Taliban’s role in fighting ISIS-K so it is hard to figure out why the WaPo would print such obviously fake news.

Regardless, ISIS is now gone in Eastern Afghanistan and the remaining pockets in the north now the problem of the Taliban. Who seem to be very efficient at rooting them out.

What I cannot determine is how many troops will stay and what those troops will be doing. If the plan is to leave the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force – Afghanistan (CJSOTF-A) in place to hunt down ISIS and al Qaida that is not going to work. ISIS doesn’t need to be serviced by us any longer and separating al Qaida trainers from Taliban students is impossible.

If Amrullah Saleh is willing to give the Taliban a chance, and they reach an agreement, men like Sirajuddin Haqqani, who have been at the top of the JPEL for years, will be allowed to go in peace. The JPEL is the Joint Prioritized Effects List which is essentially a lethal version of the FBI’s most wanted. Allowing the men on that list to walk free, get passports and travel  is going to be a bitter blow to the people who have been hunting them. But that may be the price of peace.

I have to add that CJSOTF-A is not going to be able to operate behind the back of the Senior VP. Mr. Saleh has decades of experience working with the CIA and CJSTOF and he will have a say on what the Americans can and cannot do if they leave CJSTOF-A in Afghanistan.

This deal with the Taliban is how it ends. It is the only way it can end. The only question in Afghanistan was when, not if, we were leaving. The Taliban cannot beat the Kabul government in battle. The Kabul government cannot beat the Taliban in battle. The continued presence of American SF teams, tactical aircraft and trainers brought the Taliban to the negotiating table which is the best they could do.  It is up to the Afghans to decide what happens next. It is also time for us to leave.

Taliban Stakeout the Moral High Ground Announcing a Peace Deal with the United States

Sirajuddin Haqqani  wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times yesterday where he explained the Taliban’s expectations and goals in signing a Peace Agreement with the United States. The piece was professionally written and I do not believe Sirajudin can write so well in English so I doubt he wrote himself. Regardless, the Taliban statement clearly stakes out the moral high ground with sentences like:

“I am confident that, liberated from foreign domination and interference, we together will find a way to build an Islamic system in which all Afghans have equal rights, where the rights of women that are granted by Islam — from the right to education to the right to work — are protected, and where merit is the basis for equal opportunity.”

Sirajudin Haqqani represents the Miranshah Shura and the fact that he’s doing the writing indicates that the various factions in the Taliban are presenting a unified front. Haqqani is also directly responsible for scores of car bombings in Kabul and a laundry list of other attacks that targeted innocent Afghans. There is more than a little hypocracy in his statement but who cares? This communique was addressing the Afghan people and if they want to allow men like Haqqani to reconcile with the government it is their business, not ours.

While the MSM component of the national media waited to see what President Trump would say so they could take the opposite position, the conservative press pounced on this sentence to dismiss the entire missive.

“We did not choose our war with the foreign coalition led by the United States. We were forced to defend ourselves.”

Becket Adams, writing in the Washington Examiner called the claim of self defense “a damnable lie”. Mr. Adams went on to state that “The Taliban 100% chose this conflict with the U.S.” That was true in 2001 but that is not what Haqqani is talking about and from the Taliban perspective we did indeed force them to fight us.

In 2002 the majority of Taliban had surrendered and returned to their villages. There was one group of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters holed up in the mountains of Shah-i Kot which we attacked, willy nilly, with no intelligence or fire support preparation of the battlefield, and no idea how many adversaries we faced. The remainders were turning in their weapons and going home which is exactly what Karzai, when he accepted the surrender of the Taliban government, asked them to do.

What do you do when you are part of a Special Operations Task Force with no enemies to identify or target? What we did was target the enemies of the warlords who cooperated with us and in the south of the country the Warlords we supported would be Karzai and his bitter rival Haji Gul Agha Sherzad. The village of Khas Uruzgan provides a perfect example of how we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by relying on those two men.

When the Taliban were routed in an epic battle pitting a Special Forces A-team headed up by Maj. Jason Amerine and dozens fast movers (jets) vs. a couple thousand  Taliban just outside the provincial capitol of Tirin Kot the local Afghans held jirga’s and agreed to candidates for the positions of district mayor, district chief of police, etc… Unfortunately, the acting president (Karzai) sent one of his friends named Jan Muhammad, to be the provincial governor and Jan Mohammad intended to put his fellow tribesmen (Popalzai) into every paying billet in his province.

