Mattis is No Good? A Look Into Task Force Violent

The morning news brought an article critical of Secretary Mattis that immediately caught my eye. There are aspects of his tenure I’m finding troubling; the slow walking of the Presidents decree on transgender service persons being one of them. It is hard for me to imagine Secretary Mattis needs a formal study to determine if transgendered service folks are or are not a hindrance to good order and discipline or a positive contribution to unit cohesion and combat power. Women in the infantry is another liberal delusion that should have been done away with by now – he already has a comprehensive study on that from the Marine Corps; the results are unambiguous regarding the folly of placing women in the infantry.

The author of the American Thinker post sites three reasons why Mattis is “no good”. The first is his testimony regarding global warming to the senate where he stated “Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today.” The second was his attempt to nominate former ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson to the post of undersecretary of defense for policy. The third was his “support” of LtGen John Nicholson who now heads the Afghanistan effort. Back in 2007 he was a Brigade Commander in the 10th Mountain division who was responsible for RC East. During his tenure the Marine Corp’s first special operations company, Fox company, which had named itself Task Force Violent, was involved in a incident that resulted in them being ejected from the country. Apparently supporting the commander in Afghanistan (who was there before Mattis was nominated as Secretary for Defense) is a strike against him.

The article was silly. The statement regarding global climate change can be viewed as a solid answer to avoid democratic hysteria over “deniers”. Mattis is well read and I doubt he believes in the politically correct nonsense regarding humans ability to speed up  or slow down the climatic changes that have existed since the birth of this planet. I have no opinion on the qualification of former ambassador Patterson. If he wanted her in the department he should have got her. Tarring him with the fallout surrounding the ambush in Bati Kot district of TF Violent is ridiculous; Mattis had nothing to do with that incident or the assignment of Gen Nicholson to head up our Afghanistan efforts.

But the article forced me to look into an incident I have avoided since before I started this blog; the firefight in Bati Kot between the MARSOC Marines and unknown assailants. The story is not a pretty one and has always been of interest to me because I was there that day escorting a group of senior Japanese diplomats to Islamabad via the Khyber Pass.

Or so I thought; the MARSOC fight happened on a Sunday the 4th of March 2007. I had driven the same route the Marines took the day before on the 3rd of March. I had to check my old notes to figure that out because over the years I could have sworn this incident happened the same day we drove from Jalalabad to Islamabad via the Khyber Pass.

Going through the Khyber with VIP’s is nice. The Torkham border with Afghanistan is behind us
Doing a low budget trip through the Khyber is interesting too but the chow can be risky
This is what I mean by risky. The meal was pretty good believe it or not.

In 2015 Military Times published a five part series on the Bati Kot incident titled Task Force Violent: The unforgiven. Only the first three article from that series would load for me today but reading those gave me a good sense of what happened. The article paints a picture of the Marines not being set up for success. The way they were deployed (they didn’t even know which country they were going to when they left CONUS on naval shipping), their task organization, their lack of support once on the ground and the way they were shoe horned into the Afghanistan SOCOM chain of command indicate significant failure by their chain of command.  I know some of the people in that chain of command and find the story, as written, suspect. Regardless, my overall view of their performance a Bati Kot remains unchanged. They over reacted and without question shot unarmed people.

The series on TF Violent contained important factual errors. Bati Kot and the adjacent Torkham border crossing were not a “a nefarious transfer point for suicide bombers and other extremists entering the country from Pakistan”. Taliban fighters and supplies went trough the mountain passes into the districts of Achin, Khogyani and Dih Bala which are not near the Torkham border crossing or the district of Bati Kot. The mountains that the Marines were interested are not the Tora Bora – they are the Spin Ghar mountains; Tora Bora is a cave complex inside the Spin Ghar range. Those errors are not minor to the story line of the Military Times articles

On the 4th of March the Marines had planned to go to the Torkham border to coordinated with the US Army MP company stationed there and then head to the Spin Ghar mountains to look at some trail heads their intelligence specialist thought might make good reconnaissance targets before heading back to Bati Kot district for a shura with some elders. They were in a six uparmored Humvee convoy containing 30 Marines from their direct action platoon. Most (if not all) of these Marines were combat veterans from Iraq which could explain their reaction after being hit by what they felt to be a VBIED (Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device).

Typical result of a VBIED targeting ISAF vehicles. As unlikely as it appears there were no soldiers injured in this attack which occurred on the Beshood bridge outside Jalalabad in 2010

In a cool interactive map embedded in the third part of the series we see the route the convoy took which appears to not have deviated too far off Hwy 1 – the Jalalabad to Torkham road. I’m not sure what trail heads they could have looked at but regardless they were heading back to Jalalabad when they were hit. While approaching the Spin Pol bridge that leads into the main bazaar of Bati Kot  (Markoh bazaar) a van loaded with fuel and explosive detonated between the first and second vehicles. The turret gunner in the second vehicle was knocked down, possibly knocked out and when he recovered he reports seeing four men shooting at them from the south. The convoy stops and other Marines report contact from both sides.

Afghan police officers stand around the vehicle allegedly shot by US Marines after they were targeted by a suicide attacker. One thing that is immediatly obvious is these Marines were good shooters (AP Photo/Rahamt Gul)

The Marines responded to the contact from both directions with controlled bursts; Military Times picks up the story from there:

The ride back to Jalalabad was tense. As the Marines hustled to get free of the danger, they hurled rocks and fired disabling shots at a few oncoming cars, a common warzone practice meant to keep the convoy moving and avoid being pinned in and attacked. Warning shots were fired to disperse a crowd and clear a path for the humvees — all in accordance with protocol, the court determined. …Afghan journalists arrived at the attack site instantly, followed by soldiers from the Army’s 66th Military Police Company who were instructed to cordon off the area and treat it like a crime scene.

Battle damage to the Marine convoy consisted of four bullet holes to vehicle 2 – the same one targeted by the VBIED,  Photo by Fred Galvin

The Marine Corps investigation of the incident concluded between 5 to 7 people were killed and 24 to 28 wounded by the Marines that day. Two problems with the story are obvious. The first is the amount of battle damage to vehicle 2 which is pictured above; compare that with the MRAP damage pictured earlier in the post. The MRAP was hit by a real VBIED; the humvee pictured above does not look like it was hit by anything. The second is that the area where the ambush occurred was benign enough to allow a handful of American MP’s to cordon it off and treat it as a crime scene.

A quick story about special operators to illustrate a point. The year prior to this incident I was heading up the effort of the first contractor awarded the American Embassy guard contract. I had already stood up the bridge contractor guards at the embassy and found myself heading this forlorn effort due to circumstances beyond my control. The company I worked for had hired another outfit to do the weapons training and they consisted of a dozen guys who were former SEALs, SF and Marines. They were a good crew with lots of trigger time in Iraq. The first thing they asked me for was armored SUV’s but we had none and gave them four beat up SUV’s instead. On the first morning of training they left early from Camp Sullivan, just outside the Kabul airport, to drive to the ranges at the military training complex just outside the city; a ten mile trip down the Kabul to Jalalabad road.

