Eid Cease Fire and a salute to Zee Man and Mullah John Binns

There are some interesting things happening in Afghanistan that could spell an end to our involvement there. What are the chances that our Department of State and Pentagon will capitalize on it? Zero.

CNN story on Taliban coming into the cities during the Mid cease fire

Michael Yon’s Road to Hell dispatch from 2008 featuring Zee

The Road to Hell part II – Michael Yon’s coverage of journalist kidnappings in Kabul 

Spirit of America NGO pays tribute to Zee

Rockefeller Brothers Fund pays tribute to Zee

San Diego Jalalabad Sister Cities Foundation Website 

A True Son of Afghanistan

SSF monitors the Presidential election in 2009 

 

 

Hacking The Afghanistan War

My second podcast is up and as a reminder once I get a few more done I’ll be using a service to get these out as listening podcasts on iTunes and Goggle Play.  Links from the material used for the show are below.

The Merry Pranksters Who Hacked the Afghan War from Pacific Standard

The White Man’s Burden

The most recent quarterly report from SIGAR

Mayday! Britain’s heroic lifeboat volunteers are drowning in a sea of political correctness imposed by former Save the Children executive

This is a Martha Raddatz interview with Dr Dave in which she tours OBL’s old house with the Taj “security team” that consisted of Baba Tim .  I’m not only a one man security detail but also the driver as you can see if you look closely.  The shit I would do without pay or bitching for my buddies ……Despite this interview and the NPR interview we were never able to raise funds.

 

Free Range Starts Podcasting

As Afghanistan fades into the rear view mirror interests in the conflict wanes as does the desire to learn lesson’s that were paid for by the lives of both combatants and innocents. In an attempt to highlight some of the observations I’ve made over the years I’m venturing into the world of podcasting in an effort to determine if I can mimic the success of the masters. Dan Carlin, Daniele Bolelli, Darryl Cooper, Joe Rogan, Jocko Willink and Dave Rubin have excellent podcasts some focused on history some on current events and they are consistently interesting.

This first episode is on the Lone Survivor incident which was an easy one to do because virtually everything people remember about it is false. Once a put up a few more of these my. plan is to your an audio podcast service to get them on iTunes and Goggleplay to see if I can carve out a niche.  Enjoy.

The Jamm Minaret

 

My Panjshir crew and I at the Jamm

Asking the Hard Questions About Afghanistan

Editors Note: This post is worth investing some time to digest. The author, Jake Allen, has an excellent, thought provoking, response to my latest post on Afghanistan. Jake, a former Marine infantry officer and a good friend asks the hard questions on our current efforts in Afghanistan. A mini bio for Jake is located at the end of this post.

Last week’s post by Babatim posed as interesting question “Will Security Sector Assistance Work in Afghanistan?” His observations on the current inadequacies as well as his prescribed solutions was certainly thought-provoking.

Sure, who could argue the merits of and need for basic military leadership and esprit de corps borne of shared commitment and sacrifice at the small unit level. Aligning ANSF with regional tribal leaders (warlords) would most likely be a tactical improvement to the current arrangement which clearly isn’t getting results. And, replacing the NATO military train and assist teams with private contractors, who might be willing to engage in combat, could reduce overall costs, although that’s debatable if, as Babatim suggests, tactical air support and other expensive support would remain part of the package. In any case, on its face, it all seems logical.

However, Babatim’s observations and suggestion, true as they may be, only prompt a much more important set of questions. Like, what would we achieve by changing our tactics this way? A decentralized Afghanistan run by dozens of autonomous regional warlords sounds a lot like Afghanistan in the 1990s. After 15+ years, thousands of KIA/WIA and over $800 billion taxpayer dollars spent is “rebuilding” Afghanistan in the image of its former self now the goal? I’m reminded of Sun Tzu’s admonition that, “strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory, while tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” After 15 years I think it’s safe to say we are at best on the slow path.

If this were truly a binary choice between using military or private contractors, then I support the later for all the reasons Babatim outlined and for one major one he didn’t. Transitioning to private contractors would help preserve the military’s reputation as they departed the stage. Let’s face it, General after General have devised plans that simply have not achieved lasting results. In truth, I place more blame on our elected civilian leaders and the State Department, but I’ll leave that for another post. In any event, if the military could be seen to be following orders to withdraw while handing the baton to private contractors it would largely give them the top-cover they need to execute a tactical retreat with their dignity intact. If all that ends up costing somebody less money, then so much the better. But question remains, why does that somebody have to be U.S. taxpayers who haven’t even been born yet? Why should future generations of Americans be forced to pay for new tactics, even at a lower price, when no real strategy for Afghanistan exists?