In towns like Khas Uruzgan the men selected by the people to govern them moved into the district center and started accepting weapons from surrendering Taliban. Jan Mohammad, who had just been released from the Taliban prison by Karzai himself, moved into the provincial governors compound and promptly appointed his tribesmen  to every district governor and police chief billet in the province.

In Khas Uruzgan the man elected by the jirga occupied the district governors compound. Next door was a schoolhouse where Jan Mohammad’s men (representing the Kabul government)  set up shop.  Both groups were busy dis-arming Taliban and there were a ton of weapons in both buildings.

In late 2002 the U.S. Army conducted a raid on both buildings (which they thought held Taliban), killing several men in the process and yoking up several more for interrogations at the Bagram airbase. Anand Gopal, in his excellent book No Good Men Among the Living describes the results of this raid:

Khas Uruzgan’s potential governments, the core of any future anti-Taliban leadership—stalwarts who had outlasted the Russian invasion, the civil war, and the Taliban years but would not survive their own allies. People in Khas Uruzgan felt what Americans might if, in a single night, masked gunmen had wiped out the entire city council, mayor’s office, and police department of a small suburban town: shock, grief, and rage.

It would be years before the United States admitted they had raided the wrong place. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (the current senior Taliban negotiator) had gone to ground near Khas Uruzgan and our Special Forces decimated not one, but two wedding parties (with AC-130 gunships) in an attempt to catch him. Dozens of children and women were killed in these raids and this is important to acknowledge – to the Afghan people there were two wars, one that drove the Taliban from power quickly and a second one that started when we stayed on in the country to “capture senior Taliban and al-Qaida”.  The responsibility of this second war rest solely on the National Command Authority of the United States who failed to define Phase four (what happens when we win).

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, second from left, with members of a Taliban delegation in Russia in 2019.Credit…Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press

If you want to read an infuriating account of our own incompetence making us enemies among people who wanted to be allies during that second round of war, read Chapter 5 of No Good Men Among the Living. It is a detailed description of how we were tricked into detaining and/or killing the entire anti-Taliban leadership of Band-i-Timor in the Maiwand district of Khandahar. You cannot make some of this stuff up.

The opinion peace by Sirajudin Haqqani was a masterstroke of Information Warfare and will be hard to refute by the United States. The Taliban leadership, unlike the American leadership, has skin in the game. There is no reason to doubt their commitment to participate in establishing an Afghanistan free of foreign troops and moving towards a consensus on who is governing what. It is now time for the United States to move out of the way and allow the Afghans to determine what their country will become.

In 2002 the Taliban were defeated and al-Qaida already gone to Pakistan. All the fighting since then has not changed a thing on the ground.  It is time to pull out, reduce funding to Afghanistan and let them sort out the situation among themselves.

 

 

Light at the End of the Tunnel in Afghanistan

Last week news broke of a possible peace deal in Afghanistan leading to a firestorm of speculation in the media about what’s really going on. The reporting was not consistent but the consensus is the peace deal would call for negotiations between Afghans on both sides of the conflict to start next month, an eventual countrywide cease-fire and a commitment from the Taliban not to harbor terrorist groups like al Qaida, while setting a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

A famous quote incorrectly attributed to Winston Churchill dictates “Jaw Jaw is better than War War” (actually he said “Meeting jaw to jaw is better than war” which makes more sense ) reinforces this is (potentially)  good news. The devil is in the details and we do not know what “reduction of violence”means to the United States  or “withdrawal of U.S. troops” means to the Taliban.

TheTaliban are not a monolithic organization but several competing factions. We have been dealing with the Quetta Shura who is representing, but cannot speak for, the other players like the Miranshah Shura (primarily the Haqqani Network) or the Peshawar Shura. That being said the Taliban did deliver on an Eid ceasefire agreement last year and that ceasefire held.

Taliban fighters taking selfies with Afghan army troops during Eid ceasefire last year.

We can get a reliable read on what the Taliban considers a reduction of violence in this detailed report from the always reliable Afghan Analysts Network. From the linked report:

Another Pakistani newspaper, quoting an un-named Taleban official, reported that the movement had agreed not to carry out attacks in major cities including Kabul and would not use car bombs and that the Taleban had also offered not to attack US bases and US soldiers, and that they wanted the US to cease air strikes in return. The newspaper said it had learnt “that Khalilzad had urged” the Taleban to agree to more measures, including a halt to IED attacks, but that they did not agree “as they have planted IEDs in many areas and it is difficult for them to remove all [of them].” Furthermore, the paper reported, the US also wanted a pause in Taleban attacks on Afghan government forces’ check posts, “which was also a concern of the Afghan government.”

