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.

It’s Groundhog Day for Afghansitan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Groundhog Day

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

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

Remembering Droney McDroneface

This morning at the Imam Khomeini Space Center in Semnan province, Iran a rocket, reportedly carrying a Nahid-1 telecommunication satellite, blew up on its launch pad.

This is the third  failed launch in a row for Iran. Three times this year they have tried to launch a rocket and three times it blew up in place. I think this might not be a coincidence. Rockets designed to launch satellites don’t routinely blow up, and the Iranians certainly have the human capitol required  to launch satellites safely, but they’re having a moment this year. I think I know why.

Who needs to sabotage supply chains when you have Droney McDroneface?

I think the Iranians are suddenly having missile dysfunction secondary to a Droney McDroneface infection.. Earlier in the summer I proposed that the sudden appearance and subsequent disappearance of an old washed up RQ-4N BAMS-D (Broad Area Maritime Surveillance-Demonstrator) drone I named Drone McDroneface.

That story was picked up by Soldier of Fortune Magazine and trended on twitter for 37 seconds. Media experts, like Alex Hollings, carefully examined my theory and patiently explained why it was ridiculous. It may well be, but it’s a good story, and about as accurate as your average legacy media story about President Trump.

Plus, the Droney story chunks information in a easily understood manner. When you hear that another Iranian missile blew up and killed its satellite you’ll already have a good understanding of why that happened.  Efficiency in digesting complex news about international events can be difficult, so I’m doing my part to make it easier with simple stores about complex things I think I know something about. The stories may or may not be true but you and I wouldn’t know it they were or weren’t true, so who cares?

This Labor Day Americans have much be excited about. But the Oregon/Auburn game will be over by midnight Saturday; what are you going to be excited about then? You can get excited about whatever, but at some point during the weekend festivities,you might might want to take a second to remember the sacrifice of Drone McDroneface.

I know what you are thinking; I’ve been watching Better Than Us on Netflix too. That killer robot, yoga instructor- looking- woman lead character is truly scary. Figures it’s a Russian TV show, but that’s not what I’m talking about.  And who cares about Russian TV shows during Labor Day anyway? If you do, you shouldn’t, you should get outside more and while outside pause, look up into the sky and think about our hero Droney. He (or she or zir…Droney was unarmed and PC)  is giving the Mullahs fits to this day and that is a record to be proud of.

VA Harm Reduction Totalitarians Force Islamic Terrorist Inspired Sharia on American Veterans

For Eighteen years the American military has fought the Taliban, al Qaeda, and ISIS from the Hindu Kush to the Philippines Seas and most lands in between. The one common denominator between those Jihadi scum is their view on smoking cigarets. They are militantly anti-smoking, as in cut off your fingers for smoking, anti-smoking. One of the first things people do when they see Americans rolling into villages after thumping ISIS or al Qaeda or whoever, is to light up and enjoy the right to ‘smoke them if they got them’.

I was told repeatedly as a young officer that there are no atheists in the foxholes, and went on to observe there are no non-smokers there either. The closer you are to fighting infantry the more uniform their behavior regarding smoking becomes.

This is is with great mixed emotions I make the following announcement: On 1 October, at every Veterans Administration Facility in America, all smoking and smoking related products will be banned. The ban will include parking lots and facility grounds and will be enforced by the VA police who issue tickets on behalf of the Federal Court. Try dodging one of those and the Men in Black show up to shoot your dog and yoke you up for smoking a cigaret.

As a local VSO (veteran service officer) I frequent VA facilities throughout the Rio Grande Valley. I see the occasional smoker in the designated smoking areas and have never seen anyone smoking in a non-designated area. This new directive is addressing a problem that is not evident, and using the iron fist of Federal law enforcement to isolate, alienate, and eventually incarcerate the most vulnerable in the veteran population.

Most veterans, like most people, understand that smoking is no longer popular or considered acceptable behavior in public places. Most will comply with posted signs prohibiting smoking. Those who ignore those signs and refuse to refrain from smoking on private property have a problem, but it is not tobacco addiction. They have other issues and the last thing they need is a federal police officer in their face issuing them a 300 dollar fine they cannot afford to pay because they felt like having a smoke

There is nothing funny about drug abuse damnnit so don’t even smile at this…grrrr

Somehow I’ve ended up being the co-chair of the local VA system Management Advisory Council, and I have been doing it long enough for the members to anticipate my reaction to a policy like this. They were hesitant to bring it up, when they did everybody in the room looked at me.  I was smiling, trying hard not to laugh out loud, struggling to regain what passes as composure for me these days.

Eighteen years….. was how I started, and rejecting the temptation to  describe my minor contributions in reducing the number of Islamic Harm Reduction Totalitarians during delightful sojourns in Afghanistan and Iraq I focused on the point.

That point is this new rule has nothing to do with smoking. It is an obvious attempt to force compliance on a small segment of the population that the mandarins running the VA find deplorable. I used deplorable on purpose too just in case anyone was slow on the uptake.