Let’s be clear, for Afghans, duping well-meaning but ignorant foreigners into funding their wars is the national pastime. The artistry and skill of separating foreigners from their money has been passed down from fathers to sons among regional tribal elders and modern-day politicians for millennia. Simply stated, this is what they do.

We should be asking, if these new proposed tactics, aligning ANSF with warlords and privatizing the train and assist missions are so necessary, beneficial and cost-effective why aren’t the warlords themselves willing to make the financial investment? After all, they will effectively be securing their own regional kingdom for future generations.

Or…maybe, just maybe, this is merely the next western tactic the Afghans are willing to go along with since old paleface is willing to pay for it. Sorry, but I’ve heard these shepherds crying wolf too many times before. I’m willing to wager that when the Taliban push these warlords too far they’ll find all the Muj they need without U.S. taxpayer money. As a matter of self-preservation, they’ll literally have the rest of their lives to solve the problem, or not.

Still, if it’s funding they so desperately need to pay the privateers’ invoices, why can’t the Qataris, Emiratis or Saudis pay for it? They have the money, whereas the U.S. doesn’t, and aren’t they equally committed to preventing the spread of Islamic extremism? No, both the Arabs and the Afghans know that only western powers fall for these scams.

If President Trump is the skilled negotiator he claims he should remind our Afghan counterparts and allies that the universe has a natural order. The fittest and most committed tend to survive. So, if it is the case that the Taliban simply have more “want to” when it comes to controling Afghanistan then there’s really nothing money can buy to square that circle. The Taliban’s moral will likely be 3 times greater than anything physical that can be purchased, and the results will be inevitable.

President Trump should tell our so-called Afghan friends that we are OK with that. Remind them that two previous presidential administrations have tried mightily for over 15 years to help the Afghan people and it hasn’t worked. We’re now ready to try something else. As the world’s greatest deal-maker the President should make it clear that the U.S. is open to negotiating with their vanquishers for a while to see if he can get a better deal with for the U.S. I mean, how much worse could that actually be? Probably not a whole lot worse and at least we could use the $45 billion earmarked for Afghanistan in 2018 alone to instead rebuild infrastructure in the U.S. The fact is, the U.S. doesn’t need Afghanistan nearly as much as they need us. We have all the leverage in any negotiation.

But as I said, our choices aren’t, or at least they shouldn’t be. There is a third way forward, and it’s one that has a chance of being successful. President Trump should form a team of advisors to develop an actual tangible goal and strategy to achieve it. The process goes like this:

First Level Questions: What is the end-game? What does “success” even look like? How do we measure incremental progress and ultimate success so that the American people, our Afghan counterparts and not least our enemies know that we’ve achieved our goal(s)? Maybe privateers are the correct means to the end. But WTF is the end? What is the Commander’s (in Chief) Intent and the Final Result Desired (FRD)? If we cannot do this then we shouldn’t stay in Afghanistan.

Next Level Questions: Is that FRD realistic and achievable? Do most of the Afghan people share in the vision? If not, then at best they are a passive terrain feature to navigate around and at worst they are an active force providing aid and comfort to the enemy. For the sake of argument let’s just assume that the FRD is overwhelmingly supported by the Afghans. What then is the estimated cost to the U.S. in terms of blood and treasure to achieve it? How many years, how many lives would we need to commit? How many billions of dollars of debt would we need to incur?

Level 3 Questions: Only after Levels 1 and 2 are complete can we finally ask ourselves: Is the cost to achieve that FRD worth it? What does the US get in return for our investment? If you think turning Afghanistan into a modern society would guarantee the security of our homeland you’re dead wrong. In the past 15 years, while we have been dicking-around chasing ghosts our enemy (Islamic terrorism) adapted and moved on. The enemy no longer requires remote “safe havens” in places like Helmand province to plan attacks on our homeland. And even if they have a few safe havens our current ability to detect and destroy them is light years ahead of where it was in 2001. So, ask yourself, what are we really getting in return for our investment?

But I doubt President Trump will form the committee or if he does they can’t or won’t clearly state a Final Result Desired. Not because the questions above are hard to answer, they aren’t. Rather the answers these questions produce cannot be sold to the American people which means new tactics are just the noise before eventual defeat.