Senior U.S. military officials (speaking off the recored)  in Afghanistan stressed that U.S. counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan against the Islamic State group and al-Qaida will continue, separate from the truce agreement. This is problematic for several reasons, not the least of which is that ISIS-K in Nangarhar Province has been defeated.

Their fighters have mostly surrendered to the government or gone to ground. There are ISIS-K cells in the north of the country but they are not large or powerful and are in the sights of the same fighters who rid Nangarhar Province of ISIS and those fighters are Taliban.

The counterterrorism mission in the eastern part of Afghanistan has been focused on ISIS-K (Daesh to the locals) for years. Now that ISIS-K is gone the Special Forces teams are flying around the province conducting ‘Key Leadership  Engagements’ like the one I wrote about last week. That occurred in the Sherzad district which is very close to Jalalabad and full of former HiG fighters who have cooperated with the Taliban  on and off over the years. They cooperate mostly because Taliban shadow courts settle land disputes quickly and, they feel, fairly.

The land deed office for Nangarhar Province – some of these documents are hundreds of years old

The time for our SF troops and the Afghans varsity Commandos to be running around district centers meeting with key elders seems long past. The local elders know all about the dysfunctional government in Kabul and are not going to be convinced it has their interests at heart until the government  demonstrates it.

With ISIS-K on the ropes trying to separate Taliban connected fighters from al Qaida will be problematic. The remaining senior al Qaida leaders have successfully gone to ground inside the tribal areas of Pakistan and have no need to move anywhere. al Qaida has a presence at Taliban training camps and may even run a few but I have no doubt the Taliban understand the consequences of allowing them to use their territory  for international Jihad.

If there no independent al-Qaida formations so if you go after them you are still going after the Taliban.

The incident rate in Afghanistan has plummeted this year. Some of this is due to the pounding the Taliban have taken from American air attacks which increased dramatically in 2019. Some of this can also be attributed to the Taliban winding down operations as the peace talks continued. The stats below come from The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

This is from The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) – note the sudden steep drop in incident rates as we move into 2020

Time will tell but it seems that the end to American involvement in Afghanistan is near. But if you pull all the training support mission out and leave a Special Forces task force to continue hunting “al-Qaida and ISIS” it will test, if not break, the fragile peace. We need to pull everyone out and let the Afghans settle things themselves. Continuing night raids and killing bad guys in Afghanistan does not reduce any threats to our homeland. It’s time to admit that and act accordingly.

American Green Berets Gunned Down during a KLE Meeting in Sherzad District; What’s Going On There?

I just re-posted two stories about doing Key Leadership Engagement (KLE) in the Sherzad district of Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan. Yesterday, two Green Berets were killed and six wounded while (reportedly) conducting a key KLE in Sherzad district. This is disturbing on several levels.

First, it appears the dead and wounded (including the Afghan SF troops with the Americans) came at the hands of Afghan National Army soldiers. From the article linked above:

Additionally, at least six more American troops were also wounded. The high number of casualties (17 as of this reporting) is attributed to the ODA/Afghan combined force coming under fire from a DShK, a Russian designed heavy machine gun which fires a 12.7mm bullet. The wounded have been evacuated to the appropriate field hospitals.

The source explained to Connecting Vets that it is suspected that the Afghan National Army (ANA) was behind the attack, although details are still developing.

From what I can determine they were attacked by a lone gunman with a heavy machine-gun. It is safe to assume (if this proves true) that the lone gunman was Taliban. They got an assassin into the governor of Kandahar’s security force who was able to gun the irreplaceable Gen Raziq. As I wrote the time and will continue to write this is going to happen again. It is obvious that the screening methods in use are not working and, given my experiences in Afghanistan, I suspect will never work.

Second, one is forced to ask why, at this late stage in the game, are we still conducting KLE’s out in the badlands? What did the SF guys believe would be accomplished? I can’t imagine a good answer to that question and I have over eight years of doing KLE’s in Afghanistan and many of them right there in Sherzad district.

It is difficult to get a sense of what is really happening on the ground in Afghanistan in general and Nangarhar province specifically. Nangarhar Province has gone from one of the more safe-ish provinces in the country to the most deadly one for American forces. The army had been losing soldiers over the past four plus years in Nangarhar Province fighting an outbreak of ISIS along the border with Pakistan.