The VA maintained that their concern is exclusively veteran health which is why, in addition to throwing the full weight of federal law upon the head of hapless Vets, they now offer smoking cessation classes,  5-days a week.  Having declared a smoking jihad the VA decided that Vets can even bring their spouses to smoking cessation class where they can participate for free.

If smoking cessation classes actually worked that would be a fair point, but they do not work, and that is a long-known inconvenient fact.  Being rather pedantic on the “fact-stuff” I pointed out there is a drug with over 80% success at treating life-long smokers with just one application. Some of the VA folks knew where I was going and hung their heads because that drug is psilocybin. Here is an abstract from an NIH study conducted at John Hopkins in 2014 telling you all about it.

Facts are fascinating unless you have an agenda.

The number one health problem facing veterans (and non-vets) in the Rio Grande Valley is morbid obesity and the resulting problems of diabetes and hypertension. If there were a way to magically remove the excess lipids in every human within 100 meters of our meeting we could have  (in theory)  built one hell of an elephant with which to remind people reality has a vote in the affairs of humans.

The signature injury of the current war is low testosterone in the men who fought it. Is the VA doing anything about that? No, of course not;  in America  cutting edge therapy that address hormone imbalances, addiction, PTSD, Insomnia, chronic orthopedic problems, and Traumatic Brain Injuries are only available to the wealthy and connected. You can listen to hours of discussions about new innovative treatments for those problems on the Joe Rogan podcast. But to access the treatments you need to make Joe Rogan money.

Harm Reduction Totalitarians are annoying, joyless, pale creatures who could be dangerous in countries with a feminized culture and unarmed citizenry. Here Harm Reduction Totalitarians remain a source of amusement because they are crazy people. What are you supposed to do when a 350 pound bald man tells you that smoking will ruin the quality of your life? If your answer is to laugh I’m warning you right now that is a bad move. Fat shaming is as bad as dead naming and you wouldn’t call Bruce Jenner, Bruce would you? Actually his son did say that in an interview and even he caught social media shit for it, but that’s not the point.

The point is it is time to make a stand for freedom. I know how to do that too so in support of the millions of muslims liberated from anti smoking tyranny by the American armed forces I’m going to start smoking. All the right people hate it so it must be the right thing to do.

A Not Happy Afghanistan Independence Day

Monday marked the 100 year anniversary of Afghanistan independence. August 19, 1919 marked the end of the third Anglo-Afghan war and joins Al-Faath day(a Muslim military victory) and Mujahedin Victory Day (the victory over the Soviets) as a public holiday celebrating Afghan martial virtue. This holiday was heavily anticipated and the road up to Dar-ur Aman  palace strung with lights and vendor stalls to mark the celebration. My good friend JD wrote an excellent man on the street piece for dpa International that can be found here. It is worth reading.

JD had published an article just yesterday in dpa International that was seething in undisguised rage at yet another bombing targeting civilian Afghans. A bomb went off in the vicinity of Dar-ul Aman road targeting a wedding party  killing 63 people. Hundreds more were injured. What JD could not say (because he is a reporter) was what we both (and everybody watching Afghanistan) knew and that was this was the work of Daesh-K (ISIS). We knew this because the area along Dar-ul Aman road is predominantly Hazara, who are Shia, and thus enemies to the Sunni ISIS movement.

DSCF1363
The Dar-ul Aman palace has taken a beating over the years. I took this picture in 2006 and I bet not much has changed…and it turns out I was wrong 
My friend Farshid Ghyasi  sent this after I posted. I am glad to see the Palace restored. Inshallah it will stay that way

This comes as the United States prepares to significantly draw down its military commitment, just like we did in Vietnam, but this time we cannot pin this on a hostile  congress. Well that is not technically true, we can blame congress for failing to use the war powers act. They could have tied funding to an achievable end-state allowing the military to tell them the forces needed to achieve that end-state. That is how the system is supposed to work, but it never seems to work that way. I think that’s because politicians are much more comfortable making decisions about foreign commitments after they’ve started. Stands on principal are not how congress people get to congress, that they failed to use their own laws to bring some order to the chaos is not a bug in our electoral system, It’s a feature.

ISAF
This is a graphic depiction of mission creep. The military has to take some of the tasks outlined in this ridiculously complex PowerPoint on, but not all of them. Congress is supposed to have a say, on behalf of the people, in this mess.

As Afghanistan recovers from yet another senseless attack on the people the Taliban leadership received a dose of Kummerspeck inspiring bad news.  This came in the form of a report from Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency detailing their lavish life styles and investments.

wonderful german wrods

It turns out that Taliban politicians are every bit a venal and corrupt as the non Taliban type. But the leaders of the Taliban are not savvy to the ways of media or that bright when it comes to Pakistan because they reacted to this report with undisguised fury. They do not know what they do not know, and one of the knows is that the Streisand Effect is real.

Why the Pakistan Federal Investigation Agency released this report is an interesting topic to speculate about. I doubt the press will do much speculating because most paths are going to lead to the recent statements by President Trump concerning the need for both Pakistan and India to do more about the terrorist in their midsts.

