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.

An initial KLE with the elders of Sherzad district in 2008. Note the meeting is on my turf because I was not interested in wasting my time. I had project money for them they needed to provide security for me. They needed to convince me that the projects has been approved in a local Shura in order to prevent interference from nearby villages who felt they were bring left out in the cold. These guys threw in a trip to the Gandamak battlefield which was deal maker for me. In fact dangling a gem like a trip to the Gandamak battlefield was the only way to bribe me.
This is the second Sherzad district KLE meeting and it was on their turf. Note I am alone – we are not risking the lives of 12 or more soldiers to have a chin wag out in Taliban land. Guess who is obligated to protect me in this circumstance? They are and this is a cultural norm that is not violated in Pashtun lands.

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.

What’s Going on in Sherzad District; Part Two

One of the coolest things about living in Afghanistan is the sense of history which surrounds one as you trek off the beaten path. In the rural districts the daily routine of the people has altered little in hundreds of years. It is easy to find the sites of historic battles or ancient ruins which few westerners have seen. The hospitality of the Afghans is constant reminder that the capacity for good in people transcends the evil which constantly searches for cold hearts or idle brains in which it can embed and grow. An armed society is a polite society but the Afghans take politeness to an extreme that is at times bewildering.

Yet the Afghans have never been able to govern themselves effectively. Despite their culture of warm hospitality to guests and strangers their political culture remains polarized, vicious, and deadly. These are tribal lands with a small percentage of “haves” and a large population of “have not’s.” The “haves” are the leaders with positions determined at birth and not resented by people at the village level because they do not “have” that much more than their fellow tribal members. The “have not’s” do not agitate politically because they spend most of their lives trying to find the next meal they are not like American poor with health issues stemming from morbid obesity. Poor people here die of starvation daily. Poor children die of exposure during the harsh winters even on the streets of Kabul. Watching the polarization of the American electorate from afar during this presidential campaign has me thinking about politics a lot lately.

This is what real poverty looks like. Remember these kids who stand little chance of reaching adulthood the next time you hear NPR or CBS or the racial grievance mongers carrying on about the poor in America.
This is what real poverty looks like. Remember these kids who stand little chance of reaching adulthood the next time you hear NPR or CBS or the racial grievance mongers carrying on about the poor in America.

And speaking of politics guess what the first topic of conversation was when I joined the elders of Sherzad district for a lunch meeting last Thursday? If you guessed Barack Obama you are correct and I am not making this up. Talk about weird but let me set the trip up before I get to that.

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. The time tested decision making matrix us outside the wire types use in situations of this nature is to look at what the State Department is doing  and do the exact opposite. The State Department insists on brand new armored SUV’s with heavily armed contractor escorts fore and aft. I went with an old beat up Toyota pick up, no security escort, local clothes and a local driver.  Given the amount of Taliban activity in the Southern Triangle that is the only reasonably safe way to get in and out of isolated villages like Gandamak.

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 which 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 MO.  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. You can see the difference in the health of the children, livestock and woman (which is the correct order of importance for the tribes.)

My host for the day was the older brother of my driver Sharif. When I first met Sharif he told me in perfect English “I speak English fluently.” 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 WTF 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 which is a vital for the health and comfort of his ichi ban employer.

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 but being without my flame stick wasn’t alarming to me.  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, followed by a tour of the hill outside Gandamak where the 44th Foot fought to the last man during the British retreat from Kabul in 1842 and then lunch. I was not going to be able to do much about what 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 my agenda was a tour of the Gandamak battlefield.  I have enjoyed visiting old battlefields since I was a kid and would go on staff rides with my father to Gettysburg, The Wilderness battle field and Fredricksburg.  I especially enjoy visiting the battlefields that not many people can visit and to the best of my knowledge I’m the only westerner who visited the Gandamak site in the last 30 or so years.

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 so 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 a little with little supposition, and augmented with my fevered 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 which is confusing  because most black Americans identify themselves as African American but they have little, if any, concept of Africa. In Obama’s case he really was an African and American and must know something about Africa because he didn’t know shit about America.  I had succeeded in totally confusing my hosts (and myself) 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 the local equivalent of scumbags. 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.

