FRI Reviews Trust-Based Leadership

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

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

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

“You know Mike Ettore”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

USS Jason Dunham DDG 109

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Positive News Out of Afghanistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plus there is this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Groundhog Day for Afghansitan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Groundhog Day

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

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

Digging for Truth in the Age of Fake News

I have articulated a theory based on two known facts concerning the loss of our newest national hero, Droney McDroneface, to Iran last month. I based my theory from two known facts; the drone that was shot down was a demonstration model for a program that has been completed. It was, to the pentagon, an expendable asset, and it was shot down four days after arriving in theater.

To buttress my speculation I have  been searching the news for more information the cyber attack. What I have found was not what I was looking for.

First up is the New York Times and I have the perfect cartoon to set this up:

On February 13th the New York Times published this article: U.S. Revives Secret Program to Sabotage Iranian Missiles and Rockets.  The article was based on the current failure rate of Iranian orbital missile launches as seen in the graphic below:

The article states that the CIA has been running a program for years targeting the supply chain for Iranian missile components. It  implied that allies such as Great Britain, France and Germany are cooperating with us on this program. There is something the observant professional knows to be true, but is rarely written about, and that is the CIA’s use of leaks to disseminate misinformation. when I read a story saying the CIA has gotten dozens of  parts manufacturers, in Europe (where the CIA is less popular than President Trump), to insert flawed parts into a supply chain,  I am skeptical.

The CIA historical record regarding human intelligence is spotty at best. An intelligence operation involving some many different people, firms, governments and international organizations would be an extraordinary achievement requiring  extraordinary evidence to be considered  believable.

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

Then I noted the insertion of legacy media spin as fact to enhance the believability of the story. Here is an example:

When Mr. Pompeo arrived at the C.I.A., there was relatively little nuclear activity underway in Iran. Most of Tehran’s centrifuges had been dismantled under the 2015 agreement, and 97 percent of the country’s nuclear fuel had been shipped to Russia.

There is not a shred of evidence to back that claim. The United States (and the UN) have no idea where the 8.5 tons of enriched Iranian Uranium, reportedly turned over to Russia, is currently located. Hit this link and you can watch youtube footage of Ambassador Stephen Mull, the Obama administration’s State Department lead coordinator on Iran, tell the house exactly that back when he was testifying before congress.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to tease facts from the media narrative.  The New York Times does some excellent, in depth reporting, but they have often been accused of publishing damaging national security secrets. Everyone in the game knows this, and it is another reason to doubt their sources are intentionally revealing real secrets. If I were concerned with information operations for the United States Government the first thing I would do is establish a reliable back channel feed to the New York Times. That way I could get them to print deception pieces when I needed that done. It’s not like it’s hard to get a bite from the press these days; any Orange Man Bad angle will do.

Digging deeper into the mystery of Cyber Warfare I turned to my facebook buddy and managing editor of the Lima Charlie website, John Sjoholm who just published Cyber Warfare Now – Tales From the Digital Battlefield.  John is a former Swedish Army Ranger as well as a contractor who I consider a trustworthy source, particularly in the cyber warfare realm.

John had some awesome graphics, like this one in his piece. There is some serious evil afoot in the cyber warfare world.

I was working my way briskly through the piece thinking it was great stuff (and it is an excellent read that I recommend highly) when I ran into this:

One of the premier Russian hacker signatures, Guccifer 2.0 has been tied to the GRU as well. Guccifer 2.0 became known for the so-called “DNC Hack”, the 2016 Democratic National Committee email theft which appeared on Wikileaks.

In March 2018, details from the Mueller investigation leaked attesting that Guccifer 2.0 was in fact a collective of persons working for GRU’s Unit 26165 and Unit 74455. This after server logs revealed that on at least one occasion someone utilising the Guccifer 2.0 persona had failed to activate a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to obfuscate his IP address. It was then revealed to investigators that his connection originated from a computer at the GRU headquarters on Grizodubovoy Street in Moscow.