Jake Allen is a co-founder and Managing Partner at the Mozayix International, a leading private security consultancy.  He has more than 15 years experience providing private security services in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Lebanon, Turkey and Ukraine.  Prior to his contracting career he served as an Infantry Officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Will Security Sector Assistance Work in Afghanistan?

The Taliban has been busy reminding the United States and her allies in Afghanistan that the moral is to the physical as three is to one. They have done this by side stepping our Security Sector Assistance (SSA) efforts in the Helmand and Nangarhar provinces by hitting the Afghan state where it is weak. Launching two large attacks inside the ‘Ring of Steel’ of Kabul (attacking the Intercontinental Hotel and the checkpoint outside the old Ministry of the Interior) and hitting a western NGO (Save the Children) in Jalalabad, the capitol of Nangarhar province.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released a report last September revealing that 60% of the funds expended since 2002, some 70 Billion dollars, were spent on developing Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF). In this report he listed several reasons why our efforts have borne little fruit.

The U.S. government was ill-prepared to conduct SSA programs of the size and scope required in Afghanistan. The lack of commonly understood interagency terms, concepts, and models for SSA undermined communication and coordination, damaged trust, intensified frictions, and contributed to initial gross under-resourcing of the U.S. effort to develop the ANDSF.

Initial U.S. plans for Afghanistan focused solely on U.S. military operations and did not include the construction of an Afghan army, police, or supporting ministerial-level institutions.

Early U.S. partnerships with independent militias—intended to advance U.S. counterterrorism objectives—ultimately undermined the creation and role of the ANA and Afghan National Police (ANP).

Critical ANDSF capabilities, including aviation, intelligence, force management, and special forces, were not included in early U.S., Afghan, and NATO force-design plans

Providing advanced Western weapons and management systems to a largely lliterate and uneducated force without appropriate training and institutional infrastructure created long-term dependencies, required increased U.S. scale support, and extended sustainability timelines. 

To answer some of these shortfalls the US Army is developing Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFAB) that will be tailored to the mission and free up brigade combat teams. This idea, based on sound theory, will not work in practice. It won’t work for the same reasons it’s not working now; limited dwell time in country, high turnover of key personnel and the unwillingness to partner with host nation military units in combat.

Mentoring host nation military units does not take special classes on cultural awareness (although these help) or dedicated personnel; it takes the commitment to go into battle. It also takes sharing the same misery your local soldiers experience while demonstrating the leadership, tenacity and discipline required to prevail in the counterinsurgency fight.

As I pointed out in this post we know how to do it. Our problem is that we are too big and too complex organizationally to reinforce the limited success in the SSA mission we have achieved on the ground in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Former Marine and current Undersecretary of Defense Owen West wrote a book on how his team, and the ones that preceded him, did it in Iraq. American Spartan was another great book about a superb SF officer named Jim Gant who also broke the code on how to mentor in Afghanistan although he was not in the SAA role when he did it.

The Gant experience is important when dealing specifically with Afghanistan. As noted in the SIGAR report the central weakness of our Afghan assistance mission has been the inability of the central government to eliminate corruption and develop the efficiency needed to equip and maintain a professional military force. Jim Gant went into the most kinetic province of Afghanistan (Kunar) and stabilized a good portion of it by training up and directly supporting tribal militias. He accepted the reality that the central government will never control or be accepted by the hill Pashtuns living in the Hindu Kush.

The government in Kabul was established by and is currently maintained by the might of the American military (and her allies). We are westerners, we are not Muslims, we are attempting to create a system that is not organic to the people or region. It will not work.

The original Taskforce Southwest, with BGen Roger Turner at the helm has turned over with a new task force headed up by BGen Ben Watson. Turners Marines, who stayed inside the wire while mentoring ANSF, helped drive the incident rate down in Helmand province. They accomplished their mission and have brought some time and space for the Afghan army and national police. The big T Taliban have responded by hitting the Afghan government where its weak and where it hurts; inside the Ring of Steel in downtown Kabul. This is classical insurgent tactics; where the government  is strong they are weak; where the government is weak they attack.

We have spent 70 Billion and counting to stabilize a country that is so unstable that our own diplomats and military cannot drive 2 miles from the international airport in Kabul to our own embassy. And it’s straight shot, down one road.