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.  Thus they will grow poppy again (if they get enough rain inshallah). They need a road over which to transport their goods to market. They need their bridges repaired, and they need their irrigation systems restored to the condition they were in back in the 1970’s. 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 a pass 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 down inside a cave located so high up on the side of a mountain is a mystery to me and I doubt this was story behind what looked to be a mine entrance.  It was a nice brisk walk up the 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 there which they figured the British must have pilfered in 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. The penalties for stealing ancient artifacts are severe; messing around with that stuff is not something reasonable people do in unstable third world lands. Nor is buying fake “one of a kind” Buddha statues.

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.

What’s Going on in Sherzad District; Part One

This post is over ten years old an being reposted to support a new post about the loss of two Green Berets there yesterday.

Afghanistan is slipping rapidly towards a state of anarchy. The security situation has degraded to the point where the lavish force protection measures adopted by the Department of State Regional Security Officers and the U.S. Military seven years ago now seem prudent. Media reports attribute the decline to a resurgent Taliban movement in Pakistan combined with the explosion in illegal drugs and a corrupt ineffective central government. Many of my colleagues and I believe the crippling of the reconstruction effort by unreasonable risk aversion based security rules has more to do with the current instability than anyone sitting in Washington would care to contemplate let alone admit.

It is easy for those not directly involved in the U.S. effort to highlight and criticize programs which have failed to delivery any quantifiable sign of improvement after years of effort and billions spent on poorly conceived off the shelf solutions. One example; we have spent over 2.5 billion dollars on a police training program which has produced nothing positive on the ground. The Afghan National Police are amongst the least trusted national institutions in Afghanistan with a well earned reputation for corruption and criminal behavior. Similar criticisms could be leveled at every other U.S. Department of State program running in Afghanistan but criticizing is always easy, especially when armed with 20/20 hind sight. In the Marines we had a saying which went something like “if you don’t have a solution you are part of the problem.” In that spirit a group of friends and I been working on finding solutions.

My colleagues and I believe that it is not too late to get effective aid and a permanent presence on the ground in districts currently slipping away and have a rare opportunity to present our views to a few decision makers. This concept paper has taken up most of the week and part of this concept required obtaining a little ground truth which is a good story. Our start point was a dialogue with the Maliks of Sherzad district to try and determine why the area was losing ground so quickly. The term Malik is used in Pashtun tribal areas for tribal leaders. Maliks serve as de facto arbiters in local conflicts, interlocutors in state policy-making, tax-collectors, heads of village and town councils. Although they do not officially represent the district government (they are part of a larger board) they do speak for the people.

The Maliks
The Maliks

Sherzad district is part of what is known as the “Southern Triangle” in Nangarhar Province. This is one of the areas where we have lost ground over the last year. The Sherzad district administrative center has been attacked three times in the past month by AOG fighters. IED discoveries and attacks are routine, night letters are frequently reported, as are other acts of intimidation. This district is the closest point of the southern triangle to our guesthouse and many members of our staff are from there. Finding out what is happening and why may add some weight to our concept paper but is also critical in determining our ability to remain in the Taj and operate the way we do. As the situation in Afghanistan continues to degrade identifying decision making trigger points for determining when to significantly increase our security posture or pull out altogether becomes more and more important.

Nangarhar Province
Nangarhar Province

We took over our primo guesthouse “The Taj” last December from a UN Ops subcontractor (PSS) who had been in this compound for the past three years while building roads deep into the southern triangle. I tagged along on one of their road missions last November all the way to the village of Wazir which is at the foot of Tora Bora in Khogyani district. PSS was a team of Australian and New

The Way of the Gun

The day after we witness the 2019 Sheepdog of the year, Jack Wilson, in action is the perfect time to write this post. As most of you know Jack stopped an active shooter, in his church, last Sunday with a well placed shot to head. The shooter was white man who had killed at least one African American church member before he was stopped. Normally a shooting of that nature would touch off a hysterical frenzy in the dinosaur press with every Democrat running for president franticly rushing to the scene to denounce the  Gun.

