Gandamak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maliks of Sherzad district
Maliks of Sherzad district

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

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

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

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

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

The Gandamack Hill today
The Gandamack Hill today

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

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

 

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

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

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

Site of the final battle
Site of the final battle

 

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

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

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

Post Script

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

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

EFP’s

After the ceremonies described in the last three posts we had one more task to complete before we went home. In the ANSF after action report on the ambush of Haji Nematullah, they reported seizing three large buckets of Home Made Explosives (HME) and three “milled metal devices with explosives inside”. We had no idea what they meant and were afraid they might be Explosively Formed Penetrator (EFP) mines. EFP’s were a big problem in Iraq and their source of origin is Iran. Iran being about 1/2 mile away from our safe house in Zaranj we took this report seriously and wanted to see them for ourselves. We also submit reports to the Marines at Camp Leatherneck when we get to verify stuff like this not because they asked to but as a courtesy on the off chance they too were wondering what the three “milled metal devices with explosives inside” were. We have no idea if they already know what we are reporting but it seems like the right thing to do.

On our last day in Zaranj we headed over the Provincial ANP headquarters to talk with the provincial commanders of the Afghan national Police (ANP) and National Directorate for Security (NDS) and to inspect the explosives recovered from the October 5th ambush.

The day started with a 45 minute grilling of the Police Chief by Michael Yon. He sounded like a 60 minutes reporter doing a "gotcha" on a hapless Republican pol. The Chief was clearly not accustomed to such a direct line of questioning but was than happy to answer all of them
The day started with a 45 minute grilling of the Police Chief about Taliban and Iranian activity in the Province by Michael Yon. He sounded like a 60 minutes reporter and the Chief was clearly not accustomed to such a direct line of questioning but was happy to answer all of them.  Mike is like a pit bull when he starts questioning someone and I found it fascinating for about the first 10 minutes or so.

 

I had heard all this before and my attention wandered over to the TV screen where an Iranian station was blurring out the cleavage on a 24 episode
I had heard all this before – having a handle on ground truth is critical to our ability to operate independently. My attention wandered over to the TV screen where an Afghan station was blurring out the cleavage of female actresses on an episode of the American TV show 24

 

Looks like they missed a good 30 seconds of this money shot
Looks like they missed a good 30 seconds of this money shot – bet a thousand bucks because the censor was staring.

 

But they caught that mistake after a whiel
But he caught up after getting an eye full (I’m guessing)

After talking with the Chief of Police we went out to inspect the take from last weeks ambush in their explosives locker.

These are the three large IED's with pressure plates captured on the raid
These are the three large IED’s with pressure plates captured after the ambush

 

Looked to be very high grade home made explosive
It looked to be very high-grade home made explosives but I’m no expert on the subject

 

One of the officers explains how the pressure plate functions - a topic we already more than we wanted to know about from first had experience
One of the officers explains how the pressure plate functions – a topic we are already all too familar with .

What we had come to see is what was described as a “milled metal device with explosives inside” and that turned out to be true except they were not EFP’s; they were artillery fuses.

This is one of the arty fuses outside of its packaging container
This is one of the arty fuses outside of its packaging container

That was good news – EFP’s are a devastatingly effective weapon able to easily penetrate military grade armor.  I have not heard of them being in Afghanistan but I checked with The Bot who had heard of one being found around Ghazni last year. A flood of them entering Afghanistan would be alarming to put it mildly.

I notice that one of the large IED's still had the electric blasting cap inside it. An EOD tech would probably tell you this is still perfectly safe - I'm not sure but us old infantrymen are spooked about being around any explosives armed with blasting caps. Right after I took this picture we headed out of the storage room.
I notice that one of the large IED’s still had a blasting cap inside it. An EOD tech would probably tell you this is still perfectly safe – I’m not sure, but us old infantrymen are spooked about being around explosives primed with blasting caps. Right after I took this picture we headed out of the storage room.

As we walked back towards our vehicles Mike Yon asked our escort – one of the local NDS men who spoke English – what else they needed and he replied “somebody to fix our trucks”.

The ANP seem to have more vehicles down than running. There was an American contract that placed mechanic teams headed by internationals (mainly British citizens) and comprised of Filipino mechanics who mentored Afghan mechanics on the art of Ford pick up maintenance but that contract died back in 08 as I recall. They would have never sent a team to a place as remote an isolated as Zaranj - only Ghost Team can operate in these types of environments
The ANP seem to have more vehicles down than running. There was an American contract that placed mechanic teams headed by internationals (mainly British) with Filipino mechanics who mentored Afghan mechanics on the art of Ford pick up maintenance but that contract died back in 08. They would have never sent a team to a place as remote and isolated as Zaranj  anyway – only Ghost Team can operate in these types of environments

We continued on to find the Chief of Police having a Press Conference about a recent drug bust.

Afghan pressers are fun to watch because they appear to be utter chaos but the results are pretty professional when you watch the news on local TV stations
Afghan pressers are fun to watch because they appear to be utter chaos but the results are pretty professional when you watch the news on local TV stations

 

It looked like they had confiscated about 10 kilos of dry opium which would be (I'm guessing here) around 0.0000001% of this years harvest. Still a bust is a bust and if the guys who were muling these drugs across the border had been caught in Iran they would have been tried, convicted, and hung in about 48 hours
It looked like they had confiscated about 10 kilos of dry opium which would be (I’m guessing here) around 0.0000001% of this years harvest. Still a bust is a bust and if the guys who were muling these drugs across the border had been caught in Iran they would have been tried, convicted, and hung in about 48 hours

I appeared on the Aloyna Show last week and talked to the current conventional wisdom about the need to keep some sort of military presence in Afghanistan for the next 10 years.  A link to that show is here and my segment starts around the 34 minute mark.

Our military is a big cumbersome leviathan designed to do one thing and one thing only; crush other nation state armies. Our military is good at killing bad guys. But killing bad guys is the easy part of war. It is everything else you have to do simultaneously that’s the hard part. We once knew how to do the “other things besides killing people” part of expeditionary warfare but that was long ago when the units dispatched half way around the world took a month or two to get there and remained in country for the duration. Our military can’t do that anymore – contractors can (stay in the same Province for years and years) and in doing so could fill in for fighting infantry but then you are outsourcing the fighting to mercenaries and have little reason to maintain such a large force structure.

If I remember my Roman History correctly Rome started down the road to ruin when they became unwilling to bear the burden of military service and outsourced fighting to Barbarian tribes. We have not reached that point. I know the Marine Corps is currently so flush with tier one (99.9% of the current pool) enlistment applicants that the wait for boot camp is 7 months minimum. The wait for candidates entering the officer training pipeline is over a year. We still produce the men needed for our military force structure but the amount of money it takes to do so is ridiculous. Using what the Romans called Auxilia for contingency operations makes perfect sense from a financial and political point of view and I support it 100% but our elites won’t.

When you are unable to do what is important, the unimportant becomes important which is why we spend millions to fly 5 pound bags of crushed ice from Saudi Arabia to our FOB’s. I saw that in Nangarhar – in Helmand there is an ice plant on Camp Bastion run by the Brits but the Marines I rode around with did not have coolers full of ice, which was mandatory with the American army units in Nangarhar. The Vietnam War may not be the best example of doing things right, but my father spent 13 months fighting in Leatherneck Square and the Arizona Territory of Northern I Corps (on the DMZ between South and North Vietnam). In all that time he saw ice once – it was flown in off a Navy ship – but by the time they had divided it evenly among the rifle companies it had mostly melted. Today crushed ice for coolers full of expensive sports drinks and bottled water is considered essential for troop morale.

There are Marines and soldiers in Afghanistan now who man small patrol bases and never see hot chow; let alone ice. I blogged about them in the past.  But the guys (and now gals) who are out at pointy end of spear are at most 4% of our deployed military. Everyone else gets ice on demand and has access to unlimited amounts of high quality chow, pecan pie and ice cream.

The press rarely tells the story of the small minority of deployed troops who live, fight and die in conditions their forefathers would recognize unless it involves some sort of tragedy. I read one of the best pieces in this genre this morning in the Wall Street Journal. The story was well told and as supportive of the fighting men as such a piece can be. The journalist who wrote it played the story straight and did a fantastic job with such a tragic topic.

Yet by far, the most common story line concerning the troops deployed to Afghanistan are like this piece, which claims half of the vets returning from Afghanistan need medical treatment for the lingering effects of blasts and psychological trauma.  At the very most 15% of those deployed to Afghanistan ever leave the FOB so how can half of them be so damaged?

Do I sound conflicted to you?  I know I do, and it will take some distance to get things in perspective. And distance is what I have; I’m back in the US staying with friends while undergoing treatment for the lingering effects of a blast injury. Ironic, I know, given what I just wrote above. I am clean shaven, wearing normal American clothes no longer hear the call to prayer being blasted from speakers all over town five times a day. I miss hearing that call and don’t know why but I really miss it. That is so strange but it is and it is also nice to be back home.

Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting

While we were occupied in Zaranj our esteemed Secretary of State declared we were switching tactics. The new tactic will be “Fight, Talk, Build” and if you have no idea what those words could possibly mean welcome to the club. “Fight, Hold, Build”  I could understand, but the Fight, Talk part – that is a little hard to believe. It’s not like we haven’t been talking to the Pakistan Government, The ISI, President Karzai, The Afghanistan Government, The Taliban; Impostors of Taliban etc.. for years. Maybe its just me but it seems that the talking has not gotten us very far .  And now even the New York Times has caught up to Baba Tim on its opinion page wondering if maybe Pakistan might sort of maybe not be our friend after all.

And the optimism in my last post?  Apparently misplaced; we are not reinforcing troops on the border but instead we are withdrawing them and turning the border forts over to the Afghans. Then there is this unfortunate topic; the firing of MajGen Peter Fuller for having the audacity to tell the truth about President Karzai and the Afghan government. General Allen had this to say about the firing:

“These unfortunate comments and neither indicative of our current solid relationship with the government of Afghanistan, its leadership, or our joint commitment to prevail here in Afghanistan,” Allen declared in an official statement.

“The Afghans are an honorable people. Comments such as these (by Gen. Fuller), will not keep us from accomplishing our most critical and shared mission – bringing about a stable, peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan.”

The Afghans are an honorable people but that has nothing to do with what Gen. Fuller said. What about the scandal of wounded Afghan soldiers, unable to bribe nurses at the Afghan Military Hospital in Kabul for food, being allowed to starve to death. One could ask why the general in charge of that debacle hasn’t been fired? The American Army funds the place, built it, equipped it and are supposed to be “mentoring” their Afghan counterparts there. Patients are starving to death in a military hospital we built and equipped and help run and that’s just the cost of doing business and therefore OK but negative comments about the Karzai regime from an American general are a problem?

Why spend another moment on these dreary topics when better material is at hand.  The closing of the Zaranj City Infrastructure Rehabilitation Project  was completed with the opening of their brand new sports complex. We built this along with a bunch of other infrastructure for the municipal authorities for (in the big scheme of USAID things) peanuts.

Cash for work money can be used to build anything if you know what you are doing and this is the brand news stadium for Zaranj. Designed and built by Afghans with money from the generous peoples of America who are flat broke but continue to spend 2 billion a week here because of some reason which nobody currently living on planet earth can articulate in a clear coherent manner

 

There were the usual prayers followed by a ribbon cutting – I’m on the far right and being a fellow “man of the book” allowed to bow my head to our lord vice lifting my hands to Allah.