I don’t know John well enough to know his political leanings (if any) and I acknowledge that the Muller report may well make this claim. What I also know, for a fact, is the data breach on the DNC server was an inside job. The data transfer rates were too high. The narrative has always ignored this point which is how it finds it way into legitimate reporting by guys like John. This is from the website  Knowledge is Good:

The time stamps contained in the released computer files’ metadata establish that, at 6:45 p.m. July 5, 2016, 1,976 megabytes (not megabits) of data were downloaded from the DNC’s server. This took 87 seconds, which means the transfer rate was 22.7 megabytes per second, a speed, according to VIPS, that “is much faster than what is physically possible with a hack.” Such a speed could be accomplished only by direct connection of a portable storage device to the server. Accordingly, VIPS concluded that the DNC data theft was an inside job by someone with physical access to the server.

The truth is that Muller and the FBI never examined the DNC servers and have no idea what was or was not on them. The reporting concerning the data breach was done by a firm hired by the DNC. My assumption is whoever included the time stamp did not realize that it invalidated everything that followed regarding “Lucifer 2.0.”. But it did, and it is the one fact that cannot be explained away, so the narrative moves on knowing full well their story is false, but that you won’t care because Orange Man Bad.

For two years and counting the American public debate has been focused, by our media and elites, on a story concocted out of thin air, and paid for by the DNC, concerning the legitimacy of our elected President. While that has been happening our economy, stock markets,  and jobs have grown while federal taxes dropped. North Korea is not launching missiles over Japan or South Korea. Iran’s missile control systems are crippled, the European powers are escorting their own tankers through the Persian Gulf. Which caused the Iranian President to accuse the United Kingdom of being “scared” of Iran’s military prowess.

Things appear to be on a positive trend which defies the predictions of imminent doom, by our credentialed elites, featured prominently in the recent resignation of the British Ambassador to America. The reason President Trump is so popular with the American people is he is not a politician or one of the credentialed elite. He is getting things down while pissing off all the right people.

For progressives virtue signalling has replaced civic virtue. This is how open borders and giving free health care and a college education to any person in the world who wants to come here becomes acceptable rhetoric.

Afghan Security Forces adopt a potential Game Changer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reality Interferes With The Narrative In Afghanistan

The war in Afghanistan took a catastrophic turn for the worse when General Abdul Raziq was assassinated last Thursday (18th of October). He was killed after attending a regional security meeting with the commanding general for the NATO forces in Afghanistan General Scott Miller. The Kandahar provincial intelligence chief, Gen. Abdul Momin Hussain Khel was also killed. The governor of Kandahar, Zalmai Wesa, and Gen. Nabi Elham, a senior police commander responsible for several provinces were also hit as were two unidentified Americans. At this point it is a safe assumption that the wounded Americans were from Gen Miller’s PSD team. They’re high end contractors, not American military and so their names may never be reported as contractors are not normally included in DoD personnel reporting procedures.

Gen. Abdul Raziq in 2015. He had survived dozens of attempts on his life before the attack on Thursday. Photo by Bryan Denton for The New York Times

General Raziq was from the Pashtun Adozai Achakzai tribe in Spin Boldak which is a port of entry with Pakistan. The tribe has always opposed the Taliban and Raziq had lost several members of his immediate family to the Taliban over the years. He got his start as a border guard at age 17 and steadily advanced through the ranks the way all warlords rise to prominence in places like Afghanistan. He was ruthless, efficient, a natural leader with a knack for making money; he hated the Taliban and was relentless in driving them out of his area. That attracted the attention of the American Special Forces and the CIA who mentored him for years. By  the time  the Americans pulled out Raziq was a general officer who was responsible for the security of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban.  He locked Kandahar down, making it one of the safer cities in Afghanistan and he did it the old fashioned way; he didn’t take prisoners.