This shooting doesn’t fit the dinosaur media narrative so it is now tied only to Joe Biden who had displayed his tenuous grip on reality by calling the Governor of Texas “irrational” for allowing church goers to carry.

A link to the video of this shooting is here. As you watch there are lessons for us all, the first of which was the first man shot was in the act of pulling a pistol.

Note also that Jack Wilson brings the weapon up to his line of sight without any other movement in his legs or torso, it was one smooth motion, a slight pause and then boom; one round into grape of a bad man. At least six more partitioners produce weapons and moved toward the downed shooter. Some of them obviously had training and moved well, some of them didn’t. All of them are  now enjoying the esteem and prestige that comes with being a Sheepdog.

When the trumpet sounds and you step up life is good.

The presence of an unknown number of citizens armed with a concealed pistols in a given venue introduces friction into an active shooter scenario. This is why people like Dave Grossman encourage concealed carry. I do not expect the average concealed carry permit holder to be anymore proficient in gun handling and marksmanship skills than the average police officer or service member. Police officers and military personnel receive training on the fundamentals of marksmanship which are validated with qualification courses.

Passing a known distance qualification course is not training, it indicates the shooter is ready for training. The vast majority of uniformed law enforcement and military personnel have had no training on the pistol beyond the basic qualification requirements.

The pistol is a tool that has strengths and limitations. One of the strengths is it equalizes the disparities in force between large people and smaller ones. Spend a few hours watching John Corriea, ( Active Self Protection)  videos and you will see the utility of a firearm, particularly for women, even when the shooter is poorly trained.

One of the weaknesses of pistols is they trade stopping power and range for portability and ease of concealment. The old saying that nobody takes a pistol to a gun fight is true, but ironic. In the American context the first multiple shot, mass produced pistol was the only gun to bring to a gunfight with the dreaded Comanche.

In 1836 Samuel Colt produced his first revolver, a 5 shot  .36–.380-inch ball pistol he called the “Colt Paterson”. They didn’t sell well but for some reason the President of the Republic of Texas purchased over 100 of them complete with ammunition and spare cylinders.  The legendaryTexas Ranger Captain John Coffee “Jack” Hayes found  the pistols after the Texas Navy was disbanded and instantly realized that having them would even the score when fighting Comanches, the only plains Indians who fought while mounted. This is a fascinating story and you can hear all about on this recent Joe Rogan Podcast with S.C. Gwen, author of the book Empire of the Summer Moon.

A pistol is a tool and mastering the employment of that tool is the first step in separating Sheepdog from the average concealed carry permit holder. Understanding how to use a pistol requires understanding the dynamics of inter-species aggression, disregarding the “default to trust” mechanism, which is genetically hardwired in humans, an understanding of the observe-orient-decide-act (OODA) loop, and confidence in your ability to intervene.

When David Grossman first wrote about sheepdogs he was not talking about you or me. He was talking about the 2% of the population who are hard wired to never choose the options of flight, posture, or submission when confronted with inter-species aggression. He was talking about the 2% if allied fighter pilots in World War II who downed 40% of the enemy aircraft.

What Grossman has proved over the years is that sheepdog can be made. To become a sheepdog requires a solid grounding on interspecies violence, understand human performance under stress, and the techniques used by predators to activate our default to trust mechanism . Grossman’s book On Killing,  The Gift of Fear, by Gavin de Becker, (who is no fan of the second amendment) and the recently published Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell are the three must read  books.

The default to trust mechanism is a new term introduced into popular use by Malcolm Gladwell. He discusses it in great detail  during a recent  Joe Rogan Podcast:  here’s the link.  The Gift of Fear is another true original work and If you watch the video I linked to above after reading it you will lock onto the shooter before the first does, its uncomfortable because you know what is going to happen and you don’t want to see it.