 

Governor Barahwi does the honors

 

The VIPS are seated up in the upper viewing stand – sitting at the Governors right side is a big deal and I look at this picture knowing I’ll never do anything as cool as this again and think…you know

 

And we are treated to a demonstration of Afghans second favorite sport. It's first favorite sport - dog fighting is something which the locals catch mucho grief about from international media so the next best thing is kids fighting
We were then treated to a demonstration of Afghans second favorite sport. It’s first favorite sport – dog fighting is something which the locals catch much grief about from international media so the next best thing is kids fighting.  The fighting sequence photographs were all taken by Michael Yon who was down on the field

 

The matches follow an identical script; the smaller of the two fighters takes a beating – in this one he has landed his first blow of the match after already being knocked down once.

 

And takes an elbow for the effort

 

Followed by a stiff knee to the mid section

 

And down he goes again

 

The little fella picks himself up for the third time (it is always 3 times)

 

With a shake of the head his senses return, just like on TV, and he jumps up onto the shoulders of his husky opponent

 

And gets ready to deliver…

 

The double elbows of death

 

The double elbows of death is (apparently) a catastrophic strike

 

Allowing the little fella to immediately declare victory

 

And there you go – a life lesson on overcoming adversity in the form of some sort of mixed martial arts morality play.  None of these matches were full contact which is why they were identical and I was kidding about the dog fighting thing.  Afghans favorite sport appears to be Cricket but they are formidable volleyball players too.

After a few fighting demonstrations Governor Barahwi stood; said a few words to the assembled teams and was off. We were right behind him and I have to admit it was a bittersweet afternoon. Saying my goodbyes to all the elders and officials who worked with and supported us over the years was tough. We were pulling out and nothing is coming in behind us. As I said in my last post these people are now on their own but late that evening some of them dropped off a gift.

A parting gift – I know….I almost cried myself

The beer felt like it just came out of a pizza oven is was so hot so we threw it into the two freezers we have up on the second deck and waited for an hour. But it turned out we were on city power which isn’t strong enough to run the freezers so now the beer had brought everything in them to room temperature. I went downstairs and tell the night guards to turn on the big generator so we can run the freezers. They said no because they can only run the big generator for eight hours a day and are not supposed to turn it on for another three hours. I ask who told them that and they said “you did”. I explained that we have a case of beer but can’t get it cold and it was an emergency. They knew that and said they were not turning on the generator. I threatened to shoot them but they laughed at me and countered with a request for two beers each before turning on the generator. I smiled the wolf smile and threatened to call Zabi down because his Dad is the senior Mullah for the Province and no fan of demon rum. They balked and turned on the big gen but I gave them each a beer anyway just for being good sports.

We started drinking them down warm; the last few were chilled but this was typical – nothing and I mean nothing is easy in this country, yet somehow things always work out.  The parting gift was a considerate gesture – we’re going miss our friends in Zaranj.

Sanctuary Denied?

Last week I received and heads up from Mullah John that General Allen and Ambassador Crocker were on 60 Minutes and was able to watch the show on AFN.  The one thing I noticed when watching General Allen was the emotion clearly evident as he discussed the truck bomb has had asked the Pakistani military to help stop.That bomb hit a US base in Wardak Province injuring over 8o soldiers. General Allen was told that one of the Pakistani politicians  remarked that if he knew about the truck bomb why did he not stop it?  He was clearly not amused by the question. I also saw something from Ambassador Crocker I really like.  When asked why he came out of retirement he said that when the President tells you he needs you do a job there is only one correct response. I respect that.

I make no claim to having a clue what or how General Allen is thinking as he approaches this war. I knew him 20 years ago when I was an instructor at the Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course where he was our group chief. I like General Allen and count him among the finest officers I served with during my time in the Corps.  I don’t know Ambassador Crocker at all – I just liked his response on 60 minutes and I am sure he is an exceptionally talented leader.

Having qualified my expertise on the matter  I’d like to make an educated guess, and that is General Allen is not the kind of commander who will grant enemy sanctuary indefinitely.  I doubt Ambassador Crocker is any different. General Allen is backed up by the Commander of CENTCOM, General Mattis who has a well earned reputation as an exceptionally aggressive and successful general. General Allen also spent three years as the Deputy Commander CENTCOM and the Marine Corps rarely leaves a three start general in one job for three years. During those years General Allen was General Petraeus’s right hand man and he did that while, for the most part, remaining off the main stream press radar. General Allen has juice – and it is not the kind of juice one normally associates with politically powerful people because it is not obvious main stream media juice. It is back channel juice and that is powerful stuff.

The topic is Pakistan and I thought it the perfect place to put in photos of my travels through the Khyber Pass. I’ve done the low budget Khyber Pass visit and the high budget (escorting a senior diplomat from Japan) tour too. The pictures calm me as I’m venting my spleen about the stupidity of our political class below – hopefully they do the same for you too.

Lunch at the best kabob stand in Landi Kotal - the last Pakistani town before the Torkham border with Afghanistan
Lunch at the best kabob stand in Landi Kotal – the last Pakistani town before the Torkham border with Afghanistan.  This is where low budget travelers eat.  It was good kabob too.  Honest.
Lunch when you go the VIP route is a lot better
Lunch when you go the VIP route is a lot better

Herschel Smith is unimpressed with the reported build up in the east of Afghanistan and I can’t remember a time he’s been wrong about anything. His assessment could prove to be spot on but this is one time I hope it isn’t. And for more bad news check this out: President Karzai has threatened to back Pakistan if the US conducts cross border operations. Secretary of State Clinton stopped by for a few words with President Karzai who immediately gave a TV interview telling the world he would side with Pakistan. I guess the SecState failed to get her message across. Big frigging surprise there.

The low rent way to visit the Khyber Pass; you need a permit and a tribal policeman and of course some Afridi's never hurt to have along too
The low rent way to visit the Khyber Pass; you need a permit and a tribal policeman and of course some Afridi’s never hurt to have along too
The VIP trip scores you a good 40 minute brief in a glass room in the Michni Post overlooking the eastern end of the Khyber
The VIP trip scores you a good 40 minute brief in a glass room of the Michni Post overlooking the western end of the Khyber
There was once a time when world leaders would travel into the Northwest Frontier because Pakistan was a trusted ally
There was once a time when world leaders would travel into the Northwest Frontier because Pakistan was a trusted ally
That time is well within living memory
That time is well within living memory
The story behind Michni Post so you can get an idea of how far into the NWF international leaders once traveled
The story behind Michni Post so you can get an idea of how far into the NWF international leaders once traveled

Suppose for a moment that the one glaring problem we face is no longer considered acceptable. That problem is that our enemies have sanctuary once they cross over the border to Pakistan. What if we have reached a point where we are no longer going to tolerate it?  The reason I ask is because what exactly are the Pakistani’s going to do about it?

They can threaten to cut off our supply lines. We have alternative supply lines running out of Central Asia and seem to have stockpiled enough of the 4- B’s (beans bullets, bandages, and beer). Wait, that can’t be right as everyone in the military knows drinking beer is one step away from consorting with Satan (according to Armed Forces TV and radio and social media outlets). Drink just one beer and the next thing you know your thumping the wife and trying to sell the baby for poker money.  So we have stocked up the three B’s and we can hold out with our stash much longer than the Pakistani economy can withstand a sea and air blockade because that is the level of punishment you have to be ready to dish out if you plan to go into Waziristan and start taking scalps.

Part of the VIP brief at Michni Post is the use of large reference points marking their side of the international boarder
Part of the VIP brief at Michni Post is the use of large reference points marking their side of the international boarder

We have known since the very first days of this conflict that the Taliban use the border area for sanctuary.  We have been good about not going across in “hot pursuit” having limited incursions into Pakistan to one that I know of.

The Pakistani army has a big display of all the Soviet rockets shot at them back in the day. Of course if we wanted to get shitty with the Pakistanis instead of shooting some low rent rockets we could turn the whole Michni Post into a big smoking hole in the ground. Rockets my ass
The Pakistani army has a big display of all the Soviet rockets shot at them back in the day. Of course if we wanted to get it on with the Pakistanis instead of shooting some low rent rockets we could turn the whole Michni Post into a big smoking hole in the ground. Nothing gets your attention faster than watching a fort full of soldiers get blown sky high.  Remember the World Trade Center?  Did that get your attention?  I have no ill will for the Khyber Rifles who are a good group of guys with a formidable Polo team but we’re talking business here.

We have alternate supply lines, we have stocks of stuff on hand, we still need to move supplies through Pakistan so what to do?  How about this famous quote “Never take counsel in your fears”.  The Pakistani’s have been playing us for fools since about December of 2001 when we let them rescue Osama bin Laden. Before that they were all about cooperation, as was every other country in the world except the ones that don’t matter anyway. The reason they were so cooperative was they knew we were in the blind rage stage of being pissed off about 9/11. That is several steps up the pissed off ladder and nobody at that time was sure what we were going to do. All they knew was that we were capable of doing whatever the hell we wanted to do. We still are. In fact given the billions spent on high tech platforms we could destroy more, faster, and with greater efficiency than we could a decade ago.

Looking east at the Khyber Pass from the Michni Fort. The narrow pass has been militarily significant since the assent of man but it isn't now - we could roll through it, fly over it, or take it with infantry in a matter of hours.
Looking east at the Khyber Pass from the Michni Fort. The narrow pass has been militarily significant since the assent of man but it isn’t now – we could roll through it, fly over it, or take it with infantry in a matter of hours.

After watching the 60 minutes segment with General Allen I am certain of one thing.  He’s pissed.  And he’s pissed about how Pakistan has been playing us and he is not the kind of man you want pissed at you. Take it from me because I’ve been there with him and it’s not pleasant. Most of you do not know General Allen or anything about him.  What you need to know is he understands that unlimited sanctuary is no way to fight a war. And even though he doesn’t have the political capitol of General Petraeus he has his confidence.  As he does with General Mattis – another fighting general who is not too keen on granting anyone sanctuary.  I know calls like going across the border in hot pursuit are the Presidents to make but we all now know (thanks to Ron Suskind) that the White House is dysfunctional and getting the President to make a firm decision about anything almost impossible. National level leadership of that kind allows for subordinates to make “interpretations of intent”. A fancy way of saying they can make their own decisions and take the actions they think fit Obama’s intent.

At the moment nobody is too sure about Obama’s intent on anything let alone Pakistan. Pakistan has proved a most unworthy ally. They actively support cross border incursion and have done so with impunity.  What is to stop General Allen from coming across the border and reducing Miramshaw to a heap of smoking ashes?  Nothing.  And when Pakistan starts wailing and moaning about it do you know what we should tell them?  First word starts with an F  the second with a Y. What are they going to do about it?  Fight us?  That one would be over quick.

Free Ranging Balochistan

I’m back in my compound after attending a bunch of ceremonies in Zaranj marking the end of our efforts in Nimroz Province.  When we flew in last week the skies were dark and it rained that night.  The next morning was clear as a bell making for excellent photography and perfect weather for what turned out to be 15 hours of driving through the Dasht-e Margo (Desert of Death).  Our mission that day was the dedication ceremony for the Charborjak Irrigation system which we had built, mostly with shovels, wheelbarrows and lots of man power, over the previous 11 months.  We had originally scheduled the ceremony for the 5th of October but changed the date at the last minute.  On the 5th there was an ambush waiting for us; when we moved out last Thursday we were a mobile ambush looking for anyone who was looking for us.