For this the foreign policy establishment condemned him. The most positive establishment spin is summed up well in a paragraph from a 2016 Foreign Policy article:

Considered by many as a “special case” due to his outsized and abnormal means of exerting influence and holding power, Raziq serves the interests of the state-building elite by crafting an image of strength and stability in southern Afghanistan, even if that comes at the expense of accountable governance, human rights, and long-term stability. Raziq road the coattails of a coterie of ruthless warlords empowered by western intelligence and security organizations like the CIA, U.S. Special Forces, and NATO military allies. He is a leading figure in the Achakzai tribe, a major power bloc along the southern border and strong auxiliary security component through formal and informal militias. Raziq grew up in Spin Boldak in southern Kandahar, and was mentored by strongmen such as Gul Agha Sherzai, Ahmad Wali Karzai, and Asadullah Khalid, who protected Raziq from prosecution when 16 Nurzai tribal members were murdered in 2006. Numerous stories link Raziq, or men working for him, to human rights violations, torture, and murder of prisoners. While such stories of abuse are disquieting, it seems even more alarming when Raziq openly boasts of such acts. In the summer of 2014, Raziq, along with other Afghan security officials, issued a take no prisoners directive: “My order to all my soldiers is not to leave any of them alive.”

There are very few military leaders who, if lost, cannot be replaced. Ahmad Shah Massoud was one and Raziq is the only other when it comes to modern Afghanistan. His loss is a crippling blow in a year that has not seen any positive news concerning the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). ANSF is taking casualties on the battlefield that are unsustainable. We have no idea what their true desertion rate is but can assume it’s not good in those formations that have taken a beating all summer long.

The most important election since 2001 in continuing despite sporadic attacks in polling sites. In Kabul a suicide bomber detonated inside a polling station in northern neighborhood of Khair Khana killing at least 10 people. The station is inside the upgraded Kabul Ring of Steel which is yet another failure on the part of the Kabul security forces who are being mentored by the Turkish army.

The established narrative is that the US and her allies are going to stay in Afghanistan and continue to train Afghan forces while helping them fight by providing enablers in the form of brigade level operational support, fixed wing close air support and ground to ground rockets. Over time the increasing proficiency of the ANSF’s combined with the casualties being inflicted on the Taliban will force them to realize they cannot win and thus come to the peace talk table.

Here’s a news flash for the credentialed elite who are leading our efforts in Afghanistan: the Taliban already know they cannot win. They don’t have to win, they just need to keep doing what they are doing and that is controlling the population where they can and pressing the government forces in the rest of the country. They don’t have to win to get what they want which is a degree of autonomy in the areas they control and  the areas they control seem to be increasing.

Any hope that the Taliban is going to reach an agreement with the government on anything other then their own terms is fantasy which you can see by their behavior. In 2011 the Taliban opened an office in Qatar to conduct peace talks. The US asked that they not do is use the name of the old Taliban regime in Afghanistan which was the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The day the office opened they put up their sign identifying themselves as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and that is what they are called to this day. Does that sound like a group who are looking for a way out of continued fighting? Of course not and they’re winning anyway so why even bother with negations?

There is a lot going on in Afghanistan and it is being driven by one simple fact: the burn rate for operating the ANSF and the central government is unsustainable.  The aid dollars that run the country are going to dry up soon but our operational strategy for Afghanistan is playing the long game. If we can keep the Afghans in the fight long enough they should, according to historical statistics, prevail.

Eric Prince has been in Afghanistan seeking local support forces plan to introduce contractor trainers down to the battalion level along with contracted air crews and air frames for close air support. President Trump also inserted a powerful player into Kabul in the form of U.S. Special Advisor Zalmay Khaliizad who was the ambassador to Afghanistan when I arrived in Kabul back in 2005.