The Taliban got sick and tired of ISIS deprivations before and rolled into Nangarhar and kicked their asses hard in 2015. Last fall the multiple Taliban units returned to Nangarhar (probably from Loya Paktia via the parrots beak which is that finger of Pakistan land jutting into Afghanistan at the bottom of the district map below) and beat ISIS like a drum. ISIS was surrendering to the Afghan government last time I checked and are longer a threat.

This is the Nangahar province of Afghanistan. Sherzad district is in the east of the Province and the ISIS threat was centered in Achin district well to the west. Back in the day Sherzad was HIG land (not Taliban) but Heckmyter Chu-Hoi’d to the government side a few years back and it is now a Taliban stronghold.

Despite ISIS being routed  (reported here in the Military Times three months ago) ISIS-K is still being used to justify our continued involvement in Afghanistan. That is ridiculous – ISIS-K was a collection of Pakistani Taliban who were trying to carve out their own little Jihadi paradise in an area that contains the largest talc powder deposit in the world. Threat to the US Homeland? Hardly. al Qaeda is the same – they have gone to ground and remain unmolested in Pakistan for 18 years now and have no need to use Afghan soil for anything. The airport in Peshawar is 10 times better than Kabul International so why would any decent Jihadi move from his decades long home in Pakistan?

ISIS-K is gone, the Taliban now control of most of the countryside in Nangarhar Province where we have troops at the Jalalabad airfield. Those troops would be mostly avation and avation support but there are two different SF compounds there too which are obviously still the home of one or more army ODA teams. I understand the need to be active outside the wire of a firm base like Jalalabad to keep the bad guys at arms reach but I’m not sure what possible use a key leader engagement would be at this stage in the game.

This is exactly the kind of senseless loss that is driving President Trump to wind down our involvement in Afghanistan. How do you justify losing 8 Americans and unknown number of Afghan Commando’s on a chin wagging mission with a bunch of local elders?

As an aside the only main stream outlet to write about this is Fox and their take is focused on the perfidy of Green on Blue attacks. They have (as usual) completely missed the the obvious and the comments section is so clueless it’s depressing.  The other outlets are (I suspect) waiting to see what President Trump is going to say so they can say the exact opposite. Watch and see.

Maybe there are great reasons for the mission to Sherzad that we will never know, but I do know there are better ways to conduct KLE’s.  It is always better to risk one contractor than it is to risk a dozen highly trained special operators. The counterintuitive thing about that is an experienced contractor traveling alone into Sherzad district, wearing local clothes, and in a local vehicle is much safer than 20 soldiers rolling around in four MRAP’s.  That is a lesson we refuse to learn and I think the President, for one, is getting tired of it.

The Taliban has Destroyed ISIS-K in Nangarhar Province: Now They Plan to Focus on US

I have no idea why the destruction of ISIS-K by the Taliban in Nangarhar Province has remained virtually uncovered in the legacy media. That has changed with an excellent interview of the Taliban leadership in Nangarhar Province by The Washington Post. The Taliban were celebrating their recent crushing of ISIS-K (or the F’ing Daesh in local lingo). They gave an interview in Khogyani district, which is close to Jalalabad and was once solidly under government control.

This picture is from the back of a UN road building contractors armored vehicle in the Khogyani district center back in 2008.

The Taliban were direct and to the point regarding continued military operations. Check out this quote from one of the Taliban commanders:

Mullah Nik Muhammad Rahbar, 28, a Taliban commander responsible for Kabul province, pointed to the resources freed up by the conclusion of the fight against the Islamic State in Nangahar, saying the Taliban would be able to shift back to conducting more high-profile attacks in Kabul and elsewhere.

“Thank God you saw what we achieved against Bagram today,” he said. “We launch attacks in Kabul because there are many foreigners there, many targets for us.”

The Taliban went on to claim that they are not targeting Afghan civilians (the UN attributes 922 civilians killed and 2,901 wounded just this year by the Taliban) and that they will now shift their attention to the Government and ‘foreigners.’

Taliban fighters showing their weapons to the press in Khogyani. Photo by Lorenzo Tugnoli for the Washington Post

This is not good news because there are bunch of ‘foreigners’ stationed at the Jalalabad Airfield and with ISIS-K gone they have little to do except support the Afghanistan National Army trainers at the nearby whatever the former Camp Gamberi is now called.  Khogyani is not far from J-bad and back in the day the Muj would pick off Soviet Hinds on the approach to the J-bad airfield on an alarmingly regular basis (when they had the Stingers).

The United States cannot afford to throw a bunch of soldiers inside an Airbase without some kind of active patrolling to keep the Jihadis from getting too comfortable squatting within mortar or man packed anti-air missile range. Patrolling like that takes boots on the ground which are in short supply.