Remember Daesh-K started out as Pakistani Taliban who fled across the border into Nangarhar province to escape from Pakistans military operations Khyber I and II. And calling out India…I don’t think I’ve seen that before and that too is interesting. Maybe there is diplomacy occurring that is actually producing results. Pakistan called out the Taliban leadership and face smashed them. Afghans are excellent volleyball players and they know exactly what face smash is and what it means.

I am running out of things to say about the tragedy unfolding in Afghanistan. It breaks my heart because I love the people of Afghanistan. When I arrived in that country I had no knowledge of the place. I learned fast because I was never on a FOB and lived in the ville with the locals for most of my time there. They taught me how to navigate the social systems, they taught what was real risk and what was not. They protected me, feed me and gave my children the experience of a lifetime. I  like to think I returned their investment in spades but who knows? That is not for me to judge.

I’m going to start writing Afghanistan stories about things like having my children there with me, meeting interesting people and visiting interesting places. In the end, the families of the dead, those that served there in the military, and the contractors who served with the military and outside the wire  are always going to ask was it worth it. I say that too is not for us to judge.

We have no idea  how the thousands of acts of kindness towards average Afghans will germinate over the years. Just as we have no idea how the innocents – the collateral which I railed about when I was there – it’s why I started the blog – we have no idea how that will germinate.

I know some of the Afghans caught in crossfire knew we did not do that intentionally. I’ve talked to plenty of them, I too got shot at for getting to close an army convoy, I understand Afghan frustration about that well.

But I bet in 20 years if you are American in Afghanistan you will treated like an American in Vietnam. Which means very well.

Time for the first Afghan sea story.

 

In the photo above I am with senior Islamic Cleric, but I cannot remember his name. I’m wearing recycled contractor clothes, where there once a name-tag I had a South Park cartoon character saying “You sent me to Iraq You Bastards”.  I thought that was funny because I just came from Iraq. I was to learn that Afghans were not amused by American curse words. But having a stupid shirt on is not why I remember this meeting with embarrassment. That Cleric was one of the most charismatic, wise, men I have ever met. In an effort to impress I remember telling him how quickly we would re-build the country, get the hydro generators working, build the roads and schools, etc…

I remember him looking at me and smiling and shaking his head. He said something like this; “the buildings and the roads and the electricity are not important. It is the people who have been damaged by decades of war that are important and it is the spirit of the people that must be restored. America cannot do this for Afghanistan, we must do this ourselves”.

What do you say to a profound statement like that? I don’t remember what I said, but I never forgot that conversation. It was humbling and a harbinger for the failure our efforts in Afghanistan were destined to have.

Afghanistan Stories – What’s up with the Hash?

As the United States sets up to ramp down their activities in Afghanistan it is time to write stories about the country that folks might find interesting. First up (admittedly low hanging fruit) is the myth of Afghan hash. It had a reputation for being good but where reputation originated is hard to determine. Stories of hash cultivation and usage in the era go back centuries. But most Afghan hash is #39 (not good).

It is not hard to find hash in Afghanistan, in fact you can go up to any street vendor and procure a Talli (lamb tongue) for $10.00. But the international community was generally less than impressed.

Turns out most Afghans cannot grow dope worth a damn. Separating male from female plants in not the norm, they refuse to stop throwing water on it as the flowers mature, they have no idea what trichomes are or how to look at them to determine the optimal time for harvesting.  They end up roughing the plants up with leather gloves weeks before they should touching the damn things and their hash sucks.

Screen Shot 2019-08-19 at 6.50.29 PM
Trichromes – can’t grow good weed without knowing about these

How do I know this? Sea story time.

There I was, There I was  … escorting a Japanese agricultural expert as she inspected a barn the people of Japan had donated to the women in the village of Uzbeck Uzbeck. This was in 2006 and Uzbeck Uzbeck is in Balkh province near the city of Mazar-i Sharif. I knew something was wrong when we pulled into the village because there was a small group of men and women in a heated argument which is most unusual.

What had happened was the men of the village had taken custody of half the barn to dry a monster harvest of weed. The women, knowing exactly how Tani-San (our Ag expert who is all of 4’10’ and slight of build) would react, had turned their cows loose in the dope fields where they had gone to town and were now acting most strange.

Once we understood what was happening Tani -san took her charges aside and started to wear them out. One of the elders took me aside and explained they did not know I was coming and could I wait in this storage room as they set up a tea to host me. I sat down in the room and noticed the body a young teen-age girl was laid out on a door sitting on saw horses. I’ve seen plenty of bodies in my days and knew the girl had been placed there so the women could prepare her body for burial that night. I have no idea what caused her early demise, it was clearly not trauma, and my hosts never said a word about it. Death is part of life in Afghanistan and waiting to bury a loved one routine.

The village elders came for me 15 minutes latter and we went to a slightly raised wooden deck with a wood frame surrounding it and sage bushes forming a wall on one end. There were a dozen little boys in the creek next to the deck and they threw water on the sage bushes as we sat and drank tea. It was August, over 100 degrees, and the slight breeze running through the sage brush was luxurious.