Getting weapons training is critical because when mastered you are much less likely to shoot, even when the law clearly allows you to do so. This was explained well on a Joe Rogan Podcast with Rock and Roll legend and friend of the American serviceman, Sturgill Simpson. He found a intruder in his home one morning when his family was away. Sturgill was armed with an M4 style rifle and  could have shot the man, which is absolutely legal under the law. Instead, seeing the wide open back door, and knowing that  there was nobody else home he let the guy run out the back door.

Sturgill Simpson is a smart man, he may have never heard of the term “keep your honor clean” but he explains it when he tells Joe why he didn’t shoot. Americans use firearms in self-defense hundreds of thousands of times every year, usually without firing a shot. The converse is also true; training and reading will enable you to act decisively when I the breach.

The gold standard for sheepdogs everyday carry. That means the pistol is holstered when you get dressed in the morning and unholstered when you go to bed at night.  Carrying 24/7 is uncomfortable and limits what you can do and where you can go. You cannot drink while carrying because the act alone, regardless of the amount, puts you outside the color of the law.  The standard is 24/7 which was easy for me in Afghanistan but not always possible in the United States so the Sheepdog adapts as necessary.

I am not a gun guy and not interested in models, calibers, custom work etc… My interests have always been in human performance in combat. I understand the various operating systems and trigger set ups, how to take them apart and clean them, but care little about customizing and other normal gun geek topics. I carry a Gen 5 Glock 19 with a Trijicon RMR sight to compensate for decreased visual acuity.

I also own several 1911’s and use them when doing any serious range training. I use the Glock because I know how to work the trigger (pressing and keeping the slack out) and get a consistent single action break every time I shoot it. I prefer the 1911 because it has a true single action trigger, it’s ergonomic, the .45  round packs a punch while the slide cycles smoothly enough to allow rapid sight alignment on follow on shots.

I know gun people are really particular about their guns but any gun will do – it’s the shooter that counts. This concludes the four part Sheepdog series that I started last month for reasons I no longer remember. I just had something to say on the topic and now that it is off my mind it is time for more book writing. The Staff of Free Range International wishes you and yours a Happy New Year.

 

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.

The Mathematical Case For Concealed Carry Aboard Military Installations

I recently read a fascinating article on how Storm Water Hydrologists evaluate the risks of significant flooding events. The article was titled The Surprisingly Solid Mathematical Case of the Tin Foil Hat Gun Prepper and is one of those articles that explains technical details I did not know. The author did the math to show that we have a 37% chance of witnessing a revolution in the United States during our life time. A simplified version of that math is below, but do read the article to get the background behind the formula:

If you think that extreme check out this paragraph from a New Yorker article about super rich preppers:

Yishan Wong, an early Facebook employee, was the C.E.O. of Reddit from 2012 to 2014. He, too, had eye surgery for survival purposes, eliminating his dependence, as he put it, “on a nonsustainable external aid for perfect vision.” In an e-mail, Wong told me, “Most people just assume improbable events don’t happen, but technical people tend to view risk very mathematically.” He continued, “The tech preppers do not necessarily think a collapse is likely. They consider it a remote event, but one with a very severe downside, so, given how much money they have, spending a fraction of their net worth to hedge against this . . . is a logical thing to do.”

In the last ten years there have been six active shooter incidents on American military bases. The list starts with the killing of 13 (wounding of over 30) by Major Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, and ends with yesterdays shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola.

Using the formula above (which is the same formula used to determine flood plain risk) the math predicts your chance of encountering an active shooter event aboard a military base is 47%.

Last month the Department of Defense released a plan to allow concealed carry on military bases. It may surprise most citizens to learn that a concealed weapon aboard a military base now is a serious offense. Any potential active shooter who wants an area with lots of targets where the only chance of armed intervention is from uniformed officers arriving on the scene; an American military base is the perfect venue.

When discussing  the probability of competent armed intervention by concealed carry permit holders into an active shooter scenario there are few places with more people who trained in the use of small arms than an American military base. The last place an active shooter should ever have success is on one.

