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?

Kabul Rocks; This Time It’s Not The Taliban – It’s Foreigners: IMPORTANT UPDATE

*UPDATE: One of my friends from the intel world has alerted me that the you tube video below (the point of this post) is bogus. It is not from the attack on Kabul yesterday but a 2013 car bomb in Homs, Syria. That explains the Arabic making this post moot but my recommendations on a way forward stand. Sorry for any confusion caused by my pulling the trigger on this post before vetting the legitimacy of the You Tube video.

The start of Ramadan brought an unwelcome surprise in the form of a large VBIEB detonating well inside Kabul’s ‘Ring of Steel’ at Zanbaq square close to the German and British Embassies. According to NATO’s Resolute Support public affairs:

The NATO-led Resolute Support (RS) mission in Kabul said Afghan security forces had prevented the vehicle from entering the heavily protected Green Zone that houses many foreign embassies as well as its headquarters, suggesting it may not have reached its intended target.

Baghdad had a Green Zone and Afghanistan has several “Green Zones” but these refer to the heavy vegetation near the Helmand River. There is no “Green Zone” in Kabul but it would unfair to expect NATO PAO’s to understand that level on nuance in a country they only see while flying over it.

Half of my friends in Kabul have come up on the net to check in and as I sit here waiting to hear from the rest I am pissed. What NATO is trying to do with 5000 additional “advise and assist” troops may be a noble effort but it is a stupid one. Watch and listen to this You Tube video and I’ll explain what is so alarming about it below.*

 

The men, who obviously knew when and where this bomb was going to detonate, are speaking Arabic; not Dari and not Pashto. They are not Afghans. Who are they and how did they gain foreknowledge of this attack?

I suspect they’re ISIS and, as they appear to be filming from the roof of the Serena Hotel, they are ISIS with cash to spend. This is serious and it calls for a serious response.

Here’s a plan I’m spit-balling while I wait to hear from the remainder of my friends. It may sound crazy but let it sink in – it would work if we only had the balls to pull it off.

  1.  Remove all embassies and all NATO bases from Kabul and locate them to Bagram. That will make the people in Kabul safer while not detracting from Embassy operations because none of the diplomats ever leave their compounds unless in a they are in a helicopter anyway. Might as well move them to Bamyan where they be safer still for all the good they are (not) doing now.
  2. Move all train and assist teams from contested provinces and put them in Bamyan to run battalion level combat training courses. Use the air assets in- country now supporting the advise and assist effort to move Afghan battalions into and out of contested provinces. The training, rest and refit cycle will drive down casualties and increase retention. Use the old al Queda training base (now called Gamberi) outside Jalalabd during the four months Bamyan is covered with snow.
  3. Use the narrative of Afghan unity in conjunction with the currently popular Afghan Special Forces unit to form units that will become legends.  The Afghans need combat mentoring from the international community. What if the international community responded by offering up talent, known to and approved by the Afghan government, to lead small units into the contested lands? I’m talking pseudo-terrorist operations as perfected by the Selous Scouts. The Afghans do not have a deep enough bench of small unit leaders to pull this off. The international community does and there are thousands of men in multiple countries who would return in a heartbeat to volunteer for this kind of service.
  4. Students of military history understand the power of dynamic leaders. There is a reason Scipio Africanus is as relevant today as he was in 202 BC and that is the power of extraordinary leadership. Ask Secretary Mattis, he who sleeps well while others lose sleep, because they know he’s thinking about them. Setting up Pseudo-terrorist op teams will take culling through thousands of volunteers, both internationals and Afghans, to find the the right mix but when you do find that mix and those teams start to operate the Afghan people will be all the PR you need to announce there is a game changer in the mix (finally).
  5. The devil is always in the details and there are no details presented here. But the devil was also filming the you tube video above and he needs to be hunted down and killed. The time for diplomats and large hopelessly incompetent military organizations is over. It is time to put an end to this bullshit and all it takes are few thousand hardy volunteers who will no longer tolerate tyranny, madness and the slaughter of innocents.

If anyone out there has a better idea I’d love to hear it.

 

ISIS-K Strikes Again And Heckmatyar Comes In From The Cold

Yesterday I was talking with one of the unsung hero’s of the Afghanistan reconstruction battle Jeff “Raybo” Radan. I’ve known Jeff since we were instructors back at the Marine Corps Basic School and we worked together again when I replaced him (at the end of his tour) in Lashkar Gah as the regional manager for the USAID implementing partner CADG. He was has been working out of Kabul and told me about the ISIS-K car bomb before it hit the wires. He’s moving on to another project in Iraq but said he has seen definite improvement in the Afghan Security Forces.