I was not proficient with languages back then (never got that good with Pashto) and was doing my best to figure out what the heck everybody was talking about when an Afghan in western clothes walked up and , after exchanging greeting with the elders, said “what’s up man”?

Turned out the guy had spent years living in Amsterdam and knew a thing or two about growing weed. He told me he came back after the Taliban fell to stare his knowledge with his fellow Afghans. After Tani-san and the women had gone to eat lunch we went into the barn and he took out a 30x magnifying glass and showed me the trichomes on the weed buds and explained why this crop should have been harvested a week early (thanks to our visit apparently).

Years later in Jalalabad I would repeatedly hear of guys having hash from Bahlk province so I am guessing the European bud farmer had some success, or maybe it has always been that way, who knows?

This monster was growing across the street from a bank in Kabul about 300 yards from the American embassy in 2006. The guards across the street were keeping tabs on it – the two women are beggars, which is a common sight in Kabul.

What I know is the deeper you dig into perceived conventional knowledge the more you learn to suspect convenient narratives.  Afghanistan is a complex place full of the unexpected….but the hash production sector needs some work.

America’s New Hero

July 4th is the perfect day to launch a campaign aimed at uniting Americans behind a national hero of whom we can all be proud. In prior posts I have nominated the RQ-4N BAMS-D (Broad Area Maritime Surveillance-Demonstrator) drone that arrived in the Persian Gulf on the 15th June and was shot down by Iran five days latter.

BAMS-D Broad Area Maritime Surveillance-Demonstrator

The day after we lost our drone the United States launched a retaliatory strike on Iran, but called it off at the last minute. Concurrent with the feint (or aborted) attack, a real cyber attack hit the Iranian Missile Control Systems and devastated them.

There is an obvious connection between an old surplus drone being sent to the Gulf and then promptly shot down, and the subsequent cyber attack. Cyberattacks on closed systems (like missile control systems) have a limited number of entry routes. Either a human agent or a targeted platform introduced the virus. Given the Central Intelligence Agency’s  record regarding human intelligence the chances they had someone on the inside are beyond remote.

I believe the attack was effective because Richard Fernandez, writing at the Belmont Club, said they were. Mr. Fernandez is a proven source of consistently good geopolitical analysis. He could be wrong, I have no way of knowing, which raises the question of who and what can you believe in this day and age?

In an era when the press and politicians use devise rhetoric to separate and categorize us along racial or ethnic lines it is hard to know what to believe, or who to trust.  I believe in and trust the American people.  At this moment in our history  the American people need a hero and what better hero than a unarmed drone with a story  that inspires and educates?

A hero needs a name that has meaning and on July 4th what could have more meaning than a name that acknowledges the genius and wit of the British peoples?

When Britain’s Natural Environment Research Council decided to allow the British people to name their new 300 million-dollar Arctic research ship the people, recognizing a boondoggle, insisted it be name Boaty McBoatface. The ship is now named the RRS Sir David Attenborough, public opinion be damned, but to me and millions of Brits it will always be Boaty McBoatface.

Thus I propose we name our hero drone Droney McDroneface.

The 4th of July is the perfect day to recognize Droney with a tip of the hat to the British people. But his accomplishment is only important because we are now energy independent. The story our energy independence starts on July 4th, 1845. On that day the Texas legislature held an emergency meeting to accept an offer from the United States to become the 28th state.  For ten years Texans had been pleading with the United States for entry into the Union and for ten years they had been held at arms length due to international treaty obligations with Mexico and the issue of slavery.

The Texans had capable leaders and they had started to flirt with Britain, France and Mexico at exactly the time that the United States realized it need to own the land all the way to the Pacific as a strategic necessity. Texas drove a hard bargain and part of that bargain was the the Federal Government could not claim or own any land in Texas.

As an aside the only member of the Texas constitution committee who had been born in Texas was José Navarro of San Antonio. We’ve been a multicultural country from the start, a point seldom heard in national discourse these days.

The United States is currently the worlds leading oil producer. The modern fracking boom started in Texas specifically because the federal government owned no lands and could not impeded development here. We are the worlds leading energy producer despite, not because of our federal government.

In the words of the immortal historian T.R. Fehrenbach, the founders of Texas thought they had joined a “country so great that even fools could not completely destroy it“.

There are millions of Americans who believe that President Trump is a fool will destroy the country. I felt the same about President Obama. The country survived eight years of Obama, it will survive four or eight years of Trump.

The greatness of America has more to do with the land and the people then specific programs or forms of government. We are in a strategically dominated position because we found a way to extract petrochemicals efficiently using new technology. The people, not the government made us energy independent.

Iran now has no missile defense capability because Americans engineered a way to attack and disable it without shedding a drop of blood. The people, not the government developed that technology.