They exited the camp and drove through what we called hooterville, a narrow road with compounds on either side that was a good short cut to the Jbad road. After leaving my guards in one the towers alerted me to a problem and I ran up the ladder to observe the four vehicles reversing out of the ville, doing impressive J turns on the goat path the fed into the ville and hauling ass back to camp. When they got back I asked what was up and their team leader told me they were rolling into an ambush because they had observed local kids on the roof tops waving white flags as they approached. I took him up to the tower and with bino’s pointed out the dozen of kids waving flags from their compound roof tops to get their pigeons back into the family roosts. He turned to me and much to his credit said “don’t I feel like an asshole”. But I understood where he was coming from having been Iraq myself and just said “brother this isn’t Iraq – stay away from military convoys and armored SUV’s on the Jbad road and you won’t have problems”.

I also added he had some shit hot drivers – not dumping one of those SUV’s off the little trail and into the massive drainage ditches took some real talent. But talent alone didn’t work in Afghanistan; you needed to understand the environment and that was hard to do when you lived on a FOB and impossible if you had just arrived in country. What was a reliable pre-incident indicator in Iraq was not one in Afghanistan.

Which brings us to the days following the ambush of TF Violent. They apparently went on another mission to recover a truck and rolled both the truck and the recovery vehicle into a ditch. There were some shenanigans going on to get this mission out of the gate to include some nonsense about them fearing the Taliban were going to come into the wire and get them. That part of the story is in the third installment of the Military Times articles and is so bizarre that I don’t know what to say. Believing the Taliban could come into the Jalalabad air field which was home to a SEAL tier one outfit, a large CIA base, a brigade headquarters from the 10 Mountain Division and several aircraft squadrons was ridiculous.

The reason this incident upset me when it happened was the prospect of being on the road when the Marines were heading back to base. I had a trail vehicle full of heavily armed Tajiks from our preferred local sub contractor and these men had been with me for years. I was very fond of them and I too was armed and having been shot at before by the military while driving I was sensitive to the threat. My father and I exchanged some bitter emails on the topic as I insisted from day one the Marines had over reacted and had I been on that road at that time I could have been lit up.

When you look at the battle damage and contemplate the folly of a handful of Afghans taking on a six vehicle convoy from the side of a road it is hard to believe the Marines were facing a legitimate threat. Taking fire is not the same as taking effective fire. Knowing how the Taliban in that area conducted ambushes (they used terrain to mask SAF attacks and used road side IED’s not VBIED’s) could have allowed the Marines to recognize and apply the rule of opposites which is the most effective tool us contractors had in Afghanistan. VBIED’s didn’t show up in Nangarhar province until two years after this incident and if memory serves the UN did not classify this as a VBIED attack.

Here is a guess at what happened. A van filled with leaky fuel containers, which is how stolen diesel is transported in Afghanistan, lost control and swerved into the Marine convoy. The Marines, fearing it was a VBIED, lit it up with their turret mounted machineguns which have tracers in their links. The tracers ignite the fuel fumes and up goes the van. That would explain the lack of blast damage. The fireball alerts the rest of the Marines in the convoy to a possible ambush and because they are new in country and don’t know how different Afghanistan was compared to Iraq they spot armed males and start shooting. That’s a guess but an educated one, it is hard to explain the lack of battle damage to the Marine humvee’s any other way. The four bullet holes in vehicle #2 could have come from anywhere – Afghans have lots of guns; but were I to hazard a guess I’d say the ANP checkpoints near the bridge probably threw some rounds their way out of disgust.

Having said all the above I do not believe the Marines who participated in this event deserved the negative attention they received. Lot’s of military units in Afghanistan shot lots of civilians who they thought to be a threat to their convoys. I wrote about that repeatedly while I was there. That is why I’m so sympathetic to the men of Raven 23 who are in jail to this day for doing exactly the same thing in the same circumstances. It is also the reason why I support the PMC industry strongly. Had a contractor patrol done what the Marines did it is inconceivable that they would have escaped long stints in the Poli Charki prison. The legacy media contention that we were cowboys shooting up the countryside is as false as fake news can be.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest back the morning article on Secretary Mattis – it’s complete crap written by a guy who has not one clue what he is talking about. He probably is getting paid for that swill…..I wonder how that works? I’d like to get a paying gig like that too….inshallah.

 

 

Green on Blue Is Back And The Perfect Storm Is On The Horizon

Three US soldiers, from the 101st Airborne were killed and another wounded Saturday on a Green on Blue attack in Nangarhar province. This latest attacked occurred in Achin district, the same district where two Rangers were killed in action last April. Yesterday a joint American/Afghan patrol was hit by a roadside bomb in the Shergar area in Khoghyani district. They reportedly received small arms fire and when responding killed three civilians (a father and his two young sons) who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

When dealing with news out of Afghanistan we must start with what we know to be true before speculating on the remainder in an effort to understand what happened. The soldiers were killed in Achin district where the Afghans with American Special Forces units in direct support, have been battling ISIS-K. I suspect the soldiers were in the field operating with Afghan soldiers when this unfortunate incident occurred.  That would explain how four them were hit by a loan assailant. That also means the units assigned to the ‘advise and assist’ mission are engaging in direct combat. They have to do that to gain even a shred of credibility with the Afghan army but I bet they won’t be out and about much longer.

What additional troops were doing rolling around in Khogyani district requires speculation.

There was (and still may be) a good hard top road running from Jalalabad through Khogyani and into Achin district

I suspect they were moving from the base at Jalalabad (FOB Fenty) into Achin district using the back roads to avoid the exposure of the Jalalabad – Torkham main road. Regardless of circumstances the killing of a car load of locals, something that was all too common when there were large numbers of NATO forces moving on the roads, is bad.

It appears the Taliban are trying to force Kabul to the negotiating table by inflicting massive casualties that the population can no longer endure while driving a wedge between the NATO advise and assist troops and their Afghan colleagues via green on blue attacks. That is a sound strategy. When those same American troops, while moving through a countryside they know to be hostile, kill civilians who happen to be too close to them when an IED goes off…..that’s a perfect storm.  NATO doesn’t trust the forces they mentor to not kill them, the forces they mentor risk being shot every time they are getting mentored. The people are getting hammered by the Taliban and by NATO if they happen to be in the wrong  place at the wrong time. That’s a storm alright (a s–t storm) and one for which  NATO, the UN and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan have no answer.