Zalmay Khalilzad is popular with the Afghan people but I remember him mostly for the introduction of the SNTV election system which is why the elections going on today will be a gigantic mess. I wrote about this in 2011 saying: SNTV stands for single non-transferable vote and it is one way to ensure that opposition political parties cannot be formed or sustained.  Afghanistan went to the SNTV system after some sort of back room deal was cut between Karzai and our ambassador at that time Zalimay Khalizad.  Khalizad is an Afghan-American, fluent in the local languages who served here as Ambassador before being sent to Iraq to be the ambassador in 2005.  He did not last long in Baghdad and is now heading his own consulting agency at a time when an Arabic/Pashto/Dari speaking US Ambassador would be of great use to the administration.

If you want to read some in depth, original reporting on the inherently flawed Afghan election system check out this outstanding piece by Mattieu Aikins.

Kahlizad is not sitting around Kabul waiting for something to do. One would assume he is working closely with the ambassador and General Miller but who knows? He’s a deal maker and problem solver who had been known to go his own way for reasons unknown which is what I think the SNTV incident clearly shows.

I also hear, although I’ve found no verification yet, that China is most interested in assisting the Afghan military with tons of equipment, aircraft, trainers and both combat and combat service support. The combat service support piece is, to be honest, about 10 times more important than contractors advising at the battalion level. And I think having contractors take on that role is a good idea, particularly in the cost effectiveness category.

The Chinese, like Mr. Prince, are also interested in mineral extraction which can only be accomplished with significant infrastructure development that can only be accomplished if people stop blowing things up and shooting at the ANSF.

Unlike Mr. Prince the Chinese are self funding, and there are more of them, but my understanding is there is significant pushback from both the US and India on the matter. Which may not, in the long run, matter because the donor money has already started to dry up and that trend will continue. If the Chinese really want to come into Afghanistan and invest in both security and natural resource development I don’t see a better option.

As long as Secretary Mattis and General Dunford remain in their respective positions both the Prince and Chinese plans are D.O.A.  But both Kahlizad and President Trump are practical men who are not afraid of counter narrative options. The narrative is a product of elite thinking and the billions spent on credentialed elites, both in and outside the government, to think, has not produced in reasonable path forward. What the elites don’t think about is the fact that they have little idea what is happening in Afghanistan  outside the wire of our embassy and military installations. If they could get their brains around that and mitigate it maybe reality and the narrative would come in closer alignment.

But that ain’t happening and I do not believe the elites narrative will survive much more contact with reality.

Free Range Starts Podcasting

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

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

The Jamm Minaret

 

My Panjshir crew and I at the Jamm

Asking the Hard Questions About Afghanistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baghdad Back In The Day

Editors Note: This is there first of a series of reflections that may become a book. I could use some help with this project; if I made a decent start and have hooked you into wanting more, that would be helpful to know. It would also be helpful to know if the hook doesn’t have enough bait. Comments are most welcome – hitting the donation tab is even more most welcome as I have yet to find a publisher interested enough in the project to fund it. I appreciate any and all help I can get with this project.

I had just cracked open the first beer of the afternoon when I heard the rockets coming in. Wise now to the ways of war I stayed in my lawn chair on the deck of what was once a salt water pool where Saddam Hussein’s sons kept crocodiles that were fed with unfortunates who had crossed them. I was too far away from cover to make a run for it and in less time than it took to write this they hit. A thunderclap sounded from the American army camp next door and I watched a plume of dust and leaves shoot upward. The soldiers were up wind of us so the cloud of leaves and dirt started drifting over the wall towards the giant vat of chicken curry the Gurkhas were preparing for my going away party that night.

FOOKING HELL MATES STAND FAST bellowed my 2IC  a short unassuming Welshman who was famous for his undercover work in Ireland.  THAT’S 50 QUID WORTH OF CHICKEN DAMN YOUR EYES COVER THE POT; COVER THE POT QUCIKLY LADS. The 2IC was galloping around the pool to head the Gurkha’s off at the pass as they scrambled for cover. Being a Welsh lad he was slight of stature and appeared malnourished. I had asked him about that once sending him into a 30-minute harangue about the British but I couldn’t understand most of what he said. I gathered he looked malnourished because as a kid he had subsisted on chicken parama and chips which I have since learned was mystery meat hamburgers and french fries.