The Provincial Governor of Nimroz Province is Al Haji Karim Barahwi and those of you who have read this blog know I’m a big fan of his.  He’s a graduate of the Kabul Military Academy and served in the Afghan Army as an officer until the Soviets invaded.  Governor Barahwi then became a Muj commander who fought the entire war without any help from the United States.  He was working out of Iran and obviously had a little help from them despite the fact that he is not too happy with Iran at the moment.  The trip he took us on was remarkable because we did not go the way we have always gone to Cahrborjak; we jumped the Helmand and moved deep into the desert where the Governor wanted to show us something.  This story is best told through pictures and I have around 1800 from that one drive alone.  So stand by for a story told the Marine way – lots of pictures, no big words, and no cussing.  I was an officer in the Marines and know that cussing is good for morale, but only enlisted men rate morale, so, only they can cuss with impunity.  Officers are supposed to find more appropriate language to record observations, write reports, etc…  My Dad reminded me of this fact due to my proclivity for inserting colorful language in my posts – which, for the record, I think is (word deleted)  but I’m trying to talk him into writing for the blog and therefore am compelled to entertain him.

We drove to the Governors compound where a large escort of various Afghan Security Forces and a dozen or so Baloch fighters who did not wear uniforms.  All of the Afghans escorting us on that day were Baloch men from Nimroz Province
We drove to the Governors compound where a large escort of various Afghan Security Forces and a dozen or so Baloch fighters who did not wear uniforms waiting to escort us to Charborjak.  All of the Afghans escorting us on that day were Baloch men from Nimroz Province
We exited Zaranj and headed towards Charborjak on the Lashkary Canal road
We exited Zaranj and headed towards Charborjak on the Lashkary Canal road
I note the Lashkary Canal was dry - we just finished that project last year and I ask Bashir why the canal is dry - he claims to have no idea
I note the Lashkary Canal was dry – we just finished that project last year and I ask Bashir why the canal is dry – he claimed to have no idea
We entered the choke point of ambush ally spread put and moving fast
We entered the choke point of ambush ally spread out and moving fast
Moving out of ambush ally we passed the spot where the Highway Patrol Commander's truck was torched after the ambush last week
Coming out of ambush ally we passed the spot where the Highway Patrol Commander’s truck was torched after the ambush last week
And stopped on a plateau for what turned out to be a brief on the days route
And stopped on a plateau for what turned out to be a brief on the days route
Governor Barahwi walking along with the Provincial Chief of Police and Haji    the Chief of the Highway Police and the man who fought his way out of the ambush last week is directly on the Governor's left
Governor Barahwi walking along with the Provincial Chief of Police and Haji Nematullah, the Chief of the Highway Police and the man who fought his way out of the ambush last week.  Haji Nematullah is directly to the Governor’s left
The ANSF convoy team - most of them are from the Zaranj QRF - gets the word from Gov Barahwi and that word is we are sending a small force up the regular route while the rest of us ford the Helmand and head out into the desert.  We will ultimately arrive at the Charborjak site from the opposite direction and on the other side of the Helmand River then originally planned
The ANSF convoy team – most of them are from the Zaranj QRF – gets the word from Gov Barahwi and that word is we are sending a small force up the regular route while the rest of us ford the Helmand and head out into the desert. We will ultimately arrive at the Charborjak site from the opposite direction and on the other side of the Helmand River then originally planned
Our escorts head back to their trucks for the next stage of the trip
Our escorts head back to their trucks for the next stage of the trip
Once we crossed the Helmand we were in the bad lands of the Dasht-e Margo.  There is nothing out there is this triangle of land that borders both Iran and Pakistan.  The Taliban (and smugglers) move through this area regularly
After crossing the Helmand we were in the bad lands of the Dasht-e Margo. There is nothing out there in this triangle of land that borders Iran. The Taliban (and smugglers) move through the area regularly
Once on the other side of the Helmand we passed no less than 25 old forts and walled cities - they were literally dotting the horizon for miles and miles in this empty desert
On the other side of the Helmand we passed no less than 25 old forts and walled cities – they were literally dotting the horizon for miles and miles in this empty desert
About 90 minutes into the desert we stopped so Governor Barahwi could explain in great detail why this area was not under his control and what he needs to seal the area.  Michael Yon video tapped the entire discussion and it is interesting.  What the Governor needs is helicopters and a flying squad with soime Americans in it so they can fly around and pounce on anything moving through the desert.  That's apparently what the Soviets did to him back in the day and he admitted that tactic had cost him a ton in weapons, vehicles and manpower
About 90 minutes into the desert we stopped so Governor Barahwi could explain in great detail why this area was not under his control and what he needs to fix that. Michael Yon video tapped the entire discussion and it is interesting. The Governor needs helicopters and a flying squad with some Americans in it so they can fly around and pounce on anything moving through the desert. That’s apparently what the Soviets did to him back in the day and he admitted that tactic had cost him a ton in weapons, vehicles and manpower
We headed back towards the Helmand - the old truck on the right was the Chicken Truck and carried all the food and drinks for our lunch
We headed back towards the Helmand – the old truck on the right was the Chicken Truck and carried all the food and drinks for our lunch
This is the first of about 15 times that the Chicken Truck got stuck in the sand
This is the first of about 15 times that the Chicken Truck got stuck in the sand
We had one armored HUMVEE with us and it didn't handle the sand any better than the Chicken Truck.  The Toyota and Ford light pickups had no problems
We had one armored HUMVEE with us and it didn’t handle the sand any better than the Chicken Truck. The Toyota and Ford light pickups had no problems
We arrive at the ceremony site - you can see dust trails from the escorts who have been working the flanks and are just now crossing the Helmand.  Which is dry downstream.  Because we built a check dam that is apparently checking the entire river at the moment.  I ask Bashir if maybe this dam had something to do with the Lashkary being dry and he said "maybe".
We arrive at the ceremony site – you can see dust trails from the escorts who have been working the flanks and are just now coming towards the Helmand.  Which is dry downstream. Because we built a check dam that is apparently checking the entire river at the moment. I asked Bashir if maybe this dam had something to do with the Lashkary being dry and he said “maybe”.  Five minutes after sending this picture in with my official report my email lit up like a Christmas tree.  Did you know that at Camp Leatherneck there is a PhD Hydrologist who is in charge of the lower Helmand water basin?  Me either, and she was pretty upset to see this dam, that she had no idea existed, plugging up the Helmand.  What could I say? It was in the proposal although to be honest this damn dam is much bigger than I thought it would be.  The Iranians are pretty upset about the water too and will make their ire known to all by launching missiles into a hamlet  just outside Zaranj later that evening.  That act caused the Governor to miss the morning ceremony the next day which is why I was sitting the following morning frozen in place as my bladder remorsefully filled from all the coffee I drank before I arrived.  
And here it is - the Charborjak canal intake.  Not bad for a cash for work program is it?  Know how much water it takes in when running at full capacity?  Six cubic meters per second. I had to find that and a lot more out about the project after receiving so many emails from agitated Americans who were trying to determine exactly what the hell was going on in Nimroz Province.
And here it is – the Charborjak canal intake our signature project for this year. Not bad for a cash for work program is it? Know how much water it takes in when running at full capacity? Six cubic meters per second. I had to find that and a lot more out about the project after receiving so many emails from agitated Americans who were trying to determine exactly what the hell was going on in Nimroz Province.
Governor Barahawi addressing the local folks who had made it out for the opening ceremony and the free chow which followed.  This is a sparsely populated area which I bet you can figure out from the photo
Governor Barahawi addressing the local folks who had made it out for the opening ceremony and the free chow which followed. This is a sparsely populated area which I bet you can figure out from the photo
Some of the QRF troops hanging out while the Governor talks
Some of the QRF troops hanging out while the Governor talks
After speeches by the local politicians, a prayer by the senior mullah followed by our ops manager Zabi (his dad is the senior Mulllah in the province) singing an Islamic hymn which I didn't understand but Zabi can sing - I mean he is really really good and I've since found out quite well know for his voice.
After speeches by the local politicians, a prayer by the senior mullah followed by our ops manager Zabi (his dad is the senior Mulllah in the province) singing an Islamic hymn which I didn’t understand but Zabi can sing – we cut the ribbon and opened the gates.  As the senior American present I had to relinquish my camera so I asked Mike if I could use some of his pictures for the post.  
After the ribbon cutting the Chicken Truck swung into action and we sat down on the VIP rug for an hour or so to eat lunch and drink warm soda.  I haven't been this sunburned in a long time but it was still an enjoyable afternoon
After the ribbon cutting the Chicken Truck swung into action and we sat down on the VIP rug for an hour or so to eat lunch and drink warm soda. I haven’t been this sunburned in a long time; note how I’m trying to keep the scarf up over my beet red ears, but it was still an enjoyable afternoon.  
After lunch we headed back across the Helmand towards the desert
After lunch we headed back across the Helmand towards the desert
But we didn't go into the desert hugging the bank of the Helmand instead which is why the Chicken Truck and Hummer got stuck so many times.  There really isn't a road here at all - just sand and every few miles a dirt poor small village
But we didn’t go into the desert hugging the bank of the Helmand instead which is why the Chicken Truck and Hummer got stuck so many times. There really isn’t a road here at all – just sand and every few miles a dirt poor small village
We crisscrossed the Helmand about 5 or 6 times
We crossed the Helmand about 5 or 6 times
We ran into these boys at one of the fords.  They are miles from anywhere and as I look at this pic I wonder what people back home will make of it.  Kids alone in a desert riding donkey's and without safety helmets!!!!!
We ran into these boys at one of the fords. They are miles from anywhere and as I look at this pic I wonder what people back home will make of it. Kids alone in a desert riding donkey’s and without safety helmets!!!!!
On this side of the river the villages are small and dirt poor
On this side of the river the villages are small and dirt poor

Along the way back to Zaranj we stopped at the village where Governor Barahwi was born and raised.  It was slightly bigger than this one.  We also stopped at the village of the ANP soldier who was killed in the ambush last week.  We did not take pictures in either place and we hung out in the village of the ANP soldier for a good hour or so too, paying respects as it were.  It was a great day and my camera battery died after I took this picture so it is time for analysis and commentary.

The kerfuffle over the dam being built is an interesting contrast between two styles of doing the “build” part of the current Afghanistan plan.  There are direct implementors like us who take USAID money and use it according to the priorities of the Provincial and District governments.  We did not build anything new – we restored a check dam and a major irrigation intake that had been destroyed back in the 80’s. We used the same plans and the same engineers who built those irrigation systems back before the Soviets arrived and depopulated the rural areas of southwestern Afghanistan.  The provincial irrigation department coordinated with their national level counterparts in Kabul on every step of this project and sent in regular progress reports.  We also employed every man who could handle a shovel in the district for almost a year which is the whole point to cash for work programs.