Anybody who thinks the Taliban will fail to take a shot at inflicting serious casualties on an American military formation doesn’t understand Afghans. This is what they do and they will pay a steep price if they think they can generate some serious casualties and destroy some aircraft in the process.

The United States Military is not agile enough to withdraw resources from the eastern provinces while maintaining the relentless air campaign that has dropped more air-delivered ordinance this year than any prior year in the Afghan War.  Throwing around 1000 pounders will result in collateral damage and we now know that the generals running this war know that collateral damage incurred while blasting Taliban creates more Taliban and is a losing strategy.

But it is all they have for now; the Generals and senior government Mandarins have no problem stringing this out for years to come. The President isn’t happy with the status quo, I’m not sure what the Democrats position is on Afghanistan as they seem to have lost their minds with the sham impeachment they inflicted on us. I have said before, and will say again, this is not going to end well.

FRI Reviews Trust-Based Leadership

I opened a large package that arrived in the mail last week and out fell an encyclopedia sized book on leadership. There on the cover, larger than life, was Mike Ettore, who I served with in the Marines 20 years ago. He was staring off in the distance with a sense of purpose and the moral rectitude that one associates with famous men like Vince Lombardi. I was elated; my friend Mike Ettore must have become a famous football coach because who the hell is going to read 549 pages on trust-based leadership if there was no insight into how to approach a third and long with just seconds to go in some kind of game? I stopped watching the NFL over a decade ago, long before it was cool, so he could have been dominating there for all I knew.

I held it up to my wife and said, “hey I know this guy he must have gotten into football coaching or something and become famous”.

My wife held out her hand, she has a Ph.D. in organizational leadership and is an educator, so she knows the industry. She starts scanning the chapters and looks at me;

“You know Mike Ettore”?

“Of course, he sent me the book, but I didn’t know he was a pro football coach”.

“He’s not, he runs executive leadership training and I’ve heard of his Fidelis Group; …. they’re out of Tampa”, she adds just in case I thought she was joking me.

I never saw the book again, off it went to her office and a week or so later I’m sitting at my computer doing writer stuff and up pops this notification from LinkedIn, a platform I rarely visit,  it’s a note from Mike Ettore asking if I got the book. I had to move a yellow sticky on my screen that said “send Ettore a thank you for the book” to read the notification.

I wrote to Mike immediately explaining the book had been highjacked (as if that meant anything) and then apologized for being a scumbag. I added I’d write a review on Amazon and retrieved my copy, but realized the book needed a blog post. Mike took the time to write what I consider the definitive book on leadership and it’s entertaining. I want to be entertaining back with the review.

Mike wrote this book as a text to be used for developing leaders in every human endeavor where there is a hierarchy. His biggest, dare I say controversial, contention is that leaders are made, not born. Coming from Mike Ettore that is hard to believe, at first, as is the idea that Marine Crops leadership doctrine can be injected, in any meaningful way, into a civilian business environment. I could easily see Mike as a successful, innovative, football coach because Mike was an exceptionally gifted infantry leader. But coaching executives on the importance of eating last? That seemed to be a bridge too far.

Mike Ettore, at age 20, after just two year in the Marine Corps, was a drill instructor at Parris Island. First term enlisted drill instructors are as rare as finding a diamond in a goat’s butt. Ettore left the Marines after his first enlistment to complete college and returned as an infantry officer. As a rifle platoon commander, he saw action in Grenada and Beirut making him one of the rare combat vets back in the 80’s and 90’s when we served together. As a company commander he won the Leftwich Trophy, an annual award presented to the best infantry company commander in the Fleet Marine Forces. An award that means little to most people but everything to an infantry officer.

When I met Mike, he was heading up the tactics department at The Basic School (TBS) which is a six-month course every newly commissioned officer of Marines must attend after their commissioning. TBS is designed to train new lieutenants in the art of leading Marines by training them how to be infantry platoon commanders. The Marine Corps takes the “every man a rifleman” thing seriously so every Marine, regardless of gender or military occupational specialty (MOS) is trained to fight as dismounted infantry.

I was an instructor at the Infantry Officer Course (IOC) and for reasons that need not be explained here there was friction between the tactics department and IOC. That ended soon after Mike’s arrival, he understood the difference between entry and advanced level fire and maneuver. He also understood our need to start at the squad level in an aggressive 10-week course that had over twenty, increasingly difficult, live fire events.