Our project manager, a Rhodesian (they don’t like to be called Zimbabweans so we called them Zims) who had been in the Sealous Scouts, started yelling at us just as two more rockets hit home; one inside the other American army camp next to us and the other somewhere behind in an apartment complex outside the Green Zone. Those impacts were down wind so I paid them no attention focusing instead tracking the debris field that was heading in slow motion towards our giant pot of curry.

The 2IC had gotten his hands on three of my Gurkha’s including the Gurkha of Rap (his kill number, which were sewn on his uniform, was 123 and he was prone to rapping ‘I’m Gurkha 1,2,3 you better listen to me. If I see the flag black you know I’ll attack…..he couldn’t find a rhythm for kukri so he didn’t get far with his rap but he worked on it constantly) rallying the men back to the bubbling cauldron. They quickly stripped off their uniform jackets and fashioned some sort of web with them that covered most of the pot as the debris field lost momentum in the wind and crashed down onto of the curry cauldron.

GET A FOOKING SIEVE MATE FROM THE FOOKING DFAC the 2IC yelled to no one in particular; the Gurkha of rap sprinted off to the KBR DFAC (the dining facility was abandoned by the Kellogg Brown and Root cooks who deathly afraid of rockets) to find something to get the leaves and dirt out of the cooking pot.

The PM stalked up and started lecturing me in his sharp British schoolboy voice which meant he was pissed.

“Mate your supposed to set the example for the men and yet here you sit in the exact spot the last rocket hit, the one that killed four of your men mind you, as if the threat can be ignored”.

“Boss (that’s me being passive aggressive; Zims don’t like being called boss) I am in the exact spot of the last impact because we both know the Iraqis cannot, in a million years, hit this spot again. It’s math boss and I’m a Uni (college in commonwealth speak) grad who understands math”.

“What math”?

“The chance they can hit the same spot twice with a rocket – it’s a math problem that involves pi or something and when you’re working with pi the numbers you’re working with big numbers right”?

“Mate are you mental”?

“No boss, I just know math. It’s the same thing for lightning striking in the same spot…it just doesn’t happen”

“Mate do you know how many times lightening strikes the same spot on your Empire State building in New York?

“Do I want to”?

“0n average 25 times each year; the record for repeated strikes stands at 8 times in twenty minutes”.

The PM scowled at me and headed back to the CP to get a roll call. I smiled and thought about how much I was going to miss this.

I had been in Baghdad for just five months, entering the fray in the usual way for contractors back then. I had sent out my CV to every security company I could find on the net after watching my best friend in the Marine Corps interviewed on Fox News.  I couldn’t take being out of the game anymore so off I went to touch the elephant.

Two days  after sending my CV out I got a call from London; “Mate do you want to go to Iraq or Afghanistan”? After explaining the Afghan gig was voter registration and the one in Iraq was guarding the American embassy I chose Iraq. That job included arming authority and paid more. “Can you come to London the day after tomorrow mate to sign your contract”? I could and did; six days after sending my CV out to the security world I was in a C-130 that had launched out of Kuwait and was corkscrewing down to slam onto a runway at BIAP (Baghdad International Airport).

There were no customs to clear back then so contractors were met by drivers from their respective companies on the tarmac. My driver was a huge Fijian guy who, like most Fijians, had a perpetual pleasant smile. He grabbed one of my bags and walked me to his SUV where his brother was waiting. The brother (who also had a huge smile) reached into the back seat and came out with an AK 47 and three magazines. “Here you go mate” he said as he handed them over. I took them and looked at the brothers who were watching me like a pair of smiling hawks.

I locked the bolt to the rear, looked down the barrel, felt into the chamber for any excessive grit and ran the action a couple of times. I looked over each magazine for dings or deformaties, stripped a couple of rounds from them to check the tension on the follower springs, loaded them back up, seated one in the rifle, loaded it and put it on safe while placing the other two in my high speed 5.11 vest pockets. The vest was made for this don’t ya know.