The dozens of very senior, highly credentialed people who reacted with great emotion boarding on distress when they found out about this project are the other side of the coin.  These are people who have been given a great deal of authority yet have no responsibility for tangible on the ground results.  They never leave the FOB’s and never see anything of the country except what they can see while flying over it. There is a PhD hydrologist working for the USG and also coordinating with a British subject matter expert to come up with the Helmand Water Shed Master Plan.  I am sure they are professionals who take their work seriously and spend 12 hours a day on the computers doing I have no idea what.  But, good intentions are meaningless and the hundreds of millions of dollars being spent to bring people like that to Afghanistan and keeping them here for a year might as well be thrown into a rubbish bin.  Do they honestly think that when we leave here their “master plan” will be worth more than a cup of warm of spit?  How can smart people be so stupid?

The Helmand River Valley will never reach its full potential unless every farmers field is dug up, the clay removed, and proper drainage put in its place.  We discovered that back in the 1960’s when Lashkar Gha was called “Little America” and the State Department was trying to salvage the disaster that was the original Hellmand River Valley project run by the engineering firm Morrison Knudsen.  Since the completion of that project local farmers have irrigated their fields by flooding them. The NGO I work for tried to introduce drip irrigation to the local farmers years ago but they pulled the hoses out of the ground and started using them to tether sheep and goats.  The only way to water a field is to flood it; everybody knows that, and that is exactly what the farmers told the men who showed them how to use drip irrigation 8 years ago.  You cannot force change on Afghan farmers any easier than you can force change in Americas’ two-party political system.  Proving that drip irrigation is efficient and works better turned out to be completely irrelevant; if proving yourself right mattered the entire Helmand River Valley would be using drip irrigation and about 1/3 of the water they are currently using to water their crops.

Not that using less water is a big deal because, as any Afghan sod buster will tell you, that just means more water for the Iranians.  Water is a zero sum game for Helmand Valley farmers; changing that mind set is not going to happen in my life time….or yours.

Last year Michael Yon visited our Nimroz projects and put up an interesting post called Please don’t forget us.  He was writing about a massive women’s training program we ran that year because Zaranj has a more Persian culture, woman can drive in Zaranj, work outside the home and attend training courses without any problems.  We tried to do an even bigger woman’s training program this year but we’re rejected.  The woman had already been forgotten and this year’s crew in Kabul wanted “capacity building” which is the new buzzword on the FOB’s.  For 1/10th of the cost of keeping just one hydrologist in this country for a year, and I’m talking the million bucks of life support and security costs, not the salary or cost of mobilization which would easily add another million to the sum, for 1/10th of that we could have trained 300 woman and sent them on their way with the tools they needed (Sewing Machines, beauty salon equipment, wool and weaving boards etc..) to start their own business.

I know I sound like a broken record.  It just seems like it is always one step forward and two steps back around here.  My PM Bashir is now gone having moved on to bigger and better things.  I’m right behind him as my time living here is rapidly coming to an end.  The people of Zaranj have already been forgotten and are now on their own.

It doesn’t have to be this way and probably will never be this way again because we can’t afford to spend  2 billion dollars per week (according to last nights 60 minutes segment) to field an army of fobbits.  We have no business foisting a “watershed master plan” on the Afghans – it’s their country, their river, and their breadbasket and when allowed to do so they will build things back to the way they were.  It may not be optimal, there may be inefficiencies in the system that a PhD hydrologist could fix (if she had freedom of movement and actually spent time on the river) but who cares? What is going to remain when we leave is an Afghan system, built by and for Afghans and to be honest, I have no idea why we think we should be bringing all these “subject matter experts” over here in the first place.  Who are we to dictate to them how to manage their own natural resources?  We should send all the hydrologists back to America to aid in a gigantic shovel ready program I’d like to see started called “Get all our oil from Alaska and the Western States Project”.  There is where we should be spending 2 billion a week and we’d even see a return on our investment.  How strange would that be?

Diplomacy 101

I am in the middle of an interesting few days as we finish up our larger projectsvwith official ceremonies.  Those of you who follow Michael Yon on facebook know where I am and what we have been up to.  What is interesting to watch is Michael, myself and our friend (and co-worker) Chadd Nyerges, trying to process the thousands of pictures and a dozen hours of video we collectively shot over the past 48 hours.  We are all writing reports, posting on the internet, trying to figure out what we have with all these photos and waiting for the plane to come back and get us.

One person can generate a amazing amount of digital imagery in a day. This is the rig Michael Yon used to record day one of our stay in Nimroz
One person can generate an amazing amount of digital imagery in a day. This is the rig Michael Yon used to record day one of our stay in Nimroz.

The place for me to start my narrative of the trip is right in the middle.  Yesterday morning we found out none of the State Department folks or Marines from Leatherneck would attend the ceremonies. This made me the senior American present a fact which I failed to think through before walking into the reception hall for the morning program of recognition for the US AID in general and my company specifically. As I entered the hall my Afghan provincial manager, Bashir greeted me with most unwelcome news.  “You are the senior man, Tim; you have to sit next to the Governor.” I said that would be fine, but I needed to find the men’s room first. Bashir said that was not possible, and I had to go to my seat “right now.”

Almost an hour after Bashir said I had to be in my seat I remain frozen in place waiting for the program to start. At this point I figure I can make it an hour maybe even 90 minutes before I fold and make a break for the men's room - which is a mark of weakness and lack of self control in this part of the world
Almost an hour after Bashir said I had to be in my seat, I remain frozen in place waiting for the program to start. At this point, I figure I can make it an hour, maybe even 90 minutes, before I fold and make a break for the men’s room ; a mark of weakness and lack of self-control in this part of the world.

So I’m stuck in place, and I know that if I get up and the Governor shows up and I amble on over to sit next to him after he has sat down…that would just not do, so I wait.

And wait - at this point I'm making up an elaborate fictional story about the last two days in order to keep my mind off the fact that what I really need to do, more than anything else in the word, was go use the mens room
And wait – at this point I’m making up an elaborate fictional story about the last two days in order to keep my mind off the fact that what I really need to do, more than anything else in the world, is go use the men’s room.

As I sat, concentrating on positive energy for the test of wills that was to come, Deputy Provincial Governor Haji Qasem Khedry walked in, said his greeting to us and sat down next to me. The clock had finally started, and I settled in, determined to hang tough. A number of community elders came up to praise the US-funded Community Development Program and the management team in Nimroz, headed by Bashir Sediqi, who is my best provincial manager.

This is Haju Moulavi Sedahuddin who is a sharp critic of the governor and municipal authorities but agreed to come and testify as to the effectiveness of our programs and their positive impact on the people
This is Haji Moulavi Sedahuddin, who is a sharp critic of the governor and municipal authorities, but agreed to come and testify as to the effectiveness of our programs and their positive impact on the people.  It was interesting to see him at this awards ceremony, and I was hoping his remarks would be brief but was to be disappointed.

I was pretty confident we were at least half way through the schedule of events when fate intervened in the form of an unfortunate event which allowed me to make a brief graceful exit.

If you look closely at the man in the back of this photo - second from the right you'll notice he appears to be unconscious. He is about to lean forward and start throwing up. Half of the men sitting with me are doctors and I knew the best thing for me to do was get out of the way as this emergency medical situation was handled
If you look closely at the man in the back of this photo – second row next to the wall, you’ll notice he appears to be unconscious. He may or may not be. I don’t know.  What I do know is he’s about to lean forward and start throwing up.  This could be the sign of something serious or not – turns out he was alert and pain free when he left, so I’m guessing his was a minor medical issue.  Half of the men sitting with me in the front are doctors, and I knew the best thing for me to do was get out of the way as this emergency medical situation was handled

Once I caught the commotion over my right shoulder and recognized there was a medical emergency, I took immediate action. I bolted toward Bashir and pointed to the man saying, “He needs a doctor, and where is the toilet?”  Bashir said, “Downstairs to the left.” I flew down the stairs with Mike Yon in hot pursuit.  “Do you know where the men’s room is?” he asked. I told him we were on the way and stayed in front in case it was only one stall.  But it wasn’t – there were plenty of open toilets, as we had beaten the rush down to them. We were back before the ceremony re-started, and I resumed my post.

This is the tail of the end of the presentation and I'm accepting a award from the people on behalf of my company. The Boss should be here accepting this not me
This is the tail of the end of the presentation, and I’m accepting an award from the people on behalf of my company. The Boss should be here accepting this not me

During the past three years, we have accomplished some amazing projects. I’ll be posting in detail about two of them in the near future. What is important to remember, as we close down our Nimroz operations and move on, is that all the projects we did in Nimroz were conceived by, designed by and built by Afghans.  As the only American in the lash-up, my role was limited to minor writing of reports and moving money for paydays. The Boss was the man with the vision to tell USAID we could go down to Zaranj and work, and he proved he was right. I know I sound like a broken record, but I am trying to point out how easy it is to get things done in this country when you know what you’re doing. And if you know what you are doing in Afghanistan, you will never walk into some public awards ceremony without first visiting the men’s room. I now remember that I once knew that, bet I don’t forget it again anytime soon.

High Noon in the Forgotten Province

Yesterday morning there was a running gunfight spanning 100 kilometers on the Nimroz Province side of the Dasht-e Margo (Desert of Death.) It started just outside the little hamlet of Qala Fath, which is home to the only reliable source of drinking water near Zaranj and also houses this spectacular walled city which once guarded a portion of the Silk Road. Or it guarded the water source; or something else; because nobody in Nimroz Province has a clue when it was built or by whom.

Part of the walled city in Qala Fath
Part of the walled city in Qala Fath

The fight started when Haji Mehedin, the commander of the Afghan Highway Police, turned off the Lashkary Canal road heading towards Qala Fath. Once you exit the Lashkary road you enter into a canyon with 30 to 40 foot high sandstone cliffs right next to the single track road, and this is the one area in southern Nimroz Province I hate driving through, because it is too easy to ambush vehicle traffic from almost point blank range.  Haji Mehedin was alone and saw a vehicle with armed men about 100 meters down the track to his front. The armed men fired warning shots into the air. Haji Mehedin grabbed his rifle and started firing at the men in front of him. He was then engaged from his right flank by an RPG  and more small arms fire. He conducted a one man fighting withdrawal back to the Lashkary Canal road where he linked up with a two-man ANP guard post and called for the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) from Zaranj.  The ANA and ANP and every Highway Patrolman in the area converged on Haji Mehedin within an hour, and the chase was on. The road in that part of the province heads one way – into Charborjak District, running about 110 kilometers astride the Helmand River, where it ends at the start of a massive irrigation project we just finished last week.

The posse found Haji Mehdin’s police truck, which did not make it far because its radiator had been shot up. The villains apparently set it on fire and were now crammed into one Hi Lux truck.  The posse fanned out and raced across the Dasht-e Margo in pursuit.

In the desert heading towards Charborjak; imagine about 60 ANP trucks in a massive line sweeping across this very road yesterday. It must have been a sight to behold.
In the desert heading toward Charborjak. Imagine about 60 ANP trucks in a massive line sweeping across this very road yesterday. It must have been a sight to behold.

The villains’ vehicle broke down about 14 kilometers outside of the Charborjak District Center, and they abandoned it, leaving behind large quantities of explosives and ammunition. The QRF fanned out and started heading toward the highlands, away from the Helmand River. The villians then struck with a pretty impressive RPG shot which killed the driver of one of the ANP trucks. That shot was the villains’ undoing, as dozens and dozens of trucks loaded with infantry, cops, and highway patrolmen moved in for the kill. And kill they did – 9 of the 11 insurgents died on the spot. Two got away but were leaking blood, and they headed into the desert where chances of survival are slim. They carried no identification papers, were clearly not local people, and the best guess is they were Pashtuns from the South.