Drill Instructor at 20, rare combat leadership experience as a Lieutenant, winner of the Leftwich as a Captain; one would think Ettore is one of those hard asses who insists on blind obedience to regulations and strict attention to orders. He’s not and that his the first of many family jewels in the Marine Corps leadership doctrine revealed to readers who did not enjoy the opportunity to experience them firsthand. Despite what you have seen in movies or read in books a successful Marine infantry leader can only be successful if his troops respect and love him.

Not every man who passes through the Marine Corps leadership training pipeline masters the nuances of infantry leadership. There are both bad leaders and bad units in the Marine Corps as there are in every large organization. I’ve always thought bad leaders were missing an ingredient the successful leader obviously enjoyed. In other words, I thought good leaders were born to the task.

Readers who are not familiar with the military in general or the Marine Corps specifically will be overwhelmed by the exacting standards of Marine Corps Leadership. You will be dubious at the contention that the Marine Corps instills these traits and principals in young men and women who have just completed High School.

I have a short cut to understanding the dynamic, but it’s a little long. Listen to this 4-hour 15 minute Jocko Willink podcast about an incident that played out in less than 10 seconds; 15 years ago, involving a young Marine Corporal named Jason Dunham. Jocko is joined by four Marines who were with Jason that day. They explain who Jason was, how he became a squad leader at such a young age, his training for Iraq and the events leading up to the day he was mortally wounded. All four of the Marines and Jocko lose their composure several times during the discussion. It is fascinating listening;  a truly inspiring tale about an iconic Marine Corps small unit leader.

USS Jason Dunham DDG 109

Executives in the civilian business world do not lead men in mortal combat so what does the leadership system designed to do just that have to do with running a for profit enterprise? Everything. The Marine Corps trains to fight but combat is not where any Marine spends a majority of his career. Unlike Mike I am not a combat veteran, but I have seen infantry battalions fold in the field after 96 hours of cold, wet, wind driven rain in the normally sunny Southern California winter.

Good units with solid leadership thrive in nasty weather, they consider it a challenge, and answer it with solid sleep and foot hygiene and active, aggressive tactical measures (patrolling, digging, fire support planning etc..) while ignoring the cold wet. Good units with solid leadership cannot be beaten by terrain or weather. Units without it fold every time they are exposed to a good dose of adverse weather.

Every leader faces diversity and it is through navigating that diversity that effective leadership is demonstrated. This seems to be a self-evident truth that is often absent in today’s business and social environment. I suspect that is because leadership training is confused with leadership techniques and procedures. Good leaders work by developing and implementing effective techniques and procedures, poor leaders mimic the techniques but never achieve the same results. Tactics and techniques cannot be substituted for leadership if you are in a dynamic environment where rote routine and detailed instructions are counterproductive.

I take that back; Amazon fulfillment centers have got to run on rote routine, I would think, and if the management of those centers adopted Mike’s approach to the tasks at hand I doubt the media would be full of stories about dismal employee morale.

If you are in the military and aspire to a leadership role at any level, buy this book, read it, highlight it, and then read it again, and again, and you will accelerate through the ranks at a blistering pace. If you are a Marine Corps Officer or SNCO and have not ordered this book yet you’re wrong, so fix that quickly. For everyone else I am telling you that this book will make you a more productive leader and better human being if you accept the challenge Mike has laid out for you.

When you read and understand this textbook you will know exactly how to develop and manage human capitol.  Mike Ettore has distilled 244 years of Marine Corps Leadership guidance and doctrine into one book designed to be used throughout a career of ever-increasing responsibilities. If you desire to excel in any leadership role this book will grow your talent stack exponentially. If you put the work in to master the material and make the effort to mentor and develop your subordinates.

As I said in the beginning not everybody who is exposed to Marine Corps Leadership doctrine gets it. Those that do become legends, everybody likes being associated with a good solid leader. Now there is a book to tell you how to become one. If you have the drive and the desire to work at it. Nothing worth having comes easy in life.

Some Positive News Out of Afghanistan

Two news items popped up yesterday that are certainly good news, possibly great news. The first was the release of two American University professors, one American, the other Australian; who were kidnapped in 2016. The other is the apparent mass surrender of Daesh (ISIS-K) fighters to Afghanistan Security Forces.

The always reliable Mohammad Jawad (a.k.a. JD) of DPS reported:

US citizen Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks were released by the Taliban on Tuesday, three years after being kidnapped, as part of a prisoner-swap deal.

The two professors were taken by the Taliban in August 2016 on their way home from the American University of Afghanistan, where both taught.