The center of gravity for both the Taliban and the central government is the people of Afghanistan. The SIGAR report identified our early partnership with militias as having undermined the creation and role of the ANA and National Police. This may be true but it is also irrelevant. Ignoring the powerful regional warlords while trying to marginalize them has consistently failed.

The current hit film, 12 Strong, portrays two of them, Abdul Rashid Dostum and Atta Muhammad Nur. Dostum was given a place in the central government by Karzai (Deputy Minister of Defense) and is currently the First Vice President of Afghanistan. Both positions were designed to sideline him and he has spent years in Turkey to avoid prosecution for killing political rivals and the Dash-i-Leili massacre of 2000 Taliban in 2001. Atta Muhammad Nur has been the governor of Balkh province sine 2004. In 2014 the current president fired all 34 provincial governors but Nur has refused to leave office and remains there to this day.

Both Nur and Dostum can raise and field thousands of Mujahideen. They may not be the type of leaders we would like to deal with but we are already dealing with and supporting them in official capacities that limit them and that’s not helping us. I wrote here about Ismail Khan who controls the western city of Herat and why it would be a good idea to bring his Muj into the fight. There is also Abdul Karim Brahui, former governor of Nimroz province and one of the warlords who was effective against the Soviets and Taliban and has never been accused of human rights violations. That’s just four of the dozens of local leaders who could raise Muj forces.

Trying to explain how the USG works to Governor Brahui in 2011

If the Afghan central government is not going to work (and it isn’t) then the only way forward is to incorporate ANSF units with the forces of regional warlords. The warlords bring a sizable chunk of the population with them; it’s that simple. The people are the prize and the central government doesn’t represent the people, regional warlords do because in Afghanistan that’s the way it is.

The US military could have worked wonders embedding with these warlords like they did in 2001 but that window has closed. The only rational way forward is to incorporate Mujahideen into the fight against the Taliban by using contractors for liaison and access to American enablers (Tac Air, Drone feeds, Artillery etc..). These contractors need to be already known to and accepted by the warlords (that pool of men is larger than most would suspect).

I emphasize rational because rational people care about how expensive things are and the US Armed Forces are too damn expensive. Check this article out about the new SF Battle Buggies. Contractors don’t need million dollar battle buggies – they’ll use the same beat up Toyota Hi-Lux trucks the Muj are using. We’re a cheap date and yes this argument is self serving; limit the selection pool to guys who are known and accepted by warlords and I’m back in the game (inshallah).

These are nice and I’m all for giving the men serving the best protection we have but it’s damn expensive. Contractors don’t need them…we’ll take the big paycheck (and adventure) instead.

I know my assessment and recommendations will fall on deaf ears just as the SIGAR report from last September did. That’s too bad because we’re still spending a fortune on a failed strategy. We’re still losing servicemen too because the Army is sending advisors into combat with the Afghans in Nangarhar province while the Marines are not doing that in Helmand province. If we had a competent press corps that would the story they would be out to answer. But that’s not going to happen so ‘we the people’ have little idea what exactly is happening with the cash were expending and troops we are sending to Afghanistan.

That’s a shame too because we made promises to the Afghans that we are not keeping. The inability to keep your promises is bad for individuals (see Jordan Peterson’s excellent 12 Rules for Life for a detailed explanation why) and bad for countries too.

Is Kabul Safe for Foreigners? Hard Man Vs Grey Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura Does Kabul and Rocks It

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry, got a little off track there.

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

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

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

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

Ashraf Ghani: Indeed.

Lara Logan: How long can that be sustained?

Ashraf Ghani: Until we secure Afghanistan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Atrocity in Afghanistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Armed and Dangerous: Should a Principal Carry in Afghanistan?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about your average protection detail?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There have been several news items on Afghanistan that call for some optimism. Task and Purpose published this long piece by former Ranger and current journalist Marty Skovlund and it’s a great read. Marty also has done the War College Podcast and other media where he anticipates our continued involvement with the Afghans for decades to come.

Task Force Southwest is heading home after a successful deployment (they did not lose any Marines) and Vice News caught up with them before they left. You can get a good feel for what they’ve accomplished in the video below:

It is clear that the Marines in Helmand have stabilized the Afghan National Army in just as the Army has in Nangarhar province. Yet none of this has changed my opinion that it is not going to work and that we are wasting time, money and lives on a forlorn hope.

Last week former Marine Owen West was confirmed as assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict. His nomination had been held up by democrats who objected to this eminently reasonable article he published, in conjunction with his father Bing West, concerning women in the infantry.