When the problem of Green on Blue attacks reached a crisis stage in 2012 the response by NATO was to separate themselves (even more) from the Afghans they were supposed to mentor. Then they instituted a ‘guardian angel’ program to protect themselves from the Afghans they were there to help. Here are the Green on Blue numbers (hat tip Long War Journal)

Total number of attacks per year:

2017 – 2                                                 2012 – 44
2016 – 2                                                2011 – 16
2015 – 2                                               2010 – 5
2014 – 4                                                2009 – 5
2013 – 13                                             2008 – 2

And here is how the program was described back in 2012

US military commanders in Afghanistan have assigned “guardian angels” to watch over troops as they sleep, among a series of other increased security measures, in the wake of rogue Afghan soldiers targeting Nato forces.

The so-called guardian angels provide an extra layer of security, watching over the troops as they sleep, when they are exercising, and going about their day.

Among the new measures introduced, Americans are now allowed to carry weapons in several Afghan ministries. They have also been told to rearrange their office desks so they face the door.

Now the Guardian Angels will have to be standing, at the ready, prepared to shoot any Afghan who makes a move for his gun too fast during every interaction between Afghans and NATO. How that will work out in field operations is obvious – it won’t and thus we are going to suffer more of them.

The issue is trust and trust is something that can only be built over long periods of time in Afghanistan. Governments in the West have been proving, for years now, they are incapable of taking the steps needed to protect their citizens from Jihadist terrorism. Sovereign citizens have little reason to trust their ruling elite who are more concerned with inclusion, diversity, various ‘phobias’ and not being perceived as racists then they are with protecting the population.  Afghans have no reason to trust their ruling elites and the question is when you can’t trust the government who do you trust?

Richard Fernandez at the Belmont Club has an answer:

Tribes and clans are still used when information security and omerta are paramount.  No technical solution yet devised can beat treachery.  Only loyalty can do that — and we have made loyalty, to nation at least, a bad word.

The Afghans who are committing these Green on Blue (and Green on Green) attacks are trusting the Taliban to take care of their clans when the dust settles. That is probably a solid bet. The Americans and other NATO troops in Afghanistan are not able to build trust networks during their seven month tours so they have to trust their fellow soldiers to have an OODA loop quick enough to protect them. That is not a solid bet – being that quick on the trigger will result in Blue of Green deaths that were unnecessary and further divide allies who are supposed to be fighting together.

The Perfect Storm is building and it is obvious that it will break soon. When that happens we can be certain of one thing. The elites who masterminded this fiasco will ignore it and continue taking us down the path of multi culti madness. It is too late to save Afghanistan the only question now is do we have the intestinal fortitude in the West to save ourselves?

What Did I Tell You? Even More MOAB Madness

Afghan Security Forces (ANSF) have apparently reached the cave complex targeted by last week’s MOAB strike. There are no western (or local) reports from the bomb site but Tolo news (Kabul based Afghan news service) reported with some specificity on the casualties from the attack.

Five days after U.S Forces dropped its most powerful conventional bomb on a system of tunnels and caves used by Daesh in the eastern province of Nangarhar, a security source told TOLOnews that the majority of insurgents killed in blast were members of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and members of Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group.

As with most new ‘news’ out of Afghanistan FRI readers already knew this. But here’s something we didn’t know and it’s interesting. ANSF has had the time to identify bodies and nationalities; they found 12 Tajikistanis and 13 Indian nationals and a few Filipinos.

When I was part of Ghost Team we had Filipino’s in every province we were working as financial officers. They were excellent company, honest to a fault and kind, gentle fella’s who were not interested in weapons, war and mayhem. It’s hard to imagine ISIS Filipino’s all the way in Nangarhar province…they just don’t seem to be that kind of culture.  I was once with my favorite finance officer on a road trip to Kabul when we rolled up on a hot ambush of then President Karzai’s brother and I thought “excellent get the camera in action…time for a Pulitzer” but this is how it turned out:

I was on the road that day too with my faithful finance officer Misael, who hails from the island of Mindanao but claims to be a Catholic and not a Abu Sayef member. When we turned a corner in the Tangi Valley and saw all the expended brass in the road, he ignored his collateral duty as photographers mate and wedged himself firmly under the dash board.   Misael has spent the last year in Kandahar and has developed an exaggerated sense of danger but I’ll get him snapped in soon enough. So there are only a few marginal pictures from a point and shoot camera due to the insistence of the ANP that we keep moving …  probably a good idea.

And that was the best I could do while still driving….these guys were just shooting (see the expended brass at their feet) but turned around when I stopped  the SUV to take the picture.  They weren’t impressed

Filipino Jihadi’s getting MOAB’d in Afghanistan…the world is truly a small place. And getting smaller too; looking at the list of the ISIS-K commanders the ANSF said were killed in the strike you’ll find:

Commander Mukhtar, retired Pakistani army officer

Commander Abu Bakr, Daesh’s chief of operations

Sheikh Weqas, member of Lashkar-e-Taiba

Commander Mohammad, an Indian national

Geeta, an Indian national

Commander Aftab, from Pakistani province of Punjab

Indians, Filipino’s, Punjabi’s and retired Pakistani army officers…that is a hell of a mix this late in the game.

But no reason to buy a lottery ticket right? Right! but this is; Police HQ Attacked in Kabul; 22 killed, over 100 wounded. Yesterday I wrote:

How will this attack affect ISIL-K? As I mentioned in the previous post they could very well shake off this attack and use it to prove how resilient they are in their propaganda. I’ll tell you the worst thing that can happen now is ISIS-K pulling off another spectacular suicide attack inside Kabul like they did last month.

The attack in Kabul last night was claimed (by the Taliban) to be the work of the Taliban but I’m not so sure about that. First reports on attacks like this are not always accurate. ISIS-K could very well claim responsibility for this attack and if/when they do we’ll see how effective the psychological component of the MOAB was on its intended audience. I don’t enjoy being correct (and I may not be about this attack) on my prognostications on Afghanistan but I usually am. I know the country which is why I want to go back and cover our continued efforts there.

Knowing I’m on some sort of streak I was just fixing to go out and get a lottery ticket when this popped up on the net:

Antifa girl is kicking my ass on the Go Fund Me front and that, my friends, is just not right. There may be many good reasons to dump 45k on this young unfortunate but none come immediately to mind. But having America’s reporter on the ground in Afghanistan telling you the truth about what the hell is going on there….one word friends; worthy. Yes, a worthy expenditure in support of truth, our troops and the new American way. The old American way involved getting all your news for the established media but those days are long gone.

Support free, independent, expert, Journalism by donating today to the worthy, yet getting left in the dust by #Moldylocks,  Baba Tim Go Fund Me page.

Mo MOAB Madness

This weekend I read a Macedonian paper to get a read on what India had to say about Pakistan’s involvement in the MOAB strike. An Indian paper to get a read on what Afghans not associated with the government thought about the attack and a Qatar-based Arab news network for the most even handed and comprehensive coverage of the incident and its aftermath.