All peoples remember great events of their past by telling stories that organize the action into a coherent narrative. The narrative behind Droney is easy to map out without triggering any special interest. Droney was unarmed, an outcast scheduled for the bone yard, Droney was bi-partisan, nobody used drones more than the Obama administration. Droney is gender fluid, I refer to him as ‘him’ not to offend any other gender, but  because I too am a him. But Droney could be a ‘her’ or an ‘it’ or a ‘post op transsexual’ drone; it doesn’t matter. Droney can be all things to all peoples.

Droney McDroneface  wasn’t like the other drones, he didn’t fly at 60,000 feet or have weapon pylons or the ability to loiter for hours on end and then rain death and destruction down from on high. He had no crew, he had no mission, he was headed to the desert to be mothballed.

Then one day contractors came and started performing preventative maintenance, they refurbished every system and outfitted him with a special payload. Droney got the mission brief; he was destined to be shot down by the unhinged mullahs in Iran.  But before they got him he was to feed a special packet into the systems that interrogated him. His sacrifice would ensure the flow of oil to Africa, Asia and the Pacific Rim. Granted it would be great for America if the price of oil started to climb but the world economy is bigger than the American energy market so Droney had to go.

Drowney flew to the Al Dhafra Airbase squawking that he was an MQ 4C Triton which he is not. There he sat, in a secluded hanger, as the same techs from Pax River worked him over again but there were now dozens of military officers watching them, taking pictures of his insides, talking in low, hushed tones about something important.

Droney received a new paint job, he was now orange, which was weird. He had new nose art added (a big, sweet , innocent, smile)  and the letters MAGA where US Navy had once been.  There was a large human fist drawn on his fuselage with the middle finger standing straight up. Droney didn’t know what that was all about but the Air Force guys who painted it were laughing the entire time they were there.

Just days after he arrived he rolled out into the evening twilight, rested, focused and fit for the last flight he would ever make. Without a moments hesitation or a drop of remorse he launched into the night sky and into the pantheon of American hero.’s. as the first cyber warrior to deliver a knock out punch without spilling one drop of blood.

That is story of American grit and ingenuity of which we can all be proud. If I can generate enough interest in Droney McDroneface then a merchandising campaign will ensue. I have to come up with some cash for the Rio Grande Valley Marine Corps League Color Guard. Somehow I got put in charge of that detail and I told the guys I’d take care of getting the flag poles and harnesses and stuff because I had no idea how much that would cost. Now I’m stuck, but I think Droney might get me out of a bind and the American people behind a true hero all at the same time.

Happy 4th of July and let me leave you with a smile:

Everybody smiles when they see a sunflower

 

Attacking Command and Control Nodes: Two Examples Reveal a Change in the Face of War

In my last post I speculated that the drone, shot down by the Iranians, was an intentional baited ambush by the United States Navy. My theory is based on the pattern of events and the reported outcomes in current Iranian situation and, as I said in the last post, we may have have arrived here by accident, but we are here.

“Here” is the destruction of the Iranian missile control systems by a cyber attack launched during an aborted air raid. Missile control systems are closed kimono, they are never connected to the internet, all inputs into the system come from filtered targeted data or humans. The system went down one of two ways; through the return from a targeted platform, or through the actions of a human asset.

Given the historical record of the Central Intelligence Agency with human intelligence assets the chances they had an agent anywhere near Iran’s missile defense systems are remote. But it is possible and will cause the Iranians to launch a long, bloody, mole hunt. Mole hunts are an awesome tool to use against adversaries because a mole hunt will always turn up guilty people to be disappeared even when there are not guilty.

The United States had a gigantic Mole hunt in 2001 when weaponized anthrax spores showed up in the congressional mail room. Robert Muller and James Comey oversaw the ensuing investigation hounding one man to suicide while bankrupting another. Neither of the suspects had anything to do with the Anthrax attacks and the one who survived won a 5.82 million dollar settlement  after he was exonerated. That’s how mole hunts work; they find “guilty” people regardless of actual guilt, and right now Iran is in the middle of a big one. What could be better than that?

The simplest explanation for why a demonstrator drone, past its service life and headed for a junk heap, was sent over to the gulf and promptly shot down is the drone was serving a specific purpose that no other platform could serve. That service was (possibly) introducing a virus into the targeting systems. When we sent in a feint raid (pulling the planes back at the last minute) the virus the drone introduced was activated. The resulting damage was catastrophic for Iranian defense forces.

This morning in Kabul, Afghanistan there was yet another horrific bombing. This one targeted the Ministry of Defense offices responsible for administration and logistics. A truck bomb started the attack which was followed up by multiple gunmen who had no intention of surviving the assault. It is a typical Taliban attack in an area with no less than five schools as well as the Ministry of Public Works (across the Kabul River).

This map give you an idea where the attack happened but mis-identifies the area as “Puli Mohmood Khan”
This map give you a better idea of where the attack occurred (SE corner of Sash Darak) and what is around the area

At least 50 children were wounded, 43 people killed in the attack and it caused an unknown amount of damage to the Ministry of Defense computer center.