The older bother remarked “I think you’re one of the good ones maybe”. I had no idea what he was talking about. He then handed me two M-67 fragmentation grenades telling me they may come in handy. I looked at them saying “you’ve got to be shitting me” which made them smile even more. I took the grenades, checked to make sure the thumb safeties were attached and the pins secure; both the spoons were taped down so I took that off before  putting them in my cargo pockets. The brothers looked at each other and nodded. I was sure the reason for handing me the grenades had little to do with an actual threat but I wanted to be ready just in case.

We mounted up and started on my first of many trips down route Irish; at the time the most dangerous road in the world. We did not have armored vehicles on this contract so the driver had his window down and a Browning pistol in his left hand. His brother had his window down with an AK pointing outboard. I put both the back-seat windows down so I could cover both sides of the vehicle. I asked why we didn’t have brand new armored SUV’s like the other companies had ; the younger brother turned to face me, “they’re target’s mate, death traps and you should never roll in one if you can avoid it.

Once past the security check point the driver put the throttle down and did not let it up until we entered the Green Zone.  I had  passed my first test by not being a whanker and knowing how to load an AK 47. Standards were not high in the industry back then.

The contract called for third country national guards (in our case Gurkha’s from Nepal; most of whom were not really Gurkha’s) and supervisors who could be American or Commonwealth citizens. We had Canadian’s, Brits, Welshmen (who claim not to be Brits) a couple of Irish guys but mostly the expats were South Africans and Rhodesians. I was one of two Americans.

The South Africans ran the show and they are an impressive lot. On my first morning a couple of them took me to the public affairs area to introduce me to two guys he said were retired Marines. This was my second test; they had several previous new joins who claimed to be prior American military but were so clueless about things military they were run off as frauds.

When we arrived at the PA shop it turned out one of the two retired Marines was my first rifle company commander. I had been a good infantry lieutenant; my old CO was excited to see me, I was in like flint. He had already told the SA guys about requesting a DD-214 from former American military but the Brits running the show would have none of it. Getting bodies on the contract was how they got paid and they didn’t want to slow their process down for a second.

Last night in Baghdad

Doing a good job on the Baghdad American Embassy contract was not difficult. The supervisors supervised or trained; the posts were manned by our Nepalese who had an internal chain of command that did all the detailed work of watch rosters and shift rotations. We had cell phones issued to us with US numbers (NYC area code) that allowed friends and family to call without incurring overseas charges. We had a large armory with weapons that had been gathered up by the military the year prior where I found a H&K G3 (7.62 x 51mm) with a folding stock. The markings indicated it had once belonged to the Pakistani army; how it got to Iraq was a mystery.

Having an American cell phone number was great fun because we’d often get unexpected calls from the states. I was on the range one Friday morning when my friend ‘The Big Guy’ called. We had been instructors at Front Sight, a firearms training center outside of Las Vegas. It was Thursday evening in the US so I knew he had probably been drinking before deciding to give me a call. I signaled the guys on the range pointing to the cell and telling them it was my buddy from the States and he’s on the piss. They moved in close and started cranking off rounds and yelling as I connected the call on speaker mode.

Me sounding tense “Lynch”

B.G. “ Hey man….what the hell is going on”… instant concern in his voice.

“… a little busy here brother hold on” I put the phone on a bench and cranked off 3 or 4 rounds yelling “somebody shoot that prick…I’m on the phone damnit”. I picked the cell up and said in a calm voice “Hey brother, little bit of an issue here but how’s it going back home”?

B.G. clearly upset “what’s happening Tim…holy shit are you Ok”?

Me “Of course brother….hold on a sec..” I dropped the cell and all of us started shooting and yelling as if we were repelling a human wave attack in Korea circa 1951. After shooting our magazines dry I picked up the cell. “We’re Ok Big Guy how are things in Vegas”?

But he wasn’t on the line, his wife was and she was pissed. “What are doing Lynch, where the hell are you”?

“We’re at the range  and um…..just having a laugh because ummm….”.