They were freed in exchange for the release of three senior Taliban members being held by the Afghan government.

Earlier in the day I had to chance to ask JD about the Daesh story when we were chatting on messenger. He told me he had heard the story is true but that he would not be able to verify it with sources in Nangarhar. Shortly after signing off I received a phone call from a former Jalalabad colleague (who is still in Jbad) and he said that the word in Jbad is the Daesh have quit the battlefield en masse and are asking for Melmastia (the Pashtunwali  requirement of hospitality and profound respect for all visitors, without any hope of remuneration or favor) from the central government.

That is exactly how the Daesh, who were Pakistani Taliban trying to get away from the Pakistan Army operations Khyber 1 and 2, ended up in the Achin district of Nangarhar province in the first place. In Afghanistan nothing is easy to plan be they military campaigns, infrastructure development projects, or a program to welcome former combatants. Those types of plans do not survive contact when implemented. Afghans just don’t work that way but somehow, when left alone, they will reach a compromise all interested parties involved can live with.

Plus there is this:

This is the land title storage room of the Nangarhar Provincial Agriculture Department. Some of these papers date back a hundred years and fall apart if you touch them. They are not cataloged or organized

Giving away land in Nangarhar Province is not something the government is in the position to do effectively. I imagine Kabul will want to spread non Afghan Daesh fighters out in marginal, thinly populated areas not near the most important border crossing (Torkham) in the country. But who knows? It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

My prediction has been the Daesh in Nangarhar would be destroyed as soon as the Taliban (who have wiped them out once before as noted in this excellent post) were allowed to have at them. The Daesh (ISIS K) were never a real threat because the Afghan people are tired of dealing with radical Sunni orthodoxy and the militants who force it on them. They like to smoke cigarets, and occasioanlly they enjoy getting drunk too. Vat 69 Scotch (brewed in Rawalpindi, Pakistan) and Cossack Vodka (brewed in Quetta, Pakistan) are always available as are The Green Meanies (Heineken in the can). Alcohol is not used as a social lubricant in Central Asia  and it is haram, (as well as illegal) which is why you don’t hear much about it but it’s there and no big deal to your average Afghan.

Although I never felt the Daesh a legitimate threat to Afghanistan or the United States they have destabilized Nangarhar Province to the point that I’m getting panicked phone calls from Jalalabad City. Only once in the last seven years have I received a call from J-bad and that was about the death of my friend Hedayatullah Zaheer Khan (Zee). Zee had been killed in a Daesh bombing of a Eid Cricket Tournament he had organized. This time the call was about employment verification certificates and letters of support for the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applications of a half dozen former colleagues. These requests are from Pashtuns who had intended to stay in Afghanistan for the duration. The rise of Daesh in the province has unnerved them (to put it mildly).

I’m not too optimistic about the chances of my former colleagues getting SIV’s. I’ve sent notarized statements verifying their employment with me and their faithful service implementing multiple aid projects in the province. I’m trying to get the corporate headquarters from the agencies I worked for the send verifications but they never even had records of local employees in Afghanistan. That seems to be dead end.

To say I hope this news about Daesh is true would be an understatement.  The prisoner swap is another indicator of progress at getting theTaliban and the government in Kabul to start talking. At some point the Trump administration is going to try for another deal and the next time around I believe the players understand they need to stick to the terms they agreed to with the  President or he’ll drop the deal like a hot potato. That’s as strong a negotiation position as we have seen in a long time.

It’s Groundhog Day for Afghansitan

Fellow Afghanistan Free Ranger Dr. Keith Rose released a podcast the other day describing where we are now in Afghanistan as Ground Hog Day. The people of Afghanistan are talking a beating with no end on the horizon which is 180 degrees out from where I thought they would be when I flew into Kabul in 2005.

Using Keith’s analysis as a point of departure (it’s a great podcast) there are some dynamics in play with Afghanistan that need require emphasis as our involvement continues. Fans of the international hit podcast The Lynch/Kenny Hour on All Marine Radio have heard Jeff, Mac and I talk about our campaign in AF/PAK  at length using blunt terms that sound harsh to those not familiar with infantry guy talk.

As I pointed out last week, that podcast (and this blog) have a ton of Afghan fans who know me. Afghans do not communicate with each other in blunt, no- BS terms, but I know they appreciate it when we do. Nothing will freak out Afghan project managers more then saying the word “inshallah” at the conclusion of a discussion about a scheduled payday.