India is claiming over 500 Pakistani nationals were killed in the attack. The Taliban said “using this massive bomb cannot be justified and will leave a material and psychological impact on our people” and Afghan journalist Bilal Salwary tweeted:

And that is a short summary of all the new news on the MOAB strike.

The New York Times published a piece on the visit of Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, President Trump’s national security adviser, to Kabul over the weekend confirming what we already knew about the request for more troops. Gen McMaster also:

… appeared to take a tougher line on Pakistan, which has been accused of using the Taliban as a proxy force and giving its leaders sanctuary. Many analysts, as well as some coalition partners, have been critical of the United States’ uphill struggle to persuade Pakistan to crack down on the Afghan Taliban leadership, which has used Pakistan as a base for its battles in Afghanistan.

We already know Pakistan’s Internal Security Service (ISI) drives the instability in Afghanistan and we already know the administration is tired of it. The last administration was tired of it too but who cares? There is not much we can do about it for the same reason Afghanistan can’t allow ISIS to gain a foothold in Nangarhar province. The supplies required to sustain (or commit more troops) have to come through Pakistan via the Khyber Pass.

Pakistan’s continued involvement in destabilizing Afghanistan is a problem that will have to be managed, not solved. And the problem is complex.

As covered in a previous post the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant Khorashan (ISIS-K)  was started by Pakistani Taliban who had fled from various tribal agencies in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier into Nangarhar province of Afghanistan. They were mainly Tehrik-e Taleban Pakistan (TTP) fighters (and their families) from the Orakzai, North Waziristan and Khyber tribal agencies.  But there were also fighters from Lashkar-e Islam; a group group led by Mangal Bagh who was described by the Long War Journal as a:

Robin Hood-like in character, claiming to mete out egalitarian social justice and rooting out crime, which to some extent is true. But he does this with an iron fist; any resistance is swiftly and permanently quelled. He has visibly reduced the criminal activities in the area, while also having a huge impact on decreasing drug trafficking in the area. At the same time he is engaged in a bitter ideological and sectarian struggle with a rival faction, a feud that has claimed many lives, and has blatantly and forcefully defied the state.

Armed Afridi tribal fighter outside one of their compounds in the Khyber Pass during the fighting between Lashkar-e Islam and the Afridi’s in 2009. Photo by Freerangeinternational

Mangal Baugh and his crew were courted by both tribal elders and the Afghan government as related in the excellent analysis of the organization by the Afghan Analyst Network:

 The Afghan government’s support to Mangal Bagh’s men is an open secret among residents of the Spin Ghar districts near the Durand Line. Residents from Achin recall the generous hosting of groups of long-haired Lashkar-e Islam fighters at the houses of Shinwari tribal elders, such as Malek Usman and Malek Niaz, in Achin. They had introduced their black flag to the area long before ISKP hoisted a flag of the same colour with different symbols and slogans. According to residents, Lashkar-e Islam’s flags were flying over many houses in the Mamand valley in Achin in the summer of 2014.

Mangal Baugh was killed by a drone strike in Nangarhar province on 22 July 2016. Since then his fighters have apparently gone over to ISIS-K which seems to enjoy the support of Pakistan’s ISI which is why Pakistan appears to be so upset about the attack.

Signs of recent attacks by Mangal Baugh’s Lashkar-e Islam on an Afridi compound adjacent to the Khyber Pass road in 2009. Note the half dozen RPG strikes along the front of the building. Photo by Freerangeinternational

Pakistani Taliban come to Afghanistan in flight from the Pakistani army. While in Nangarhar province they are courted by the government; probably because they would be causing cross-border mischief easily deniable by Kabul. Then they turn on the Taliban and declare themselves to be a franchise of ISIS. The government in Kabul reacts (I’m not sure when) by attacking them and then NATO starts to drone them but mainly it’s the Taliban who lead the fight against ISIS and even drive them out of the Mamand valley…..for a day. How the hell does the ISI figure in all this…it appears they have agents fighting with and supporting various Taliban mahez commanders and they had some with the ISIS villains too. ISI agent vs ISI agent – reminds me of Mad magazine,

Complicated right? And how does the Taliban shift so much combat and fire power into Achin district? A better question is how did so many militants and their families find and settle on so much land in Nangarhar province? It’s not like the local tribes are timid about defending their land. My guess is that the locals have lost too much manpower over all the years of fighting. I just don’t understand how Pashtun’s from the Pakistan side of the Durand Line can take so much land and power from tribes on the Afghan side. I guess armed tribal migration still happens in the modern world. When everyone is a renter use is solely according to possession. …which is an old world concept.

NBC news helpfully pointed out that President Trump was not consulted by Gen. Nicholson prior to the MOAB strike. That is technically true but irrelevant. The MOAB was already in Afghanistan and the criteria for using it as weaponeering solution would have been well established. Gen Nicholson is an American combatant commander of a NATO mission who has served in Afghanistan longer than any of his predecessors. He’s a smart guy and I can promise you, without having a news source to site, that he notified CENTCOM of his intention to drop the MOAB. The bomb is (obviously) too controversial for him not to do that. And if CENTCOM knew then Secretary of Defense Mattis knew too because that is how these things are done. That the military can now weaponeer solutions without micromanagement from the White House is a good thing.

It’s interesting that Afghanistan Security Forces (ANSF) personnel were moved back two kilometers from their forward line of troops (FLOT in mil-speak) and issued hearing protection prior to the strike. The MOAB was obviously a big impressive boom that must have been a real shocker for the people in the targeted area who survived the blast. ANSF has yet to close with the targeted area due to fighting on the route leading into the cave complex. That’s a series failure by both ANSF and NATO.

The MOAB would have cleared all IED’s within a kilometer or so of the blast and the Afghans have line charges to clear routes through mine fields too. They should have attacked and held the complex following the MOAB strike especially if they knew important leaders were meeting there. Dropping a big bomb and not using the shock it generates to clean up the survivors and sieze the targeted area is an amateurs mistake and both Resolute Support (NATO) and ANSF should be better than that by now.

How will this attack affect ISIL-K? As I mentioned in the previous post they could very well shake off this attack and use it to prove how resilient they are in their propaganda. I’ll tell you the worst thing that can happen now is ISIS-K pulling off another spectacular suicide attack inside Kabul like they did last month.

ISIS-K has obviously inherited part or is working with the old Haqqani (HiG) network. The Haqqani’s group was the only group that could consistently get inside the Kabul “Ring of Steel” and set up complex attacks. ISIS-K has shown they can do that too. If they pull off another attack they can boast that the only people impressed by our big bombs are us.

And for yet another example of how totaly worthless the American media has become we have this helpful segment from Fox news concerning how ISIS may respond to the MOAB attack. The news persons are operating with the assumption that ISIS is a connected, integrated, hierarchical organization which it most clearly is not. Thus every assumption they make in this piece is absolutely ridiculous. Watch it for entertainment value only as I swear these people do not have one clue about what they are talking about.