The total weapon count from this group was 11 AK 47s, one RPG with 8 rounds, a few pistols, two plastic jugs full of HME (home made explosives) and an old PPSh-41 submachinegun.  The PPSh-41 fires a 7.62x25mm pistol round from a drum magazine; it is an open bolt weapon, just like the  Uzi and the old American M3 Grease Gun, but it has a dangerous design flaw. If the bolt is forward on an empty chamber with a full magazine inserted into the magazine well, the gun has an annoying habit of going off if you’re riding in a truck which is bouncing along on poorly maintained dirt roads. The Americans, for this exact reason,  modified their M3 Grease Guns by attaching a peg to the bolt and cutting a groove for the peg in the ejection port cover, which prevents the bolt from functioning as long as the cover is closed . Older Afghan men who know a little bit about weapons hate the PPSh subgun, and it is interesting that this group of scumbags had one. They really suck.

The Charborjak District Administrative Center - this district is geographically huge but sparsely populated with a few small villages situated close to the river and nothing but desert inland.
The Charborjak District Administrative Center – this district is geographically huge but sparsely populated with a few small villages situated close to the river and nothing but desert inland.
We built a large main irrigation canal that extends 56 kilometers and services every farming hamlet in the district. We were going to do 60 kilometers but ran into a mine field at the tail end of the canal and could not find a way around it. Yesterday was the day we originally scheduled the grand opening of this canal.
We built a large main irrigation canal that extends 56 kilometers and services every farming hamlet in the district. We were going to do 60 kilometers but ran into a mine field at the tail end of the canal and could not find a way around it. Yesterday was the day we originally scheduled the grand opening of this canal.

There are several things about this story which interest me. The first is that my guys and I, and the Provincial Governor, and a well known journalist were supposed be on that road yesterday morning to conduct the opening ceremony for our irrigation project. That project employed every working age male in the district, and because we dug most of it by hand, we kept these men employed for almost a full year. More importantly, we built reinforced concrete intakes, water control points and three bypass sections, allowing for portions of the canal to be closed for repairs as needed. Most importantly, we did not dig secondary canals.  We said up front we could bring the water inland but bringing that water to farmers’ fields was their job, not ours; and keeping the main canal up and running is again their job, not ours. I’m a little proud of that given the number of times local men came up to me to ask if we could dig a canal into their village and I just laughed and said no.  Politely – I’m a culturally sensitive guy.

Given the way the villains were set up, they could have intended to ambush the rather large convoy heading out to the ceremony. I honestly now wish we hadn’t changed the date – 11 knuckleheads with AKs, one RPG launcher and a dog of a subgun? Given the number of ANP who were going to be with us, I’d take those odds any day. I have the flame stick dialed in for 300 meters and this may have been my only chance to bust a cap into a real honest to God villain. Besides, we would have moved through there hours before noon, so I’m not so sure this was an attempt on the governor’s life, which is what the buzz on the street is saying.  Had these 11 idiots brought along a heavy machinegun or two that would be a different story; nobody wants to get caught in a narrow draw while being stitched up by machinegunners who, at that close distance, would have had to try really hard to miss. Had we not been traveling with the governor’s escort, we would have never entered the draw – we use multiple outriders who would have alerted us long before we got there.  We have one drill for potential ambushes – and that drill is called turn around and run. We’re not here for gun play, and despite a long year of moving low-pro throughout the most dangerous provinces in this country, the Ghost Team record of never being ambushed stands. Except for that time Crazy Horse got lit up in Paktiya, but he was with Chief Ajmal Khan, and it wasn’t that big of an ambush, so I’m still thinking technically we have a 100% movement success rate.

But here is something else of interest – Haji Mehedin is a Baloch (most of southern Nimroz is Baloch), and they, for the most part, dislike Pashtuns and hate the Taliban. Haji Mehedin has also not been to one of the multimillion dollar regional training centers where they cram powerpoint classes about things which an Afghan policeman will never do, would hardly understand, and couldn’t care less about.  He doesn’t need instruction from US Department of State contractors to tell him what to do to bring order and the rule of law (Afghan style – which is a little different than the standards in western law enforcement) in his own damn district. Which is, of course, another great point – it is his district, where he grew up and knows all the residents. Do you think men like Haji Mehedin will tolerate his troopers shaking down truck drivers and other civilians for pocket change?

The canal was not all dug by hand - we rented every excavator in the Province too for the harder sections of the canal
The canal was not all dug by hand – we rented every excavator in the province for the harder sections.

Back in World War I, the British had a problem, and that problem was German agents were moving through Balochistan and into Afghanistan where they were trying to get some traction and allies to fight with them. Three of the four major Baloch tribes had gone over to the German side when the Germans told them their country had converted to Islam and that they had giant airships which travel around the world leaving death and destruction in their wake.

The British sent out what they had: a lone Colonel, his London born driver and 23 Sepoy’s (Indian infantry) who had not been trained or issued any weapons. I read the Colonel’s fascinating account of how he bluffed the insurgent Baloch tribes into coming back to the British side by telling them he led a huge army and had mountain guns, and all the holes in the radiator grill of his now beat up car were machinegun barrels with which he could kill them all in the blink of an eye.  These bluffs, as bluffs always do, did not last long, but by then the Colonel (who had promoted himself to general, so he had more juice with the natives) did get a couple of mountain guns. He also got a cavalry troop with a British officer, a squad of Seapoys who were trained and had rifles, and I think maybe a machinegun platoon – I  returned the book to its owner and now have to go on memory. Once he had a little firepower behind him, the now-General summoned a few of the rebel chiefs to his mud brick fort, had a quick military tribunal, found the lot guilty and ordered them to be hanged in the morning. One of the bandit chief’s wives – reportedly the most beautiful woman in Balochistan – asked the General to come to her camp, where she presented him with a magnificent white horse (it was his horse and had been stolen earlier in the year.) She promised him that her husband would never again fight against the Raj or the crown and would from that day forward be a trusted ally.

That’s about as far as I got in the book before I had to return it to its owner – so B, be a good friend and fill us in after you read this.  I’m pretty sure the bandit chief turned around and attacked the small garrison after his stay of execution and subsequent release, which prompted the British General (his self-promotion was approved during his first year there) to mobilize his army.  That army was a few infantry, one field gun, a cavalry troop and 600 camels, and they marched to the winter camping grounds of the tribe, where he threatened to let his camels loose on the wheat fields and vegetable gardens.  Six hundred camels would have consumed every bit of the winter fodder these nomads had grown, so the threat posed by the Brits was literally a death sentence for the whole tribe.

Compare and contrast the responses of a cash strapped, over-extended British military almost 100 years ago to the response of a cash strapped over-extended United States military today. The Brits send in a field grade officer with an enlisted driver and push him whatever horse, small mountain guns, infantry and machineguns they can spare, and throughout the entire war they could spare less than 100 men total to send into Balochistan. We start by spending billions and billions of dollars to set up high speed training centers staffed by people who know absolutely nothing about this land, culture or people, and even when it is recognized from on high (as it was in 2005) that these training centers accomplish next to nothing what do we do?  Double down and spend billions more.

Haji Mehedin demonstrated something that old British General knew and something we could not learn in a million years due to the slow thinking, one size fits all problem solving of Big Government, which wholly owns and manages our Big Military.  That something is that we don’t need to spend billions building and manning regional training centers full of ex-cops who cannot possibly teach much to their students because they have no idea what those students really do all day when they are out on the job. Nobody needed to train Haji Mehedin how to fight or what to do when ambushed by Taliban. He’s a Baloch tribesman, a tribal leader in fact, and to be honest he would have probably done better if we have given him an old Enfield bolt gun instead of the piece of shit AMD 65 that is standard issue for Afghan police.

Could this man be the next Brad Thor? If you are in the publishing business you'd be smart to send me a large check and a contract right now or lose the chance of a lifetime. Throw in a business class upgrade when I head home and I'll sign over the sequel. I'm a cheap date but won't be after you see the manuscript.
Could this man be the next Brad Thor? If you are in the publishing business you’d be smart to send me a large check and a contract right now or lose the chance of a lifetime. Throw in a business class upgrade when I head home and I’ll sign over the sequel. I’m a cheap date but won’t be after you see the manuscript.

We no longer send colonels out into the wilds of lawless lands like Balochistan with a single enlisted man assigned to them and a written order which says something like “stop the Baloch from raiding our supply trains, and if they won’t stop, kill them.”  Or words to that effect – they did come from the British so I’m sure his written orders were a little more polished than I remember.  We once knew how to fight a counterinsurgency while having to deal with a dysfunctional host nation government and fight on the cheap.  We can’t do anything on the cheap now and we’re broke.

 

Stuck in Kabul

We are finishing up our projects and preparing to call it a war. This year we have been operating in 20 Provinces, all of them kinetic and getting every project we started finished on schedule and on budget. I now routinely move in Ghost Team mode throughout the Southwest using a few tricks of the trade that we’ve picked up along the way. The way we do what we do is our Afghan staff is awesome and the key regional positions held by Afghans we’ve known for years. We have been successful where every other implementer has failed because we (the expat project managers) visit every project, track all expenditures, and use technology to GPS/time/date the photographs sent in daily by our monitoring crew. Plus we have been doing infrastructure projects for so long that we no longer have to haggle over cement or gravel or steel prices in the local bazaars.

Being successful in the places we worked probably raised the expectations of the average local citizen far above what is reasonable. Operating with low overhead, no security company to impede our operations while directly implementing projects in areas thought to be too unstable would mean something if we were on the winning side of this conflict.  But we’re not so it means very little in the big scheme of things. That’s because the entire edifice on which the ISAF Afghanistan counterinsurgency campaign is based has been built on a foundation of lies. The central government in Kabul in not functional now and will not be anytime soon. The Kabul based government line ministries have the ability to project authority down to the district level which is madness given the sensitivity of Afghans concerning legal title to their land. Calling a central government that was installed and is supported by the guns of foreigners legitimate does not make it so in the eyes of the Afghan people. And they don’t give a damn about what the international community has to say on the topic

The ability of modern western armies to train and mentor Afghan security forces are zero. ISAF insists that their troops have a certain amount of protection and access to unlimited quantities of high quality western food flown into the country at God only knows what cost. In order to achieve this goal ISAF is quartered on FOB’s that are physically separated from the forces they are mentoring. That adds to the psychological separation that all westerners have to deal with when they choose to reside in countries like Afghanistan. It also subtracts from their ability to win friends or influence the men they have been sent to train.

Did you know there were crabs in the irrigation canals of Afghanistan? Me either.
Did you know there were crabs in the irrigation canals of Helmand Province? Me either.

The inability of the Government in Kabul to protect the capitol was on display during the attack in Kabul on the ISAF HQ?American Embassy complex. When the attack from Abul Haq Square started at I was skyping with The Bot who was in his office which is just down the street from the building the Taliban were using for their attack. He reported firefights breaking out in a 2-kilometer circle around him.  I told him it sounded (over the Skype connection) like the Tet offensive and he might want to think about heading down to the bunker but he wouldn’t budge.  He’s resposible for the Japanesse aid workers who were already in the bunker and needed to have eyes on the compound in case villians started to slither over the walls.