Owen was a talented infantry officer who also served in the reconnaissance community before leaving the Corps for Goldman Sachs where he became the most badass banker on Wall Street. Owen remained in the Marine Corps reserves and did two combat deployments to Iraq. He also became, like his father,  a successful writer publishing two thrillers as well as an account of his time as an advisor to the Iraq Army.  That last book is the biggest reason for hope I have seen to date concerning our efforts in Afghanistan

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

“Stunning in its portrayal, this highly personal book conveys a tremendous sense of time and place, set in a wickedly complex war zone that our young men faced in a foreign land, coaching a foreign force, in a type of combat foreign to those who have forgotten that war is ultimately a human endeavor. Vivid and honest, it holds true the real lessons of counter-insurgent war and is essential reading for those who seek to understand what we demand from those we send to fight for us.” — General James Mattis.

What’s this have to do with Afghanistan? I’m not sure because I don’t know how much weight the assistant SecDef for Special Forces has in the big scheme of things. What I do know is that Owen West believes our current approach in Afghanistan is wrong. Check this out from the introduction of The Snake Eaters:

Only an advisor’s aggressive willingness to share risk—his performance under fire—with local troops gives him credibility with and influence over them. This gap in understanding is not limited to civilians. Our generals are uncomfortable prescribing advisors as a solution to these twenty-first-century wars. Advising a foreign military requires nontraditional training that takes years; soldiers need a wonk’s cultural awareness, the rudimentary language capability of a border cop, a survivalist’s skills, and the interpersonal savvy of a politician. Military hierarchy is built on control, so it feels unnatural for the leadership to dispatch these small bands of advisors, who on paper cannot give orders, to live among foreign, sometimes hostile soldiers in an effort to stabilize their countries.

Living with the troops and leading by example…..where have you heard that before? Not just in this blog; every legitimate resource on getting host nation armies from the third world into the fight says the same thing. We knew this a century ago when we were fighting in Banana Republic Wars. Now the belief that technology has changed the dynamic of counterinsurgency warfare has reduced our efforts to unsustainably expense parodies of an effective military solution.

The Snake Eaters details this without the rancor. It tells the story of a small group of untrained reservists controlled by a clueless higher headquarters who are thrust into the most deadly town in Iraq. Not every team member is a hero but the deadwood is replaced rapidly, those who see the mission through are classic representations of American  fighting men. Some our career officers who step up and out of constricting formal roles associated with their rank and experience. Some are non conformists who learn the local language and advocate for the local people. All who remain display the two traits most important in the counterinsurgency battle; physical courage and placing the mission ahead of all other considerations.

The Iraqi’s they mentor run the gamut from cowardly sycophants to incredibly brave professionals. Ironically the Iraqi officer who holds the Americans in complete contempt is the favorite of the American advisors. When you are deep in the shit performance is all that matters but not enough American units have found themselves deep enough in the shit to have learned this basic rule of war.

Every institutional problem I have bitched about for over a decade on this blog is validated in the book. Placing force protection ahead of mission and the un-stabilizing effects of  SF night rains that can destroy in a few hours trust that took months of blood, seat and tears to build are just two of those problems that are covered in detail. This is the first military book I’ve read that relates directly to the experiences I and my small group of Free Ranging friends had in Afghanistan. Take a couple of minutes to hear Owen explain the book to get a feel for why I’m raving about it.

The American military has some serious, fundamental issues that need to be sorted out. The Marine Corps aviation in on it’s knees and currently unable to generate the sortie hours required to maintain proficiency with its fixed wing fighters. The Navy cannot drive its boats but worse yet it can’t even recognize an impending collision soon enough to sound the appropriate alarms; the ones that would have forced men from their bunks so they don’t get crushed and drowned when their ships hit gigantic civilian tankers. The Air Force can’t retain pilots; the Army can’t retain talent yet in the face of these problems our politicians are forcing women on the infantry and transexuals into the force structure.

Countering these powerfully negative trends is the most qualified Secretary of Defense and the most powerful Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the history of our country. They are on record as opposing social engineering they know will weaken combat power yet seem unable to put a stake through the heart of PC centric change.

Add to that an Assistant Secretary of Defense who not only knows, but has proven the risk adverse, reliance on high tech, Kabuki theater of advise and assist while leading from behind will not work.

Will this make a difference? I don’t know but sure is interesting.