That silliness passing as news reporting is yet another reason why it is important to send America’s reporter back to Afghanistan. The fighting there is not over and we’re going to stay so it is important that somebody who knows what he’s doing return to cover this important story. Visit the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page today and donate to support professional reporting of this confusing conflict.

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.

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.

Poppy Time

It is Saturday, the 9th of April here in the sunny paradise of Afghanistan and both Kandahar and Kabul are in a UN declared “White City” status as the locals brace for another round of anti-American protests in response to the Koran burning in Florida.  I’m in Kandahar where all is quiet after Thursday’s  spectacular attack on an ANP compound.  Once again the Taliban used an ambulance VBIED to get through police and ISAF cordons, then detonated it inside the incident scene. The Taliban still suck at fighting, but they are getting pretty slick with the tactical planning as of late.

We aren’t too worried about protests in the South – a look at last week’s stats from Sami the Finn at Indicium Consulting shows why:

When the incident rate in the south drops like this there is only explanation; Poppy time
When the incident rate drops like this in the south there is only explanation; Poppy Time

When the poppy is being harvested all other activity around the poppy belt, including Taliban attacks, grind to a halt. Opium prices are at an all time high after last years crop failure and we hear this year the opium sap harvesters will keep 1 man (4.5 kilos) for every 6 man they milk out of the poppy bulbs. A man sells (at current prices) for around US $6000. That is a ton of money in these parts, however gathering up that much wet opium takes the average 4 man team two weeks of backbreaking, dawn to dusk effort. Still every able bodied male in the region is hard at work trying to get a man worth of Opium because when you have 6k in your pocket you can get married. That’s right – sex not only sells but it’s also is a great motivator for unmarried men in societies where the only way to get it is through marriage.

With most of the international press trying to figure out what Obama and Hillary are up to in Africa confusion regarding what’s happening here has reached new levels of strangeness.  Are things going well, or are they going  down the tubes? Is a resurgent al Qaeda a problem, or, (as I have long maintained) is this never going to be happen again in Afghanistan? Is the President of the United States really an inexperienced, doctrinaire, ignoramus, or is he rope-a-doping the whole world by pretending to be incompetent while hatching a wickedly genius plan to bring Americans a healthy economy coupled to a foreign policy which is easily understood to benefit the interests of our country?

One of the things about Marines which irritates the other services to no end is their propensity for festooning their cars with the Eagle Globe and Anchor. In time every ANA vehicle in the Helmand Province will have a Marine sticker on it.
One of the things about Marines (which irritates the other services to no end) is our propensity for festooning personal vehicles and most vertical surfaces with Eagle Globe and Anchor stickers. In time every ANA vehicle in the Helmand Province will have a Marine sticker on it.

Allow me to answers my questions in reverse order: Our POTUS is not rope-a-doping, his crisis management performance  is typical for a man who has been promoted way beyond his level of incompetence for reasons other than experience or consistent superior performance. But that is a lesson we cannot acknowledge because it remains fashionable among our cultural and business elite to emphatically believe affirmative action is a good thing. They want to believe that diversity makes us stronger when everyone who has to deal with “diversity” knows the only way it makes anything stronger is when diverse peoples meet the same standards and compete on a level playing field.

The Taliban are resurgent now, have been for the past two years and will be gaining and holding more terrain, will be inflicting more casualties on ISAF and ANSF, will grow stronger and stronger with each passing year. Worse, it appears al-Qaeda is back which I thought would never happen but then again I thought we’d be making progress by now.

And finally I have no idea what in the name of God we are doing bombing Libya but can guarantee you that when it’s all said and done we’re going to discover this was “doing stupid shit”. Let’s just hope we don’t lose too many people in the process.

In the Eastern portion of Afghanistan we have withdrawn from most of Kunar Province because the military geniuses in Kabul have decided that our presence in the isolated valleys was a provocation, so we declared victory and are packing up to head home. The Hillbillies of Kunar didn’t see it that way and thought our withdraw from their turf was a win for them.  Commanders who are victorious against the Americans seem to attract attention, money, recruits, and (this is new) al Qaeda training camps.  Who would have guessed that????????

Poppy
The poppy turns up everywhere to include the vegetable garden in our compound. Our gardener grows some pretty decent looking weed too. I don’t think he’s a smoker and bet he sells the weed – the three poppy plants out back aren’t enough to produce squat and are there because they look cool

This report in the Wall Street Journal was a nasty surprise to those of us paying attention but not for long. Within 24 hours the MSM was spinning a counter story that included this statement: “Petraeus also said he did not agree with reports that al-Qaida was making a comeback in Afghanistan”.  Well, I guess that’s that but hold on the WSJ story was written by Mathew Rosenberg. I know Matt gets outside the security bubble to dig up his own facts having given him a ride from Jalalabad to Kabul a few years ago.  If Rosenberg is reporting there is a resurgent al Qaeda infesting Afghanistan then I’m going to admit I was wrong about the possibility of that happening. General Petraeus can say whatever he likes but we know he doesn’t know because he has no human intelligence capacity with which to know.  That is the price he must pay for having unlimited funds with which to build little islands of America all over the country, isolating most of the forces completely from the Afghans.

Another classic example of  inside the security bubble propaganda  versus  real outside the wire atmospherics can be found in this April Fools article . Written by James Dobbins, and reprinted by the RAND people for some reason  (I am certain protecting their billions in FOB based contracts has nothing to do with it) Mr Dobbins, a DC insider with a vested interest in blowing sunshine up the rectums of other insiders, tells us that “irrational optimism” is the word of the day for your ordinary Afghan. You see, as bad as things are, they have been so much worse over the past 30 years that, from the perspective of the abused populace, everything is now peachy!

Let me paste in graph from one of the few organizations that actually gets out on the ground (with expat led teams) to do their own polling. Check this out:

When you get off the FOB and ask people questions face to face you get an idea about how badly things are going
When you get off the FOB and ask people questions face to face, you get an idea why the Afghans are clueless about our motives for being and staying here.

The pie chart above is based on a report by the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS).  ICOS is the only policy analysis organization in Afghanistan with expatriate headed assessment teams. They are led by the formidable Norine MacDonald: I ran into them last January while they were in the Helmand Province doing research for this report on the dangers of a draw-down in forces this summer.

I personally don’t think the maneuver units are going anywhere this summer. The United States could easily send half the people deployed to Afghanistan home without diminishing a bit of combat power. Simply clear out all the Equal Opportunity Officers, the Sexual Harassment Officers, career jammers, the jerks who monitor base gyms to make sure nobody wears a sleeveless shirt and the military policemen who make life on the FOB’s such a drag. You could easily cut the intelligence effort in half because Afghan intel is an echo chamber of endemic circular reporting.  And you can close the COIN Academy; setting up a new “innovative” school house is a loser move designed to cover over the fact we have no traction with the Afghan people.  The COIN Academy will never answer that question because you can’t do COIN in six month increments which isn’t really the problem either; the Karzai administration is the problem. But I’ve only been saying that for five years now and am sick of repeating myself.