Here is what happend:

Six bad guys rolled up in a Toyota van to a building under construction at Abul Haq Square, exited the van, shot the security guard stationed in front and occupied the building. The building had been under construction in 2007 but then construction was stopped because (this is local gossip and may not be true) there was direct line of sight into the Presidential compound from the upper floors .   There are probably 10 buildings now in Kabul tall enough and close enough for direct line of sight into the Presidential compound which doesn’t make the story untrue but the Occam Razor approach would speculate that the builders ran out of bribe money.   TIA (This Is Afghanistan)

I lifted this out of The Bot's incident report

So the villains run upstairs where they have a stash consisting of 5 AK 47’s, a 82mm (Type 65) Recoilless Rifle, two RPG launchers (with a bunch of rounds) and an unknown number of Russian F1 fragmentation grenades. From their pre-staged sniper nest they had direct line of sight to the US embassy and ISAF HQ compounds. As soon as they are set up inside the building they started cutting loose with the Recoilless Rifle. The AK’s and hand grenades were used on the ANP troops who came in the building after them. At the same time suicide bombers attacked three separate ANSF targets around the city.

This is important to know; the max effective range of a type 65 Recoilless Rifle is around 1750 meters, for an AK 47 about 400, which is probably about the best you can do with the American M4’s given their shorter barrels. Remember those distances ….now here’s the timeline:

1320 – 6 fighters (Haqqani type) start the attack

1415 – The critical response unit arrives with their ISAF mentors.

1500 Two 82mm shells hit USAID compound.

1515 – The ANP shoot a suspected suicide bomber outside the ANCOP HQ but he detonates against an ANCOP HMMVW wounding two of the cops.

1535 A suicide bomber detonates at the rear entrance of the Shamshod Regional Police HQ killing one ANP officer and wounding three civilians who were in the immediate vicinity.

1540 ANP officers shoot a suspected suicide bomber and he fails to detonate because he was carrying a large charge in a sports bag and that allowed the security forces to examine the bomb.   It contained 7 kg of military grade explosives and was loaded with nails to provide fragmentation.   The bag also contained one F1 hand grenade and an AK rifle.

1610 The villains launch two more 82mm rounds at the embassy but they overshoot and land around the main mosque in Wazir Akbar Khan.

1930 Some sort of SF team from ISAF makes an assault and the villains respond with a shower of hand grenades rolled down the stairs. The SF door kickers kill two of the six bad guys on the fifth floor and then slow down taking the entire rest of the night to kill the remaining four fighters. The assaulters (whoever they were) did not take any casualties during the clearance phase of the operation.

0700 Incident is declared over.

What was all the firing The Bot and I heard coming from?  I thought it was undisciplined fire from Afghan Security Forces who were shooting at ghosts. Turns out I was wrong. Most of the shooting The Bot was hearing came from the ISAF Headquarters where the Macedonian guard force joined by Americans from the HQ staff started shooting at a building 1000 meters away with AK 47’s (Macedonians) and M4 rifles (Americans). What they thought they were doing and where all those rounds landed is a mystery to me but there is a private girls school that is 600 meters out from ISAF HQ and directly in the line of fire so it would be a good guess to assume most the ISAF rounds hit there. I can guarantee that none of them came close to hitting the 6 gunmen who were outside the effective range of ISAF battle rifles.

Despite the wild fire from the ISAF troops this incident was handled well by the Afghan Security Forces. Two of the three suicide bombers were shot before they could strike and the focal point of the incident was isolated and contained rapidly. Most importantly the door kickers took their time rooting out the villains who, as is typical for Taliban fighters, did not fight with much skill despite achieving complete surprise and being prepared to fight to the death.

This is a view of the Recoiies Rife firing position
This is a view of the Recoilless Rife firing position

The subsequent assassination of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani is something on which I’ll withhold comment.  I knew Rabbani’s deceased son-in law very well and have no desire to share my opinions on this matter except for two:  That was one well planned and executed operation that reveals a skill set we in the west no longer have.  And seeing Ambassador Crocker accuse the Pakistani’s of collusion in the attack was a refreshingly honest public statement from a senior diplomat.

Blind support of GIRoA is not a mission, but an abdication of the imperative of paying attention to reality when you define a mission. The American military has a counterinsurgency doctrine based on supporting the local government, and they are not going to tailor their operations to fit reality despite the fact we have do not have a host nation partner  that is seen as legitimate in the eyes of the Afghan people. The six fighters who launched the main attack obviously had staged thousands of pounds worth of weapons and ordnance inside Kabul’s Ring of Steel and that could only be done with the active assistance of people with seniority in the Kabul security establishment. Corruption in this country is that bad.

Richard Fernandez of The Belmount Club posted today about the consequences of building edifices on the foundation of a lie. This quote from the post lays it out beautifully:

But just as the appeasers have now about abolished the last remaining justification for national self defense and as the Left continued to operate on the Western side of the Berlin Wall in the guise of their transnational schemes, nothing in recent history indicates that being correct about an issue settles anything. Being right has nothing to do with politics. It’s what you can sell that counts. The price of keeping those product lines going was on full display on the world markets today. Stocks plunged all over the world, the 10-Year Treasury yields hit their lowest level since 1940s..

Not just because policymakers have gotten it wrong about the root cause of terrorism, or the Euro; but also about Too Big To Fail, population policy, multiculturalism, a crippling environmentalism and Global Warming, to name a few. The financial, national security and educational systems of the world are in utter collapse because they are stuffed with lies, which even when they are shown to be obviously false suck up trillions of dollars in their pursuit. And nothing will turn the global elites from continuing their ruinous path until they have spent the last nickle and dime they can lay their hands on.

There is little that will be done to change the tragic trajectory of Afghanistan. We blew it years ago by ignoring the obvious and assuming that somehow we could midwife the birth of Afghanistan into modernity. We now have a gigantic military presence that has assumed roles and missions they cannot accomplish by VTC meeting, endless closed loop reporting and chin wagging about good governance or women’s rights among themselves inside the safety of a FOB. Afghanistan is not going to end well and we may not know (in my lifetime) if the investment of blood and treasure was worth it. But it is not Afghanistan that worries me it is the consequences of basing everything we do on lies.

This cool old walled fort marks the start of a minefield at the tail end of a massive irrigation project. What are the chances that after spending billions on de-mining capacity that this thing could be cleared to allow us to finish our work? Zero
This cool old walled fort marks the start of a minefield at the tail end of a massive irrigation project. What are the chances that after spending billions on de-mining capacity that this thing could be cleared to allow us to finish our work? Zero

The resolute reluctance by the American government to deal with reality in Afghanistan is not the exception to a rule; it is the rule. The rule of the big lie which  infuses our military from top to bottom. I remember vividly the first time I experienced it in the military. Former Commandant of the Marine Crops General Krulak was then the Commanding General in Quantico, Virginia where I was an instructor at The Basic School. There was a new class of Lieutenants on deck and the General had come to welcome them on day one of their 6-month course. The first thing he asked was “who here thinks that a female is incapable of doing anything and everything a man can do”?  I almost had a heart attack when I saw some of my new Lt’s preparing to state the obvious fact that there is no way the female gender of the species can physically compete with the male gender in any endeavor that requires strength, stamina, or endurance. Fortunately the good General had paused for only a second before concluding with this warning “because if you do I’ll dismiss you from our Corps this very afternoon” (that may not be an exact quote but it’s close).

On day one of their official Marine Corps careers this group of 300 odd men were exposed to the corruption of the lie. For the rest of their careers (those who stayed in are now  Lieutenant Colonels) they have had to deal with an organizational defect built on what they know to be a lie. This is how you end up with senior officers who will look you straight in the eye and tell you they are here to support GIRoA who has shown so much promise and improvement that there is no reason to be here after 2014.

What can you say when confronted with such stupidity?  I don’t know – I know the Helmand Province is unnaturally free of IED’s and SAF attacks this past week. If that trend keeps up it is safe to deduce that somebody on the Taliban side now understands the lie and have switched tactics in response. The Taliban once massed hundreds of fighters to go after small outposts in the mountains or the British in Helmand Province. They can’t do that now without becoming a HIMAR magnet so going to ground, keeping minor pressure on ISAF with IED’s and shoot and scoot attacks while simultaneously running an assassination campaign targeting Afghan officials is a sound tactical plan. The hit on Rabbani was a most impressive operation and nobody here thinks he’s the last senior government official on the Taliban JPEL (Joint Priority Effects List)

Afghanistan has revealed that NATO can’t fight – it can’t deploy or sustain itself either without the American military but that truth will be ignored for political expediency. Same-same with the flood of USG agency folks who came here as part of the civilian surge; they proved that they are incapable of deploying to or working in primitive environments without literally a million dollars a day (per person) in life support and security services.

I’ll end this post with a quote from Victor Davis Hanson’s book Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise to Western Power:

Western civilization has given mankind the only economic system that works, a rationalist tradition that alone allows us material and technological progress, the sole political structure that ensures the freedom of the individual, a system of ethics and a religion that brings out the best in humankind and the most lethal practice of arms conceivable.

Western civilization is broke because our elites have robbed future generations to pay for their Utopian schemes. In the process they have ruined many a proud military by insisting on levels of security and life support, which are unnecessary, counter productive to the mission, and ruinous to the fighting spirit. Who cares? You should. Soon a butchers bill for this incompetence will be due.   Only the dead have seen the last of war.

Masters of the Obvious

Well, the day after E2 posted the droid post, a new report by Afghan “experts” was released. It is a complete crock, which couples blindingly obvious facts to a set of BS recommendations that are so wrong they can easily be dismissed an reasonably intelligent eight year old child (but not our betters in DC).  This low hanging fruit I cannot pass up.

So last July, Kabul was graced with a 72 hour visit from the brain trust of The Center for American Progress. As one might expect from the name of this fine organization, they are statists who want nothing to do with progress – if one defines  progress to mean getting things done in an efficient, appropriate manner.  No, they came to contribute their brain power and earn their seven digit salaries the new “old fashioned” way – by using their impressive academic credentials and political connections to write up a “point paper,” which contains no insight, no understanding, nothing new, and is, in the end, flat-out, demonstrably wrong. But you get that from your hyper-credentialed betters don’t you?

The CEO of The American Enterprise Institute and noted Afghan Expert John Podesta - we remember him from back in the days when he was Clinton's CoS - looks like he's aged well - a sleek no doubt savvy burecratic infighter to be sure. But he doesn't know a damn thing about Afghanistan. But he makes over a mil a year passing himself off as an expert - the ruling class in action no?
The CEO of the Soros funded  The Center for American Progress, fully connected democratic machine insider and noted Afghan Expert, John Podesta.  Remember him when he was Clinton’s CoS?  Looks like he’s aged well – rich people do age better than us working folk so bully for this chap. He still doesn’t know a damn thing about Afghanistan.

Here are  the blindingly obvious “insights” contained in the report linked above;  you ready?

1. Reset the relationship with President Hamid Karzai while still using leverage to advance reforms

2.  Clarify the message

3.  Support and invest in democratic institutions and forces

4.  Support a more inclusive peace process.

5.  Shift from a development strategy to a sustainable economic strategy

I kid you not; this is what several million dollars funding buys from DC think tanks. If I need to explain how wrong, stupid, boneheaded, or just plain ignorant these five ideas are, then you haven’t been reading FRI long enough. What the geniuses from the Center for American Progress are touting is to continue down the same path we have been on for a decade.   Typical statist bullshit from elites who, by virtue of their connections and political advocacy, will always be immune to the consequences of the disastrous policies they inflict upon the citizenry. So, as naturally as day follows night, this brings me to Harry Truman and the Berlin Airlift.