The Taliban, if they were aiming at the computer center, were attacking a legitimate target. One of the most critical vulnerabilities of the Afghan Defense Force is corruption, without addressing it there will be no more money from donor nations. The computer systems that the Taliban attacked are critical to the ability of the Afghan National Army to track and account for donor funds. The funds scheduled to flow into Afghanistan are tied to anti corruption benchmarks, fail to meet them and there will be no more donor dollars.

The Taliban do not have  sophisticated drones that can attack computers, so they used suicide attackers and accepted the killing and maiming dozens of young school girls as necessary for mission success. Yet with all that death and destruction it is inconceivable they did as much damage to the Afghans computer networks as we did to the Iranians missile control systems.

The face of war is changing, incrementally, but significantly. Military leaders have long known that if you want a new idea, read an old book and it looks like somebody was reading up on the Trojan War when they came up with the idea to slip a bug into the Iranian missile systems.

It is important to note that I am observing the situation for afar and have no insider knowlege. I could be wrong about the drone, there could be other explanations for why it was in theater, the drone may have had nothing to do with the cyber attack. But, from my observation post here in McAllen Texas, I don’t see any other explanations for this series of events.

McAllen Texas is in the news these days due to the surge of illegal immigrants flooding across the border. Do you know what I see on the streets of McAllen every day? Nothing, not one sign of migrants because they do not stay here. Once released by the Border Patrol they are dropped of at one of the Catholic Relief Charities where they are fed, allowed to rest and clean up and then given a bus ticket for some point in the interior where they may or may not know somebody. They are out of the valley in under 24 hours.

McAllen is the center of the Rio Grand Valley which is about 95% hispanic and solid blue, the one thing the locals will not tolerate are migrants driving down wages or draining social services. Buses leave McAllen, get through the Border Patrol inspection station in Falfurries before reaching their first stop, San Antonio. Do you know that San Antonio is number 3 in the nation (behind Seattle and San Francisco) for property crimes? See the connection?

If you did see a direct connection it was because I primed your with two facts (migrants are bused out of the valley and the first stop is San Antonio) and a third, unconnected fact, about property crime rates. It may be that property crime rates in San Antonio are sky rocketing because young, unaccompanied, migrants are bailing off the buses there and going to ground. That explanation is probable, but I don’t know it to be true.

I point this out to emphasize a bias in the coverage of the current confrontation with Iran. Most of the reporting I see primes the reader in a negative way regarding the decisions and consequences behind a drone being shot down and an air raid being cancelled at the last minute. We may have witnessed a epochal moment in military history with the attack by Drone on a critical asset but we can’t see it because an acute case of “Orange Man Bad” syndrome in the press.

The more I contemplate the decent of our media into a partisan echo chamber the more determined I am do something about it. It is now time for a national Name Our Hero’s campaign to focus Americans on a positive aspect of being American. The first hero we should name is our selfless kamikaze drone. A hero drone is exactly what we need at the moment because it has no gender or race or political affiliation. Drones came into their own under the Obama administration so I assume they are a bipartisan weapon.

To honor the stunningly successful performance of our first cyber warrior, and in a tip of the hat to the innate common sense of the British peoples, I am naming the drone Droney McDroneface.

The name is in honor of the United Kingdom’s first Arctic Research Vessel Boaty McBoatface and if you don’t know that story hit the link, it’s hysterically funny.

With my next post I’m going to take the Name of Hero’s movement national, but I need some help. I need a meme ninja to take the picture below and make it into Droney McDroneface.  I’m thinking a big cartoon smile and cheerful paint job would do but don’t know how to do it.  DM me if you are able to come up with something good.

 

U.S. Navy Suckers Iran into Shooting Down Surplus Drone: Scores Big Intelligence Coup

Editors Note: The title of this post was changed at the suggestion of a long time fan of FRI, LtCol Robert Brown, the  publisher of  Soldier of Fortune magazine

Intentionally or not, in the current contest of wills with Iran, the United States is now in a dominant geo -political and military position. Intentionally or not, the United States now has the most accurate, comprehensive, intelligence on Iran’s order of battle that any adversary has ever harvested from its opponent in history. We may not have arrived at this point due to a clever plan but we are here just the same, so let me describe where “here” is.

Iran was caught seeding mines into the strait of Hormuz in, what many believe, was an attempt to stage a heroic rescue of international sailors who were victims of the instability caused by the reckless actions of the President of the United States. That plan did not survive contact when the freighters did not sink and the USS Bainbridge arrived on scene to stop the Iranians from pushing one the disabled freighters into Iranian waters.

Days later the Iranians shot down a U.S. Global Hawk drone. This was no ordinary Global Hawk, it was a RQ-4N BAMS-D (Broad Area Maritime Surveillance-Demonstrator) flown into the area of operations just days prior. It had been the  proof of concept demonstrator for the new navy RQ-4C Triton maritime surveillance drone, but that program was finished and the demonstrators headed to the bone yard. At the last minute that changed and one was sent to the UAE. Why? It did not bring any new capabilities, it wasn’t needed, there are no units set up to crew the beast, what good could it have done?