We’re spending too much money and blood in Afghanistan while achieving very little besides beating the dog shit out of the Southern Taliban. That is something which the Marines in Helmand and the ISAF units in Kandahar can be proud of but it’s not enough. When I look at the train wreck that is the United States economy coupled with the unwillingness of our elected leaders to deal with the mess they made I am reminded (yet again) of the Roman Empire.  Contemplate this quote (hat tip Dan Carlin’s Hard Corps History) from historian Michael Crawford who wrote in  The Roman Republic:

The dangerous developments of the second century BC were then in large measure the result of growth of the Roman Empire providing the oligarchy with wealth which had to be invested making it easy for them to acquire extra land, providing them with slaves to work it and offering no alternative land elsewhere to those dispossessed.  A part time peasant army conquers the Mediterranean and that conquest facilitates its destitution.

The level of debt being generated by our political masters is unsustainable, the amount of spending on the war in Afghanistan is unsustainable, the financial obligations of the democratic run blue states are unsustainable.  Yet our political class continues to demagogue, evade, reward themselves with benefits regular Americans can only dream of, while our military leaders focus on marginal issues like women on submarines or the acceptance of homosexuals (as if they have not always been in the military anyway). Our government leaders focus on everything except the fact we have no money. Our military leaders focus on everything except the fact that we’re losing in Afghanistan. The American people work hard to support their families while sending their children off to fight for a military that is rapidly adopting the liberal cultural mores of the ruling class at the expense of traditional martial virtue.  The men and women fighting here and elsewhere will return to a country where only the elite prosper, where the rules for the political class and the working class are different. They are going to fight like lions to support our constitution while the administration shreds that constitution and  leaves the common folk destitute.

Holy shit I sound like a commie!  Time to pack up the laptop and fly to Dubai where I need to score another visa and a beer or two.  Maybe a few days of sleeping in a real bed will improve the mood a bit but I doubt it.  I see a bad moon rising.

What A Mess

I’m not referring to the controversy surrounding the attempted rescue of Linda Norgrove which is currently consuming the news cycle. My experience is that Special Operations folks do not attempt rescue operations without solid intelligence and a well rehearsed plan. I don’t know what happened in Kunar Province last weekend and therefore have no comment. What I do have plenty to comment on is the rash of articles which came out Friday morning about security contractors guarding American bases.  This is the opening from ABC news:

A scathing Senate report says US contractors in Afghanistan have hired warlords, “thugs,” Taliban commanders and even Iranian spies to provide security at vulnerable US military outposts in Afghanistan. The report, published by the Senate Armed Services Committee, says lax oversight and “systemic failures” have led to “grave risks’ to US forces, including instances where contractors have employed Afghan subcontractors who were “linked to murder, kidnapping and bribery, as well as Taliban and anti-coalition activities.” The chairman of the committee, Sen. Carl Levin, D.-Michigan, said the report was evidence that the US needs to reduce its reliance on contractors.

On the small Combat Outposts (COP’s) these guard forces man the outer perimeter only and have to provide their own life support (food and shelter) and they do not go inside the wire of the Army unit they are guarding. They don’t know any more about what is happening inside the FOB’s they guard then any other Afghan living in the vicinity. Local nationals working inside the wire doing menial tasks like emptying port-a-johns, collecting and burning trash, or washing dishes would know a lot more and pose a greater intelligence risk than the exterior guard force. On the large FOB’s the guard forces have barracks inside the post but are a small percentage of the Afghan local national work force and again, limited as to where they are allowed to go. So how is it just the security guards are the ones putting our troops at risk?

I wrote bids for several of these contracts and know they require a minimum of 80% of the guards to come from the local area. When you have remote outposts and need so many armed men who do you think is going to provide them? Now Washington is shocked, shocked that we were paying warlords and other various undesirables for guard forces. When I bid on these contracts our local manpower was coordinated through the district sub governor (which I  recall was another requirement) and not all sub governors are created equal. I’m not sure why the big surprise that some of the people who are benefiting from the fire hose of dollars flowing into Afghanistan are undesirables. I’m also not to sure about the definition of “undesirables” given the number of former warlords connected to the central government. Seems to me we don’t know enough about the Afghan culture to start labeling some war lords undesirables and others patriots.

Sounds like politics and looks like piling on by by the Senate Armed Services Committee who are now supporting President Karzai as he continues his program to dismantle private security companies. It’s nice to finally see some support for President Karzai from the DC crowd even if they are supporting a policy un-tethered from reality.  Accepting the fact that President Karzai is not going away would be the best contribution our elected members can make now.

J
Jalalabad City continues to grow as more families come in from the outer districts to escape Taliban intimidation

Shutting down the security companies makes little sense. Earlier in the month it was reported that the Afghans had shut down several companies to include Xe (Blackwater), Four Horsemen, and White Eagle. This is not true; all four remain open for business and they, like Karzai, are not going anywhere. Those companies don’t need to pay the Afghan government for a business license because they are working directly for the military, Department of State and other international government agencies and are exempt from paying Afghan taxes. The Afghan government is making it hard for internationals working for security companies outside the wire only. They have stopped issuing visa’s so many contractors remain here on expired ones. The companies with government contracts come into the country on contractor run flight that land in Bagram and by pass Afghan immigration so they do not need visas.  Afghanistan isn’t like the United States with foreigners who overstay their visa. In Afghanistan that is a one strike offense that could land you in prison.

Kabul is in turmoil, the North is going right down the tubes; years ago it was easy to operate in most of the country without armored vehicles and international mobile security teams but not anymore. While this is playing out there is a growing sense that the military side of the operation is starting go well.  ISAF has, for the first time, apparently locked down the Arghandab and Panjwai districts around Kandahar City. The Helmand Province is getting quieter week in and week out and the American Army in Nangarhar Province has moved a battalion of paratroopers into the southern triangle to deal with Taliban and their Pakistani cousins who have been operating openly down there all summer. This force projection off the FOB’s is a welcomed change but all the clearing currently being done needs a hold and build effort behind it and that capability is not resident within the Kabul government.

Provincial capitols in the south are not so busy or crowded
Lashkar Gah the capitol of Helmand Province. Provincial capitols in the south are not as busy or crowded as they are in the rest of the country

The situation on the ground is rapidly changing which makes it the perfect time for me to shift to another part of the country where I’m not so well known.  I have moved south and will be joining Ghost Team again for another year of adventure. This year I’m not going to be so candid about where I live or the location of our projects. The days when we could roam about the countryside at will and have my kids visit for months at a time to work with local kids at the Fab Lab – those days are over.