Co-author Brian Katulis – a Princeton man (who speaks Arabic !!!) and has written many books on the region.  Added plus; he was just on Hardball where one of the five viewers watching quoted him as saying “we got to move beyond this addiction to dictators” while discussing his support for the Muslim Brotherhood in taking out Mubarack but he also said that he was against removing the Iraqi dictator Sadam Hussain. “Shut up, he explained” when asked about the clear contradictions.  “I went to Princeton don’t you know.”

Message from E2: Stay with him folks, this is not an arbitrary tangent; he’s gonna bring it around.

How did the Berlin Airlift come about and why was it successful?  My understanding of that critical period in world history has been wrong for most of my life. Like many of you (I’m betting) the period between the end of the war and the blockade of Berlin was compressed in my memory: war ends, Marshall plan starts, the Soviets dick things up because they are stupid and the new Air Force sorts it all out with an impressive military airlift. That is not what happened.

The true story behind the Berlin Airlift is fascinating in many respects. First, there were three years of flailing about (which makes our efforts in Afghanistan almost appear to be favorable in comparison) before the Soviets started the blockade. Second, the men who rescued the effort from the disastrous, amateur hour, FUBAR exercise that it started out as got no credit, while the incompetent who created the mess became Chief of Staff for the Air Force.

The story behind the Berlin Airlift is the subject of a fascinating book by Andrei Cherny call the Candy Bombers. What I did not know before reading it was that nobody in Washington DC thought that Berlin could be supplied by an airlift.   Had the initial, unorganized, caffeine and adrenaline fueled effort started by Curtis LeMay continued, the conventional wisdom would have proved correct.

When Harry Truman asked his advisers what should be done about the blockade of Berlin their answers were uniform across the board: cut and run. Here was Harry Truman – a man considered to be the “accidental president” and also considered weak, indecisive and poorly educated.

Truman has a vice president he doesn’t trust, a secretary of defense who was clinically insane (a fact, not a smartass comment), and every general or admiral he asks tells him the same thing: we can’t do the airlift, we can’t fight the Soviets, we have to cut and run. There were two generals who did not agree with this advice – one was Lucius Clay, a man who never saw one day of combat having been forced to head up  procurement for the war effort before being appointed the military governor of Berlin. The other a distinctly unpopular general named Bill Turner, who turned the airlift from an exciting seat of the pants misadventure into an operation that ran like a metronome. Every three minutes a plane landed and every three minutes one took off. If there were more than three planes on the ground at the Berlin airport, somebody was in for a severe ass chewing once Turner determined who was responsible. Clay (like Truman) understood the psychological importance of not cutting and running. Turner was the only man who knew how to organize and run a proper airlift. We owe these two men a tremendous debt but I doubt any of you have ever heard of them before.  That is sometimes the price of being a real hero- others get the credit and you get sent home.

The Center for American Progress website doesn't have a picture of Caroline which I guess democrats can get away with. I thought all upper management had to be treated equally, I goggled Caroline suspecting she might be a food blister or have some sort of looks issue but she doesn't. There are plenty of clips of her being interviewed on TV etc... and she appears to be an attractive woman - but she doesn't have a pic on the executive bathroom section of workplace and this photo pops up when you goggle her name so I'm going with it
The Center for American Progress website doesn’t have a picture of Caroline Wadhams, the third author of this important paper.   I thought all upper management had to be treated equally regardless of gender so I googled Caroline, and found  plenty of clips of her being interviewed on TV etc… and she appears to be an attractive woman.  But she doesn’t have a pic on the executive bathroom section of her current workplace which is odd.   This photo pops up when you google her too so I’m going with it.  One can never go wrong with a picture of a Marine weapons platoon jocking up for a day of battle

What  I find fascinating  is that Truman stuck to his philosophical guns in spite of  every newspaper, every TV reporter, every flag officer, and every tenured parasite at the Ivy League schools  proclaiming him  wrong. This reminds me of President Bush and his experience before The Surge strategy was conceived in Iraq. When he asked the Joint Chiefs for advice, what he got is “keep doing exactly the same thing, only better”.

Where are we going to find leaders who will stand on principle, buck against the tsunami of toxic, ineffective advice thrown at them from elites who went to the “proper schools” for the “right credentials”? Why should we listen to three policy wonks who spent God only knows how much of our (taxpayer) money for three days inside an embassy that is as far removed from the real Afghanistan as the playground at the West Annapolis Elementary School?  The simple truth is that  the number of acceptable endstates in Afghanistan are limited and none of them involve “clarifying messages” or “resetting” (I hate that word now) relationships with President Karzai.

The best we can do is support regional leaders, train up a respectable security force and then get the hell out. We’ve had ten years of relationship resetting and clarifying of messages. What we need now is a leader to articulate in simple terms what we are going to do and when we are going home. And as Harry Truman proved long ago – sticking by the conviction that America is right and stands with the forces of good on this earth is the most effective way to move past the conflicting advice of the elites and into the pantheon of men who truly made a difference in their time. The men in that pantheon stuck to their guns – we need a leader who  will stick to his.

Attention To Detail

My good friend E2 has kept FRI alive for the past few months allowing me to put up a post I’m dying to share. We’ll complete our remaining projects in a few months and then I can start posting again about what we were up to this year. Last week I got a treat that was too good not to share; a chance to link up with my friend Col Dave Furness, USMC, the commanding officer of  Regimental Combat Team 1 currently deployed to the  southern Helmand. Col Furness was heading out to look over the positions of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines (Lava Dogs) commanded by LtCol Sean Riordan, who came through the Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course when Dave and I were instructors there. I needed to see the USAID FPO’s in that neck of the woods providing a perfect excuse to tag along.

LtCol Riordan, Col Furness and Baba T after a 5 hour foot patrol. - We're hurting too but Bushido forbids the display of weakness on the part of commanders
LtCol Riordan, Col Furness and Baba T after a 5 hour foot patrol. – We’re hurting- it is just too damn  hot –  but Bushido forbids the display of weakness on the part of commanders so I had to buck up too or face unending grief from my buddies.
This is why we're hurting
This is why we’re hurting and believe it or not that is a good ten degrees below summer norms in the Helmand Valley

When  Dave and Sean  first showed up several months ago there was some of hard fighting left do to penetrate this far south but that turned out to be the easy part.  Terrain and vegetation forced the Taliban into linear defenses. They tried minefields in front in an effort to bog down the advancing Marines. But Marines have helicopters, so they would fix the villains with a frontal holding attack and then fly into their rear and chew them up. The Taliban were quick to figure out that move and countered with minefields and fighting positions to their rear too. The Marines started flying into their rear to fix them, a tactic which allowed the Marine infantry in front to flank the Taliban and pin them against the Helmand River.  Fish in a barrel, except for the runners who manage to slip out, ditch their weapons and start walking meaning they no longer fit the PID profile and cannot be engaged.

Heading out to an isolated patrol base - this picture seems timeless to me - how many times have we seen similar photos from Vietnam?
Heading out to an isolated patrol base – this picture seems timeless to me – how many times have we seen similar pictures from Vietnam or Korea or WW II?

A few months back as they were pushing south the Marines would run into situations that (for guys like them) are a dream come true.  An ANP commander pointed out a village where his men have hit 3 IEDs in as many weeks and each time the villagers poured out with AK’s  to start a firefight.  A few nights later the Marines blow a controlled det on the road to simulate an IED hit and when the villains rushed out with their flame sticks they met what we lovingly call the ‘L shaped ambush’.  No doubt (knowing the Lava Dogs) the villains also met Mr. Claymore, were introduced to the proper use of a machine gun section, and were treated to a 40mm grenade shower from those new and  super deadly M32’s.  Bad day.  Not many survived that textbook lesson on the proper use of an ambush squad, but those days are long gone. The Taliban has run out of options in their limited (yet effective) playbook and have gone to ground but are still planting the IED’s and will still strike at what they consider soft targets but these attacks seldom rise above the level of being a minor nuisance.

As everybody in the world (except President Karzai) knows, these IED’s kill and maim vast numbers of innocent Afghans, yet  rarely inflict casualties on ISAF units. The Marines still get hit by them but have deployed in such a way as to significantly reduce the vulnerability of their line infantry. Know how? By staying off the bog box FOBs and getting into little squad size combat outposts.

This is why the Marines are able to dominate this part of the Helmand. The terrain is flat, places to hide are few, and they have much better weapons systems which can reach out a long way. It is no longer possible for the villains to assemble 200 or 300 fighters like they once did in this area when the British Army first moved in. A force that size would have so many rockets falling of them they would need shovels and wheel borrows to scoop up what was left for burial
This is why the Marines are able to dominate this part of the Helmand Valley. The terrain is flat, places to hide are few, and they have precision weapons systems that reach out and touch people from a long long way away.  It is no longer possible for the villains to assemble 200 or 300 fighters like they once did in this area when the British Army first moved in.  A force that size would have so many rockets falling on them that local villagers would need shovels and wheel barrows to scoop up what was left for burial. The Brits didn’t have enough manpower, ISR, indirect fire assets, or mobility to really fight in the Helmand. All they had were small units of brave, well trained infantry. Emphasis on brave. They were and are formidable but too few in number to make any  lasting difference in a Province as large as Helmand.

But Baba T,  you ask,  isn’t that how the Brits got their asses kicked so badly a few years back in the very same district centers the Marines are now occupying? This is true and speaks to the difference in organization, culture, task organization, and combat power between the services. The average British soldier is every bit as good and in most cases better trained than his American army counterpart. But not the Marines who have far superior entry level training and a history of battlefield innovation. But the Marines are not supernatural and trying to work out of COP’s in places like Musa Qala is proving tough.

Southern Helmand Province is a long, flat narrow area, where the population is confined mostly to strips of land in close proximity to the Helmand River or one of its main canals. The Marines are able to spread out into COP’s (combat outposts) PB’s (Patrol Bases) and OP’s (observation posts) covering the entire AO (area of operation).  These positions are manned by junior NCO’s and in one PB the senior Marine was a Lance Corporal.  They move positions frequently; every time the Marines set up in a new one of any size local families immediately move as close to the positions as they are allowed and start building mud huts. For them a  small band of Marines equals security and the implicit trust shown by this pattern of behavior is something in which the Marines rightly take great pride.

See the GBOSS tower off in the distance? This picture was taken from a PB which also has a GBOSS - they now have enough ISR that the Marines can watch the entire main road which runs through the Southern Helmand
See the GBOSS tower off in the distance? This picture was taken from a PB which also has a GBOSS – they now have enough ISR that the Marines can watch the entire main road which runs through the Southern Helmand

So if the Marines have been kicking ass out there, why is the title of this post “Attention to Detail”?

Brace yourself  for a confusing yet  illuminating segue.

Back in the early 90’s, LtGen Paul Van Riper interrupted one of our IOC field events because he had been directed to stage a capabilities demo for a visiting member of the British Royal Family. I think it was Prince Andrew, but may have that wrong. General Van Riper is probably best known as the man who destroyed the US Navy in a 2002 “free play” staff exercise. But his reputation back then was as a general who would go” high order” at the slightest provocation.