“You’ve got the big guy crying for Christ sakes Lynch, why would you do that to him? He’s been scared to death for you and you think it’s funny to do this to him?”

“Bonnie, love, we’re guys…this is what we do to each other when we care”.

“Bullshit Tim (at least she called me Tim) that’s it, you’re on a 2-week time out and the next time the Big Guy calls you’d better not even think about pulling another stunt like this”.

We were rolling; laughing so hard it hurt but I felt bad…for about 3 seconds. The Big Guy didn’t call again until Thanksgiving Day; I was walking out of the DFAC and as I connected the call a 122mm rocket slammed into our camp knocking me on my ass. We took casualties, lots of them, so I went into rescue mode and left the cell in the dirt where I dropped it. The State Department soon turned them all off anyway after the costs they had racked up made national headlines. I sent the Big Guy an email telling him I was OK and attaching one the the news reports about the rocket attack. Mrs Big Guy still put me on a year long time out.

Around this time (the end of 2004) being outside the Green Zone became problematic for expats so our project manager put together a team to start bringing folks inside the wire. The various entities; engineering firms, other security companies, our companies country team, NGO’s etc…. couldn’t pay us for the service but the PM knew how to barter. Our armory grew, our ammo stockpiles grew, we accumulated ample stores of free booze and beer and the Nepalese were never without a goat to butcher up for curry.  Some things are better than money in a combat zone.

While doing this work with the South Africans and Zims I learned a valuable lesson on how to work in a hostile environment while avoiding the stupidity of an avoidable gun fight.  At some point in every move we would  run into a massive traffic jam. As soon as we stopped moving shooters would dismount to create a buffer zone, free of unknown pedestrians, fore and aft of our vehicles. The first time I did that I was paired with a South African named Jerri who was one of the more experienced (I learned later famous) former 32 Commando veterans.

We exited our vehicle moving onto a packed sidewalk, Jerry looked at me and said “lose the body armor mate you look like a Robo Cop, take a spare mag and put it in your back pocket”. I did as requested and walked back to the side walk. Jerry said “now smile man; In South Africa we always say be friendly to everyone you meet but always have a plan to kill them”.

I shot back “you don’t say that, General Mattis says that… why are stealing lines from my favorite Marine Corps General”? He replied they had always said that in South Africa and the line was stolen from them which I wouldn’t accept so we started arguing.

But we were laughing too which was the point and Jerri said in a low voice “see all the people smiling at us mate? They’re relaxing because we have big guns but don’t seem inclined to use them. Smile, keep talking to me and relax, confidence is a language all humans understand got it”?

It was true, the people walking down the street towards us smiled when they saw us teasing each other an laughing. “What are you looking for” I asked Jerri who never really looked at me when he turned his head to talk; he was obviously concentrating on what was showing up in his peripheral vision.

“We’re looking for any chap who glares at us mate”.

“What do we do then”? I was laughing still while asking this.

“I walk up and glare back, you cover our back; the lads will see us and reinforce if we need them and our glaring asshole Iraqi friend can lose face by backing down or go to guns. Makes no difference to me mate”.

“Remember this Timothy (they called me that to annoy me or when they were dead serious…just like my Mom) they have to make the first move. It’s bad for morale if you shoot a civilian who didn’t have it coming. Your General Mattis teach you that mate”?

The sidewalk was crowded, the people seemed amused at the two infidels who were teasing each other and laughing. Nobody gave us the stink eye that day or any day we were in the red zone walking our vehicles through a traffic jam.

Just after Christmas the PM told me that I’d be heading to Kabul to stand up the US Embassy security guard contract there. I would spend eight years in Afghanistan traveling to every province in the country. When Route Irish lost it’s designation as the most dangerous road in the world it was replaced by the Kabul to Jalalabad road;  I drove on it  several times a month for years, often alone. The lessons learned in Baghdad would serve me well in the years to come.

Will Security Sector Assistance Work in Afghanistan?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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