The military seems to be doing what it set out to do. It is too early to know how successful they will be but if they can drive the Taliban out of Kandahar and the surrounding districts they will need help with the build portion. Ghost Team will do our part but we are not miracle workers. We’ll give it our best until the window closes on outside the wire operations for good.

Five Hundred Meter War

Herschel Smith at the Captains Journal has put up a great post which addresses a topic near and dear to my heart; infantry tactics. The post is The Five Hundred Meter War  and I want to reinforce Herschel’s point with some observations.

The tactical argument being raised by Herschel is the alarming trend of engaging in long range fire fights without even attempting to close with and destroy the enemy. The mission of American infantrymen (according to FM 2-21.20 The Infantry Battalion) is “to close with the enemy by means of fire and maneuver.”

Aggressive maneuver combined with active patrolling keep the enemy off balance. The army demonstrated this in Kunar over the last few weeks. The first graph below is from the week of the Camp Blessing battle and the second from the week of the elections.

Remember a few months back when I posted about the new army battalion at Camp Blessing in Kunar killing over 100 fighters in the Marwa valley? Here is the incident rate for the week that the fighting started
Remember a few months back when I posted about the new army battalion at Camp Blessing in Kunar killing over 100 fighters in the Marwa Valley?  Remember I was hoping this signaled a shift in operational focus away from drive by COIN visits to killing the villains who had unmasked themselves all over the Province? Here is the incident rate for the week that the fighting started.  In order to generate security incidents you need living and breathing insurgents and there were not too many of them left after the Army took off the force protection handcuffs and started getting after it. Graph is courtesy of Sami the Finn who is the Senior Information Analyst for Indicium Consulting.

 

Here is this weeks stats and the spike is due to the Taliban and HIG efforts to disrupt the election. If you watched the embeded video you probably caught that the troops on that mission were heading to a polling center for some reason and yet look at the stats for the week that those polls were open (actually most in Kunar were closed) It would appear that months of effort to facilitate voting in the Kunar Province was a complete waste of effort
Here as the stats from last week note the spike which came from Taliban and HIG efforts to disrupt the election. If you watched the embedded video you probably caught that the troops on that mission were heading to a polling center for some reason and yet look at the stats for the week that those polls were open (actually most in Kunar were closed) It would appear that months of effort to facilitate voting in the Kunar Province was a complete waste of effort

The incident rates above clearly  demonstrate a point made over and over by Herschel Smith and many other military bloggers have made and that is incident rates drop when kinetic activity increases. It also demonstrated the folly of running down a road to visit sites for a brief period of time and then returning to the FOB.  Yesterday a British national working for the development firm DAI was kidnapped right off the main Abad to Jbad road. She was moving in a two vehicle convoy of low profile Toyota Corollas which is normally a safe mode of travel as long as the people inside the Corollas can pass as locals at first glance. This method of blending in is not a good idea if the convoy is going to be static for any period of time allowing local spotters to get a good look at the passengers. There are internationals in Afghanistan who can fool a trained observer with local clothes and a local style beard but they don’t fool anybody once they start walking. Their gait does not resemble how Afghans move because westerners do not spend their lives squatting on their heels.

I do not know the woman who was kidnapped that well but can say she was one of the more experienced and savvy operators in the eastern region. The company she works for, DAI, is one of the “big boys” in the reconstruction business and although they are not as nimble or fast as we are they are still damn good. So here we are in the middle of the surge and the security situation has never been worse.  If the security situation continues to degrade it is just a matter of time before all of us reconstruction types pull up the stakes and go home. I think I am speaking for the outside the wire community when I say (to ISAF)  “it’s time to get off the FOB’s and into the fight….or we’re done here.”

A New Way Forward?

We were under UN restricted movement routine last week (for the first time in five years) which provided the opportunity to digest a report from The Afghanistan Study Group entitled A New Way Forward. This report was great news for me because if think tanks are paying big bucks to people who write so poorly and know so little then maybe I can get a job in America and stop spending 11 of every 12 months out of the country. Any think tankers out there who have an opening drop me a line – I’ll be your huckleberry.

Fortunately I don’t have to take this report apart as a genuine regional expert, the formidable Joshua Foust, has already done that over at Registan.net.  Take the time to read his post here; it is, as usual, well written and spot on. With the heavy lifting already done I wanted to focus on the one part of the Study Group report which I find alarming and that is the amount of money being spent.  This is from the summary of the Afghanistan Study Group report:

The U.S. war in Afghanistan is now the longest in our history, and is costing the U.S. taxpayers nearly $100 billion per year, roughly seven times more than Afghanistan’s annual gross national product (GNP) of $14 billion.

100 Billion US dollars per year. That level of expenditure will not be sustainable for much longer so in the spirit of offering solutions instead of highlighting problems I am going to try and articulate a real New Way Forward.  The first step to limiting the amount of money being spent while reducing the number of troops deployed in theater is to eliminate the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT)  program.  PRT’s are based on FOB’s, staffed by hundreds of personnel and completely focused internally.  The commander of a PRT who is often an officer from the Navy or Air Force will get one fitness report (FitRep) in his/her career where they are commanding troops in combat.  The problems that would prevent these commanders from getting a superior fitness report (which is the only way they will be promoted and retained in the service) are all things that happen inside the wire. Sloppy admin, poor vehicle maintenance, problems with CMS (classified material storage and handling) lost gear or (heaven forbid) lost weapons, excessive boy/girl drama, failure to conduct required annual training like suicide prevention, sexual harassment, AIDS awareness (to name just a few) and problems getting mid to senior level NCO’s to professional schools….all these things and many more will ruin a FitRep. What will not ruin a Fitrep is failing to accomplish anything of significance outside the wire which is the primary mission of the PRT’s. The reason that is irrelevant is because there is no way to measure what is happening outside the wire with any precision because to know what is happening outside the wire one has to be outside the wire and riding around in hermetically sealed MRAP’s doesn’t count.

These PRT members are on their way to a village just outside our largest airbase in the region with a IT specalist to try and network computers donated to a local school years agp
Captain Christian Balan, who teaches  digital forensics at Burlington’s Champlain College in civilian life, heading towards a school just outside the massive Bagram airbase to trade his tech skills fixing the computer lab in hopes of generating good will and cooperation.  Photo by Spencer Akerman of the Danger Room blog

 

This story published last month in the Danger Room blog is a great  example. Nine years into the conflict and a group of soldiers are just now bringing their tech skills to bear in order to gain cooperation from villagers located just outside the wire from Bagram. Captain Balan (pictured above)  is a 55 year old reservist who is trying something new because past experience taught him the regular “Key Leader Engagement” techniques yield nothing. He is using his civilian techie skills to engage the villagers in another way. Read the article and note how after visiting the village he is all psyched up to go back and tune up their computer lab. This is what I mean by letting our troops loose to stay outside the wire and develop the situation using their initiative, drive and skill sets. But again there is a huge problem illustrated in the picture above and that is the body armor, rifles, security team etc… when it is right outside the wire from the biggest base in Afghanistan. Compare and contrast what you read in the article with this:

 

My son Logan doing the heavy lifting during the intial instal of the Jalalabad Fab Fi network.
My son Logan doing the heavy lifting during the initial install of the Jalalabad Fab Fi network.