I recall when he showed up outside the old combat town in Quantico; my fellow instructors and I lined up to render him a salute but for some reason I cut my salute early. He glared at me as if I were a putrid urine specimen. And not just a casual glare – he held it for what seemed like hours as my face worked its way through the various stages of red finally topping out at crimson. I remember observing full Colonels on the side of the road picking up trash (they had apparently been told to have their Marines get this done the day before but didn’t- so now they had to do it). We saw those Colonels because we had to go back and get clean uniforms for our students and ourselves – after five days in the field we were pretty stinky and no member of the Royal Family was going to be forced to deal with stinky Marines.

The General came up with a slick ambush involving a SPIE rig extract which would deposit our students in a LZ just down the road where the Prince could shake hands and take photos.  We rehearsed for two days all the while correcting what we thought were very minor issues, but they were defects Gen Van Riper found intolerable. The demonstration came off without a hitch – which we expected because we (the IOC staff) were good at this sort of thing. But we were forced to recognize the 5000 rehearsals Gen Van Riper had insisted on had served us well. We had thought General Van Riper  a lunatic; his obsessive attention to detail some sort of sick personality quirk but it turned out he was showing us what had to be done for a mission of this nature.

We were wrong to label Van Riper as anything other than a consummate professional despite his prickly personality.

Here’s why: attention to detail saves lives. It is not something that one can turn on one moment and off the next. It is a habitual behavior borne of years of practice, and even more years of serious ass-chewing from those above you who know the business. We had always known attention to detail was critical, but had applied it only when  practicing the deadly arts of war. We were masters at running complex live fire and maneuver training which required considerable attention to detail to pull off. However, in all honesty, we just didn’t apply it in the garrison or classroom setting.  As young officers we thought we could turn it on in the field because that’s where (we thought) it was important.  What Gen Van Riper and the many others like him were demonstrating to us was that we were wrong – you can never turn off attention to detail.

This night patrol brief started with all the Marines gear on the ground. They were then searched by their patrol leader and platoon sergeant. No ipods, tobacco lighters, matches, or any other no essential items are allowed and as every good Marine Sgt knows you inspect what you expect
This night patrol brief started with all the Marines gear on the ground. They were then searched by their patrol leader and platoon sergeant and  then instructed to put on their gear one piece at a time and that too gets inspected twice to ensure that every member has what he is supposed to have and knows exactly how much ammo, pyro and grenades are with them and who has what. No ipods, tobacco, lighters, matches, dip, snuff, written material of any kind, or any other non essential items are allowed.  As every good Sergeant knows you inspect what you expect and these guys know a thing or two about inspecting.

Our first stop on our tour of 1/3’s area was a newly established logistics hub, which was a pigsty.  I had never seen Dave ‘channel’ Gen Van Riper before, but I have now, and man, it is a sight to behold. He went high order, repeating over and over that a unit that can’t keep its own little camp in order is a unit unfit for combat operations outside the wire. “If the little things are kicking your ass, how the hell do you expect me to believe you can accomplish the big things I sent you out here to do?”  I’m paraphrasing here because between Dave and SgtMaj Zickefoose, so much ass was being chewed that I thought it best to go hide in the MRAP and didn’t even attempt to write down what they were explaining in the harsh unequivocal terms of infantry Marines.

At every little base we stopped in Dave's cultural advisor checked up on the ANA troops who live and work side by side with the Marines. Their #1 bitch was lack of leave time which RCT 1 had solved by contracting with an air carrier who could move 300 paxs at a time weekly. The Regional Contracting Command came up with a lower bid and that carrier could only move 150 at time and they have never made it in weekly as agreed due to constant maintenance problems. Gee, I've never heard of that happening before in Afghanistan. So now getting the ANA their home leave is becoming a problem again. And for the record there has never been a fratricide or anything remotely like that between the Marines and their ANA colleagues. Maybe RCT 1 is just lucky - but I think their just that good - which is better than being lucky.
At every little base we stopped in Dave’s cultural adviser checked up on the ANA troops who live and work side by side with the Marines. Their #1 bitch was lack of leave time which RCT 1 had solved by contracting with an air carrier who could move 300 paxs at a time weekly. The Regional Contracting Command came up with a lower bid and that carrier could only move 150 at time and they have never made it in weekly as agreed due to constant maintenance problems. Gee, I’ve never heard of that happening before in Afghanistan. So now getting the ANA their home leave is becoming a problem again. And for the record there has never been a fratricide or anything remotely like that between the Marines and their ANA colleagues. Maybe RCT 1 is just lucky – but I think their just that good – which is better than being lucky.

There was good reason for Dave’s rant. The active fighting has been long over, but the dying continues due to IED strikes and the most important factor in countering IED’s is attention to detail coupled with strict adherence to procedure. As we visited every little PB, COP, and OP in the Lava Dogs AO (there are over 50 of them now), we found that the logistics hub was the exception – each base and outpost we visited after that was spotless (or as spotless as things can be in the desert). Although the Lava Dogs had mastered the art of maintaining a clean and organized patrol base, Dave and the SgtMaj continued to pound home their message:  the fighting is over, we have tried every trick in the book to lure them into fighting us, but they won’t play anymore and have gone to the IED. The procedures for mitigating IED’s are well established and well drilled. They cannot be deviated from, no matter how hot it is, how long you’ve been out, or how far away the next available EOD teams may be.We must follow the procedure to the letter, no exceptions, because the lives of your fellow Marines depend on it.

Dave made it a point to ask the young Corporals and Sergeants who run these outposts if they needed anything. The answer was uniform across the entire AO. "We're good sir but could use some barbells and weights
Dave made it a point to ask the young Corporals and Sergeants who run these outposts if they needed anything. The answer was uniform across the entire AO. “We’re good sir but could use some barbells and weights.”

 

Another PN and another "Hey Sir, We're good here but sure could use a barbell and some weights"
Another PB and another “Hey Sir, we’re good here but sure could use a barbell and some weights”

 

By day 3 Dave would say "I know you need weights is there anything else I can get you?" Well sir we've tried about everything we can to keep our generator going is there a chance for a replacement? If you know the Marine Corps you can guess the answer to that one. I think Dave said "I'll be getting weights to you as soon as I can" Leaving a grinning SgtMaj behind to discuss the virtues of proper generator maintenance in the context of a Marine Corps which prides itself on penny pinching. When the RCT 1 command group roles into these compounds they sleep out in the open with no A/C like everyone else - that's how they roll and let me tell you its all fun and adventure for the first few days but then the prickly heat rrash starts spreading and man that's when the fun meter starts heading right. The white little tubs are clothes washing tubs - hand crank version - and they work OK. Better than a flat rock for sure.
By day 3 Dave would say “I know you need weights is there anything else I can get you?”   “Well sir, we’ve tried about everything we can to keep our generator going is there a chance for a replacement”? If you know the Marine Corps you can guess the answer to that one. I think Dave said “I’ll be getting weights to you as soon as I can” Leaving a grinning SgtMaj Zickefoose  behind to explain the virtues of proper generator maintenance in the context of a Marine Corps which prides itself on penny pinching.  The white tubs in the foreground  are clothes washers – hand crank version – and they work OK. Better than a flat rock for sure.

Military life is often plagued by weak martinets who make the lives of their troops a burden by insisting every rule and regulation be followed to the letter. They use rules and regulations to cover for a lack of confidence in their professional ability to make good decisions; so when confronted with problems they make no decisions, hiding instead behind the letter of the law contained in the UCMJ. Good commanders insist on attention to detail and following established procedures because paying attention to detail needs to be habitual for it to be effective   – you just  cannot turn it on and off.   To quote Col Furness: “Attention to detail and strict adherence to orders is what keeps men alive.” But then, he’s no martinet.   As an example: despite  rule 1 (no keeping local dogs as pets) you will find dogs on every little base Dave owns. I’m not sure he knows they are there because he tends not to look at or notice them as he walks into these small, clean outposts.

The local dogs are good for morale, can take the heat better than military working dogs, and have over and over saved mens lives when they accompany their American friends on patrols.  Somebody gets them flea collars, a rabies shot and de-wormed and from that point on they are part of the tribe. A martinet would put an end to that nonsense instantly because it is against the rules – benefits to the men and mission be damned. But a commander who understands Napoleon’s maxim “The moral  is to the physical as three is to one” he’ll find a way to work around problems like this by applying the spirit, not the letter of the law. Besides, the Marines broke the code on local dogs in Iraq so seeing them on every post here is really  no surprise.

So I get onto Dave's MRAP for a brief from his MK 19 gunner and the while time he's talking I'm fiddiling with my camera. When he finishes I say "I bet I can shoot that MK 19 better than you can" (click). Is his expression priceless or what? Then it was "Sir, let me try this again; when the big dog starts to bark you unstrap the ammo cans. Then you sit and wait for me to yell for ammo, only then do you break the seal and hand the can up. Then you sit right back down until I tell you to do something different or that I need more ammo. Got it"? His expression never changed by the way so maybe I'm not so damn funny after all.
So I get onto Dave’s MRAP for a brief from his MK 19 gunner and while he’s talking I’m fiddiling with my camera. When he finishes I say “I bet I can shoot that MK 19 better than you can” (click). Is his expression priceless or what?  I show him the pic grinning like a village idiot and then it was “Sir, let me try this again; when the big dog starts to bark you unstrap the ammo cans. Then you sit and wait for me to yell for ammo, only then do you break the seal on one can only and hand that can up. Then you sit right back down until I tell you to do something different or that I need more ammo. Got it”? His expression never changed as he went over this for the second time so maybe I’m not so damn funny after all.

As did  Gen Van Riper all those years ago, Dave continues to pound into his Marines’ heads the need for attention to detail. When “The Ripper” would rip into us we didn’t have the advantage of combat experience so the context of these lessons were lost on us. Maybe I shouldn’t say “us”  but they were on me. I think it was Dave Furness (could have been Paul Kennedy for that matter – now a newly minted Brigadier General – making me one of the prouder former Marines on planet earth – I love seeing my friends do so well) who told me the first time you lose a Marine because he was doing something he shouldn’t or had on him something which he shouldn’t (like an ipod or cell phone that suddenly rings at the worst possible moment) you learn instantly to go Van Riper on them because if you don’t, you’ll lose more in the same manner and that will break you.

Killing the Taliban is the easy part of this conflict because, as I’ve pointed out about 100 times in past posts, they just plain suck at fighting and we have become very proficient in targeting and killing people.  Getting the Marines to treat the local people with respect and project friendship and warmth is also easy.  The Marines with RCT 1 are in close contact and living with these people 24/7.  It is in their nature to smile, give kids candy, treat the injured etc…   The only consistent problem the Marines have with the local population is their treatment of dogs and other domestic animals. Yet despite this, the Marines  cowboy up,  doing their duty as good troops always do.

The only thing the local people of southern Helmand are concerned about, when it comes to Marines, is that they are going to leave. They would much rather see them stay –  I hear this from the locals everywhere I go in this Province.

Now the hard part of the job is maintaining focus day after day in the heat, dust, and wind of the Helmand River Valley. This is where experienced combat leadership comes into play. Getting face to face with Marines to hammer home  over and over that they must maintain their vigilance, that they can’t get sloppy just because the Taliban won’t play anymore. This is when the hammer has to come out because it is human nature to slack off when the pressure is off.  Well, the pressure may be off from the Taliban but it certainly isn’t from the RCT 1 command group.  Which is exactly how it should be.

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