Blunt fact number one is our stated reason for remaining in Afghanistan is an obvious fabrication. The US Government has consistently maintained we have to stay to make sure al-Qeada does not come back, establish training camps, and conduct terrorist deprivations on the international community from safe havens in Afghanistan.

The fact is they already have training camps in Afghanistan, we took out “Probably the largest” one in Kandahar province back in 2015. The leader of al Qaeda, Ayman Al-Zawahiri has had a safe haven in Pakistan since 2001, and has now (obviously) drone proofed his lifestyle. Why would he leave Miranshah to live in Khost or Kandahar?  The international airport in Peshawar is much nicer than any airport in Afghanistan, it is served by more international airlines (including Emirates, my favorite), and it services more destinations. Who in their right mind would fly Kam Air Kabul to Dubai when you can fly Emirates from Peshawar and rack up the sky miles?

Ayman Al-Zawahir and bin Laden in a file photo released in 2002. I would bet big money (based on the finger behind them) is on the Jbad this photo was taken on the Jbad-Kabul road just west of the old Soviet hydro dam  outside Jalalabad.  There was an al Qaeda training camp out that way (ISAF still uses it and calls it Gamberi)

You are thinking terrorist don’t use sky miles but I must point out the largest covert operation ever launched by CIA agents (not contractors which is the norm) was compromised because the agents used their covert ID to fly into Italy but had used their own credit cards to book the flights and hotels. That’s the CIA who are supposed to be high speed and low drag – the Taliban has to be worse on the operational security vs. sky miles test.

Blunt fact number two is that the American people in general, and her military veterans specifically, believe we have done more than our fair share to give Afghanistan a chance, and they blew it, so the hell with them. Clearly President Trump is looking for a way out and is willing to do almost anything (to include inviting former Gitmo detainees to Camp David for a round of ‘Let’s Make a Deal’)  to end our commitments in the region. President Trump has said we are not getting any return on our considerable investments and asks why should we stay in Afghanistan or Pakistan?

The reasons to remain in the region are no doubt varied and complex but the fact is that as long as we have thousands of servicemen, along with thousands more internationals in the country, we have to keep funding the government in Kabul. The next round of international funding is in 2020 and the funds are tied to anticorruption metrics that have not been met. If the international money pipeline closed suddenly how do you think the tens of thousands of internationals would get out of the country as the government folds and the security services crumble?

That is a scenario you don’t have to worry about because the specter of Gandamak II will keep funding going indefinitely. Nothing terrifies western government politicians more than the slaughter of their citizens for which their accountability is unavoidable. The Taliban will continue to attack both military and civilian targets because they are terrorists and that is what terrorists do. The Taliban no longer resembles the popular uprising of the religiously righteous in the face of anarchy. They are now narco-terrorists first, Islamic Jihadi’s second, and Afghan nationalists (maybe) third.

TheTaliban were once competent enough to protect the people of Afghanistan from anarchic violence, but they are now the source of anarchic violence. Tyrannical rule is bad, but chaos is worse and there are many Afghans who have lived through both. The Afghan people will side with the side that delivers them from chaos; especially if that side is committed to keeping Pakistan the hell out of the country.

That is the other great unknown; what happens to the safe havens in Pakistan when the Taliban cut a deal with us? The Afghan Taliban claim to be their own movement but they are Pakistan’s puppets just as sure as the government Kabul is America’s. In fact it is obvious Pakistan exerts more direct control over the Taliban then America has ever been able to establish in Kabul. For the past 50 years the Taliban have been Pakistan’s bitch.

The investment in Afghanistan’s human capitol came from every corner of the globe to include Burning Man

America no longer has the stomach for staying in Afghanistan but that’s too bad; we’re not going anywhere for the reasons outlined above. So how does this end? I have no idea but I’m a fan of the Afghan people and I believe they can, and will, sort things out given time and space. It is arguable if our  continued meddling is helping, but that is irrelevant now.  We aren’t leaving and are incapable of staying without meddling, so there it is.

Groundhog Day

We (the international community) have made serious investments in Afghanistan’s human capitol. We have no idea how that is going to pay off in the long run. There are plenty of smart, dedicated, tough Afghans who want nothing to do with Taliban rule (but aren’t too thrilled with us either).  Inshallah they will prove decisive at some point in the future.

There is one known (in my mind) regarding Afghanistan and that is the Taliban will never rule that country again. Their day has passed and they are now little more than petty narco traffickers with mortars and a ton of machine-guns. They no longer have a route to legitimacy as a governing entity but it may years before they figure this out on their own. In the meantime…..Groundhog Day.