 

25 simultaneous live nodes in Jalalabad. That's a new high. The map can't even keep up!
The Jalalabad Fab Fi network created by the MIT Fab Folk, maintained and expanded by local teenagers. This program does not cost the American taxpayer one dime.

 

The boys at the Jalalabad Fab Lab came up with their own design to meet the growing demand created by the International Fab surge last September. As usual all surge participants who came from the US, South Africa, Iceland and Englad paid their own way. Somebody needs to sponser these people.
The local Fab Fi club members at the Jalalabad Fab Lab came up with their own design to expand the Fab Fi network using US AID cooking oil cans (or “found objects” in geek talk)

In August of 2010 American soldiers are taking baby steps within a stones throw of the Bagram Airfield but two years ago a bunch of grad student volunteers created a wi fi network which now envelops Jalalabad.  What do you think soldiers like Captain Balan could do if they too had the freedom of movement that we have?  I am willing to bet you would see massive amounts of projects like the one he is attempting all over the country which, in turn, would bring cooperation from the local people while letting the modernity genie out of the bottle.

Here is another example of spending massive amounts of money while bringing zero benefit to the local population:

The local airfield has about a dozen Federal Firefighters to augment the Air Force crash and rescue crew
The local airfield has about a dozen Federal Firefighters to augment the Air Force crash and rescue crew

In the past expeditionary base fire fighting was a collateral duty assigned to base troops just like it is with the crew on Navy ships.  Now we deploy federal firefighters to perform this task which is fine; federal fire fighters are useful individuals who attend multiple schools where they receive first rate training.  If we are going to spend over a million a year to deploy each firefighter we could get much more return on investment by letting these guys spend their days with the local Afghan fire and rescue crews. They don’t need some sort of high speed mission to accomplish daily – they could drive around and look for places where they can help out. They could be busy all day every day teaching people all sorts of useful things while spreading goodwill and good karma. Every night they could return to base where they would be available when needed in the event of a conflagration. They don’t need to be armed, they don’t need body armor, they don’t need a powerpoint mission brief, they just need to drive off the base and do it. If they needed experienced guides to make them feel more comfortable they could ask the ladies from the La Jolla Rotary Club who are here right now supporting the San Diego Sister City program.

This ultra sound machine was donated to the Jalabad Teaching Hospital some years back and like most of the machines we have donated was broken. A grad student from the Synergy Strike Force who here with the La Jolla Rotary club sister city program got the directions, figured out what was wrong and fixed it in about 3 hours. She was then presented with a list of broken machines which she started repairing. Using the internet and a large support network of geeks from America she was able to repair about 90% of the machines in less than a month. What do you think a crew of federal firefighters could do given similar circumstances? I know exactly what they could do - fix 100% of the machines while finding all sorts of other things to improve. We're paying these guys six figure salaries to work out in the gym everyday - they get bored and we get no return on investment.
This ultra sound machine was donated to the Jalalabad Teaching Hospital some years back and like most of the donated machines it was broken.  Kate, a grad student sponsored by the Synergy Strike Force who is here with the La Jolla Rotary Club which is the driving force behind the San Diego Sister City Program got the manual, figured out what was wrong and fixed it in about 3 hours. She was then presented with a list of broken machines which she started repairing. Using the internet and a large support network of geeks back in America she was able to repair about 90% of the machines in less than a month. What do you think a crew of federal firefighters could do in similar circumstances? I know exactly what they could do – fix 100% of the machines while finding all sorts of other things to improve. We’re paying these guys six figure salaries to workout in the gym everyday. They get bored and we get no return on investment while the people we are supposed to be protecting only see American military forces when they tie up traffic and force them off the road.

There is nothing hard about finding “A New Way Forward” all that is needed is the application of common sense while allowing simple principals to guide the deployment of forces on the ground. I spent twenty years in the Marines preparing for contingencies like the one we face in Afghanistan. At no time did anyone ever suggest the way to fight them was to build FOB’s – store 90% of your deployed forces on those FOB’s and put those people to work slaving over powerpoint slides for the daily commanders update brief. Nor did we ever consider something as patently stupid as putting ship drivers or C-130 pilots in charge of reconstruction teams which have more equipment, personnel, money and a larger tactical area of operations then an infantry battalion. When you do that kind of thing you end up with The Helmand Food Zone Fiasco. Its time to send the PRT’s home and to give that mission to Ghost Team and other outside the wire contractors who operate in similar fashion. They are  accomplishing more while costing a fraction of a penny when compared to the PRT dollar.

Which brings us to a topic many of you have been asking me about and that is Koran burning threat by an obscure pastor who has a 50 member flock. Obviously the ruckus raised by our main stream media over this threat caused those of us in Afghanistan a lot of problems. However it is hard to take the Secretary of Defense or General Petraus seriously when they warn how inappropriate it is to burn this book when last year our military burned boxes of Dari and Pashtun translations of the Bible which had been sent to Afghanistan by a Christian organization. Why is it OK to burn the Bible and not the Koran?  The only person of prominence to address the Koran burning issue in a clear honest fashion was Sarah Palin who said this:

People have a constitutional right to burn a Koran if they want to, but doing so is insensitive and an unnecessary provocation much like building a mosque at Ground Zero.

As I listened to the response by our dinosaur media, military leaders, and President to the Koran burning threat I longed to hear them address this topic in clear honest language. This they cannot do and I am left with  just one conclusion. Our elites think the American people are stupid. They insult us with their Quisling like knee jerk reactions and selective outrage when talking about sensitive matters concerning Islam. Nobody needs to tell me how dangerous it is to burn the Koran in a highly publicized manner – my colleagues and I are at much greater risk from the fallout of that act than any military person stationed in Afghanistan.  But I’m an American citizen; I do not knuckle my brow, bend my knee or bow before any man for any reason at any time.

Obama breaks his neck for America

Nor do I selectively apply the freedoms granted to me by God and enshrined in our constitution. We are a free people but freedom requires eternal vigilance with the steadfast devotion to principle. All men are equal under American law, all religions are equal too so none deserves nor can be granted special status or consideration. Why is it our ruling class elites and their henchmen in the media have forgotten this basic component of the American way? When I explain my view to the Afghans I work with they understand exactly what I am saying and why…and they respect the message. I’m with Sarah Palin on this one; at least she isn’t treating the American people like a bunch of know-nothing bumpkins.