When the number of armed citizens is unknown, but probable, friction is injected into the active shooter scenario. An example of friction occurred in another shooting on a military base that was not included in our sample.

In 1994 Air Force Staff Sergeant Andy Brown, a Military Policeman, was on bike patrol at Fairchild Air Force in Spokane, Washington. A gunman, armed with an AK 47 started shooting a the base hospital and had already killed four and wounded 19 people before SSgt Brown arrived on scene. He proceeded to stop the shooter with a 70-yard head shot using his M-9 Beretta service pistol.

The Beretta M-9 is a crappy pistol that is difficult to run. The only way to hit someone at 70 yards with one is to cock the hammer to make the shot using the single action feature of the two stage double action/single action (DA/SA in gun talk) trigger set-up. Andy Brown knew this because he was one of those guys who decided he needed proper training to carry a pistol. He paid on the civilian market to get that training and he is the perfect example of the Pareto Principal (that stipulates 80% of the work is done by 20% of the workforce).

Andy Brown was a uniformed officer who responded to the event which seems to bolster the argument for allowing only the police to react. But he is no ordinary police officer, he’s an outlier. You can study thousands of active shooter responses and you will not find one where an officer, after riding a bike as fast as he could for several miles, took and made a 70 yard head shot.

That is extraordinary gun handling and marksmanship, fortune favors the prepared, in my opinion Andy Brown earned whatever luck he had on hitting the x-ring from so far away. Not many police officers could do that.  I can name, off the top of my head, over a 100 guys who could make that shot without breaking a sweat. None of them are current police officers, some of them have no police or military experience. They are out there by the thousands and most have made the decision to carry.

Andy Brown was not your average Air Force policeman. On most bases, there are plenty of servicemen and women who could have intervened, as effectively as he did,  if they were allowed to  be armed. Historically unarmed service members (and civilians) have run to the sound of the guns during these incidents to try and intervene. The recent derailing of a terrorist attack on the London Bridge by citizens who armed themselves with found objects (including a Narwhale tusk) is a good example.

Sheepdogs in action against an Islamic Terrorist with two knives taped to his hands. Armed citizens can end these events quicker and with less mayhem using legally owned and licensed firearms.

I mentioned the Pareto Principal because my best guess is around 20% of the service members (and civilians) serving on American bases would choose to carry. If my guess is in the ballpark that is enough friction to make a difference with the problem of active shooters on military bases. The same would be true of public schools.

An added benefit to allowing concealed carry on military bases is the propensity for commanding officers to insist on additional training on the employment of concealed pistols if their troops are going to be allowed to carry them. Here’s why that is a benefit:  do you know the one segment of the American military that does not have a problem with negligent discharges into clearing barrels? The United States Air Force Military Police. Do you know who routinely carries their pistols in condition 1 at all times? The Air Force Military Police.*

I’m not a fan of these damn things and they have become very expensive to manufacture because they are now designed to mitigate ND’s into clearing barrells

Condition one on a M-9 service pistol is a round in the chamber, hammer de-cocked, and the de-cocking lever up in the fire position.  On every FOB overseas the military has soldiers clear their weapons (magazine out, chamber empty de-cocker down in the de-cocked mode). Every FOB has been plagued by an alarming number of negligent discharges into clearing barrels.

One would think the example set by Air Force MP’s would be more widely duplicated; allowing concealed carry on base essentially does that. You don’t clear concealed weapons, not knowing they are there is the point of concealment. Maybe if commanders grew acclimated to troops with condition 1 weapons at all times they would  more away from the “clearing weapons” problem.

I never actually “cleared” my pistol at any FOB in Afghanistan but I was running a 1911 and the only way to engage the safety is in the locked and cocked configuration. A cleared 1911 looks identical to a hot one and I don’t understand carrying a pistol that is not hot.

There is a 37% chance that I could see a revolution in this country during my  lifetime but, there is very little I can do to mitigate that risk. The 47% chance that I could run into an active shooter aboard a military base, while not that much more likely, is something I can mitigate easily. My next post will explain the gold standard for American Sheepdogs as explained to me by the man who first coined the term. He is David Grossman, the founder of the Killology Research Group, and for the last 20 years the most sought after police trainer in the world.