It is amazing what you can find on the internet

I’m not sure, but here is a theory. That platform was sent to be sacrificed in an effort to fine tune our intelligence of Iranian anti air order of battle. The drone was headed for demobilization anyway; what is the downside to using it for a baited ambush?

One of the four BAMs-D demonstrators

The Iranians shot down a drone for which the United States had no further use. The Iranians contend that we flew the drone into their airspace; we say we didn’t. I say what would you do with the most sophisticated, disposable drone in history? One that is designed to run well below the normal Global Hawk mission profile I might add. One that is so damn big it looks like a jet on radar. What would you do with an asset like that?

I’d run that asset right into the teeth of the Iranian air defense system and record exactly what they do,  how long it takes for them to scramble, and how quickly they acquire and shoot me down.  Let me explain how valuable that intelligence is. Suppose you had very high confidence in your ability to launch a cyber-attack another countries missile control system and take them all out. Very high confidence would be what? 80 -90%? How could you get your confidence level up to almost 100%? Run a drone at the air defense system to watch how it responds.

We then stage a raid saying we will not tolerate any state shooting down our drones. At the last second the President decides to turn the planes around, he doesn’t want to spill blood over a drone. He says any further provocations will be dealt with harshly and is immediately criticized for his indecision. How much intelligence did that feint of a raid generate?

Concurrent with the feint raid was a real cyber attack that knocked out Iranian missile control systems. As Richard Fernandez observers in this  Belmont Club post:

A sucessful cyberattack inflicts considerable financial damage on the target, rendering vital equipment inoperable. It costs money to diagnose the damage, patch it and test the fix. Before the system can be restored it would be necessary to ensure there was no residual malware. Although Iran has denied any damage to its missiles the unbridled fury of their public response indirectly confirms they are hurt.

It looks to me like the President used a large, serious, diversion to cover his actual attack. That is Sun-Tzu level planning and execution, actually winning a battle without firing a shot, something I have never seen at the national command level. There is  another unique aspect to a cyber attack;  it produces no pictures.

Pictures cause problems, and right now President Trump has no problems. Had he gone with traditional strike package he would have big problems from the pictures of dead kids caught in collateral damage. If we had not caused the collateral damage casualties the Iranians would have done so themselves.  That is how the Iranians play the game and we have known that for decades.

The narrative would have been ‘Bad Orange Man strikes because he is unstable. Innocent Persians suffer because Americans need their oil’. The narrative never changes and is impervious to facts. The facts are  we do not need oil from the middle east and we don’t need bombers to deliver a crippling blow to a state in our crosshairs.

Following the script of the traditional Middle East North Africa (MENA)  Kubuki Theater play book President Trump launched a retaliatory strike with air and rocket assets. Congress and the media immediately played their assigned roles by preemptively declaring that congress must authorize any military conflictwith Iran. The bi-partisan duo of Matt Gaetz (R Fl.) and Ro Khanna (D Ca) are correct on this point. BUT, we have been dropping bombs and droning people non-stop over there for 18 years, and now they care?

Congress has removed itself from the oversight of our military by refusing to do the work required, by law, to get proper authorizations for the use of military force. How many times did former SecDef Mattis and the CJCOS General Dunford say, during congressional testimony, that they would welcome and, in fact need congress to do its job with respect to the War Powers Act ? The question answers itself while amplifying, to the American public, serial congressional incompetance at a vital function they assigned themselves with the War Powers Act over forty years ago.

President Trump has used the current crisis to point out inconvenient truths. He has asked why we are protecting shipping lanes we do not need ( without compensation) for too long. Trump has asked why we are shouldering the burden of keeping the straits open to benefit China when the Chinese are stealing us blind and working against our interests.

I understand that keeping the world’s shipping lanes running smoothly and safely is in the best interests of the largest economy in the world. Instability in world markets cause prices to rise and that hurts everybody, who in the world wants to see the price of oil rise?

We do. Oil is selling around $65 a barrel, get that price around $100 and the Permian Basin and the Eagle Ford Shale plays (these fields are in Texas, New Mexico and Mexico) will explode.  The one country in the world that would benefit from a significant rise in the price of oil is the United States. The one country no credible person would accuse of manipulating world oil prices is the United States. The position of being the hegemon, who does not put his thumb on the scale, is one Americans shoulder willingly. But we have been taken advantage of by too many for too long and the American people are sick of it.

Iran just got a good taste of the Tump Doctrine and what has that cost them? Untold millions of dollars and man-hours to replace and repair their missile control systems, which means? They are now Open Kimono. They know we know their air defense system inside and out and that their missile control systems are down hard. If we struck now there is not one damn thing they could do about it. They know it, we know it, and now you know it.

As an aside, the term Open Kimono vis a via Iran was introduced by Jeff Kenney of the world famous All Marine Radio weekly Lynch & Kenny show. We have been on this topic for the past two weeks, those podcasts can be found here and here.

Jeff and I spend about an hour each week with Mike “Mac” McNamara who hosts All Marine Radio. The three of us were instructors at the Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course in the early 1990’s. As is typical with infantry officer we bumped into each other repeatedly in the ensuing years in places like Okinawa, Baghdad, and Jalalabad.

Afghanistan has recently surrendered the cherished institution of official corruption called “The Checkpoint”. As I pointed out in my last post this is a potential game changer. Why, after 18 years of resistance, did Afghanistan choose to do away with the checkpoints? Who knows, maybe it is just coincidence, but I smell the makings of a deal because Afghanistan had to give Trump something to make him stay. The only “something” he has asked for is movement on corruption.

It could be a coincidence that the one thing Trump has asked for is actually happening in Afghanistan. It could be a coincidence that in the only confrontation with a foreign power, with shots already fired, he won without firing a kinetic shot. It could be a coincidence that the one drone Iran shot down was past its service life and heading for the junk yard.

This could be a coincidence, or it could be a response to pressure on the China’s energy supply, they import 90%  of their oil through the straits of Hormuz.

SEOUL (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping said in an op-ed in North Korean state newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Wednesday that China supports North Korea’s “correct direction” in politically resolving issues on the Korean Peninsula.

The front-page op-ed is an honor rarely granted to foreign leaders and comes a day before Xi is set to visit Pyongyang on Thursday and Friday at the invitation of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, making him the first Chinese leader to visit in 14 years.

Today President Trump became the first American President to set foot in North Korea. That too may be a coincidence. But the coincidences are piling up and all of them favor President Trump.

Intentionally or not, Donald Trump is transforming, in front of our eyes, into one the greatest presidents in American history.

Afghan Security Forces adopt a potential Game Changer

Buried in the news last month was a story announcing the most significant tactical adaptation in the history of Afghan Security Forces. The international media company AFP broke the story with this article Under US pressure Afghan army starts closing checkpoints. The article was reprinted in various legacy media outlets, Stars and Stripes ran their own reporting that included a little more depth, and the subject disappeared from the news cycle without further examination or comment. This should not be as it is a fundamental change in how Afghan Security Forces are handling a resurgent Taliban.

For eighteen years western military advisors to the Afghans have repeatedly pointed out that dispersing manpower out in small, poorly built, militarily unimportant, easily overrun checkpoints is a pointless waste. The Afghans counter that small forts flying the Afghan flag demonstrates to the people that the government holds that area.

The photographs below are from one of the better organized checkpoints I ran across during a road trip with Ralph Ward a.k.a The Skipper. He was heading into Nuristan province to blow an ammo cache the ANA had uncovered, something he normally we not do which was why I was tagging along.

Approaching a checkpoint in Nuristan province. Can you tell its be there for awhile?
Billboards in English in Nuristan….weird right?
As far as ANA checkpoints go this one was not in bad shape. There were around a half dozen guys hanging out, none in uniform, no visible defensive works and no bullet holes despite this post being in (at the time) the most kinetic province in the country.
The boys had a stash of motorbikes that I can promise you they did not arrive with and could never afford….another big problem with checkpoints

In 2016 the American military estimated that there were 8,400 Afghan police and army checkpoints in the country. Despite insisting that the Afghans start closing them the number of checkpoints grew in 2017. It is obvious these poorly manned, undefended, far flung, unsupported positions contribute to low morale, high rates of desertion and high casualties. In fact a week after this policy was announced Afghan Security Forces suffered 23 KIA’s in two attacks on checkpoints, one in Ghor and the other in Logar provinces.

If it is so obvious that these checkpoints are a bad idea why is it they proliferate? The motorbikes in the picture above are a hint and here is another:

Me best mate Shem and I looking over an ANP checkpoint on the Jalalabad -Kabul hwy

The checkpoint Shem and I are looking over had reported they were overrun the night prior and fired all the rounds on hand to drive off the Taliban. The building, on all four sides, is pockmarked with bullet and shrapnel holes, as the  structure pre-dates the Soviet invasion. None of the battle damage on this building was new, and not one piece of brass could be found on the ground. The troops (all Hazara’s from Ghazni province) were obviously selling ammo and AK rounds, at the time, cost 65 cents each on the black market.

When soldiers “benefit” at their checkpoints they are expected to kick a percentage up. It’s similar to the mafia, or at least The Sopranos version of the mafia, and that is the main reason the Afghans have refused  to take them down.  Afghan police and army officers assigned a certain area have normally paid serious cash for the position and expect a return of their investment. The practice is so common it doesn’t require footnotes (but here’s a link anyway). I have been told that this is changing as younger officers in the Afghan Security Forces reach ranks of responsibility. I hope so, I’m a big of the Afghans.

Here is the 02 Unit setting up a snap checkpoint outside of Jalalabad. This is how you should run checkpoints

If the Afghan Security Forces are now willing to forgo revenue from their checkpoints to focus on offensive operations targeting the Taliban they have crossed the Rubicon in military professionalism. Time will tell, but this is the most positive development I’ve seen regarding Afghanistan in a long time. Inshallah it is a sign of a tide starting to turn.