*Special thanks to Kerry Patton for the inside scoop of Air Force MP’s 

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.

The Afghan Endgame Emerges and it is Not Going to Work

There is one point that I have hammered home on blogs and podcast interviews concerning Afghanistan and that is the next round of funding is a game changer. I thought we would be seeing some serious budget slashing in 2020 but it has already started.  Over the weekend the State Department cut 100 million dollars designated for Afghanistan energy infrastructure projects . They are also withholding another 60 million in payments to the Afghanistan’s National Procurement Authority.

The aid is being withheld because of the endemic corruption found in Afghanistan (and every other country in the region). The sums involved look massive but they aren’t, keeping Afghanistan’s  military and government solvent has a price tag of billions annually.  Cutting of programed funds is long overdue, but I am guessing this is a test run to see what happens when the real funding crisis strikes next year.

My concern is that once the Afghan people understand we are doing the old cut and run they may “complicate” our continued presence in the country.

Adding fuel to the fire is yet another ridiculous massacre of Afghan civilians by our armed forces.  A drone strike in Nangarhar province killed 30 workers who were gathering pine nuts. This is not the first time we have slaughtered pine nut gatherers. For 18 years we have been bombing Afghans who were going about their day because people watching drone feeds thought they were up to nefarious activities. We seem to be incapable of learning.

Just yesterday 3 American soldiers were wounded in a insider attack on their convoy by a member of Afghan Civil Order Police. This attack, were I to guess, has something to do with the loss of General Abdul Raziq last year. The Afghans know that the only reason Raziq was in that vulnerable situation was because General Miller invited him to the Kandahar Governors compound.

The guy who perpetrated this assault may well have been a Taliban plant, just like the one who nailed Raziq. Or he could be pissed about the death of Raziq and took it out on those he thought responsible. Who knows? But the timing of this attack is ominous to those like myself (and maybe it is just me) who are worried about pulling the cut and run while thousands of troops and  tens of thousands of internationals are resident in country.

The Afghan people are not stupid. When the news of 160 million dollar cut broke my Afghan friends in Kabul took to facebook to lament an act they knew was a long time coming.  Here are some of their comments from my Facebook page:

Can’t really blame the US for doing this..

That peace deal is coming the conditions are gearing up for anti-USA climate, when the money stops then why are you in Afghanistan? You gotta pay to play otherwise the Afghans are switching their attitudes. Try governing Afghans who haven’t been paid.

But it’s so right! There is no transparency in AFG gov procurement and especially large projects. Nobody can audit NPA, u can’t complain against them and they can award projects to people of their choice.

It’s about time! Bad news for some people.

This is the tragedy; there are plenty of Afghans who want our help, who respect and actually are inspired by the the idea of America, and who, if the Taliban return to total control (which I do not think possible) are in serious trouble.

Afghanistan is a mess but the only way for us to extract ourselves from that mess is slowly. The imperative now for NATO and the Afghanistan Security Forces is to not cede the initiative to the Taliban.  The Taliban continue to attack, they are not going to stop applying pressure because it  is working well for them.

We need to keep hammering away at them too, but when we do that we kill pine nut workers, or smoke check wedding parties. The reason behind that is lack of human intelligence , lack of local atmospherics, and (I hate to say this) lack of American boots on the ground.

I do not see how we are going to square the Afghan circle but know contractors are one option that has potential because contractors can loiter in country longer than military and they can return to the same unit over and over to build cohesion and competence. There are thousands of American combat vets (and contractors)  who would willingly return and stay to see the fight through. I’m one of them.

Like General Mattis I believe we should have bagged bin Laden in 2001 and left the country to its own devices. We didn’t, and for those of us who went to Afghanistan and stayed a bit; there is an obligation to the Afghan we assumed when we decided to stay. I love Afghans (most of them) and I love the country too but (I’ll say it again) – this is not going to end well.