Jeff and I heading to Naw Zad on an old Marine Corps CH-53D that leaked transmission fluid all over us. We’re used to that. Flying in an Osprey which doesn’t leak transmission fluid was unsettling to us old grunts because it made you wonder if it had enough.

Raybo got his nickname when he returned from the Army Ranger Course minus about 20 pounds on his already skinny frame and couldn’t stop talking about how much he loved it. His take on increasing the advise and assist mission? He’s not sure how effective it will be but is certain about what will happen if we don’t do it and that assessment was bleak.

Yesterday’s car bomb attack was to be expected; it was a matter of time before ISIS struck back after getting MOAB’d. This latest attack was unusual in one respect. The car bomb was parked, not driven into the convoy, which is a departure from the norm. It could indicate that the ANP has downtown Kabul under better control…or not…it’s hard to say. Setting off a car bomb that kills local civilians without doing too much damage to the NATO MRAP’s they were targeting is an amateur hour performance. It is also a far cry from their previous attacks in Kabul which were more dramatic and inflicted heavy casualties on their intended targets be they Hazara people or Afghan security forces.

More information regarding the recent MOAB attack is coming out and it would appear that using the MOAB was good weaponeering.  But ISIS-K continues to blast propaganda from their clandestine radio station (despite that too being bombed by US Tac Air) and even managed to assassinate a senior Taliban leader in Peshawar. An excellent assessment on the aftermath of the MOAB strike can be found here and as usual reality is 180 degrees out from the legacy media narrative.

A graphic from the article linked above showing the exact location of the MOAB strike
Another excellent graphic from Alcis showing the physical damage from the strike.

The MOAB took out 38 building in an unnamed (meaning unauthorized) settlement and 69 trees. There was no gigantic crater because the MOAB is a fuel air explosive which is something the media  still doesn’t seem to understand. From the article linked above:

Fuel-Air Explosives [FAE] disperse an aerosol cloud of fuel which is ignited by an embedded detonator to produce an explosion. The rapidly expanding wave front due to overpressure flattens all objects within close proximity of the epicenter of the aerosol fuel cloud, and produces debilitating damage well beyond the flattened area. The main destructive force of FAE is high overpressure, useful against soft targets such as minefields, armored vehicles, aircraft parked in the open, and bunkers.

It looks like the MOAB under-performed but looks are deceiving. If there were men hiding in those tunnels they’re crispy critters now; if the tunnels contained large stores of weapons and ammo those are now gone. It will take months of donkey trains to replace them if replacements are even available. I believe the weapons and ammunition were the targets and that nobody involved in the attack really cared about a high body count because that is a meaningless metric. I also believe all the conjecture in the press surrounding this weapon has proven to be fake news. That conjecture has shifted now and the legacy media is contending the bomb was a dud. That they know not what they are talking about is obvious.

The Taliban is fighting ISIS-K, we’re targeting ISIS-K regularly and the Pakitani’s are targeting them too. I doubt they will survive much longer with all the attention they’re getting. The one disturbing factor is that ISIS-K has the support of the Safi tribes; a problem I’ll address in a future post.

There is a potential game changer being put in play with the return of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to Kabul. He is a former prime minister and the leader of the Hezb-i-Islami militant group. More importantly he is a Pashtun from the northern city of Kunduz and one would suspect he’ll have the ability to bring a resurgent Taliban in Kunduz to heel. That would be huge and comes at a time when the Taliban from that area have pulled off the most devastating attack (the Mazar-e Sharif attack) against the ANA to date in this long nasty war .

Heckmatyar received a warm welcome in Kabul. The Afghan people are sick of war and welcome anybody (even the butcher of Kabul) who might be able to stop it. Photo from Reuters

The Mazar attack targeted young recruits attending Friday prayers in the base Mosque which has enraged Afghans who feel (correctly) it was an assault against Islam. Heckmatyar has said repeatedly the Taliban are an affront to Islam and that is a message which now resonates, more than ever, with the Afghan people. We shall see how this plays out but if he can dampen the fires of insurgency in the north the Afghans will have the space they need to concentrate their forces in the south and east.

There is one other thing Heckmatyar could help with in this critical phase of the fight for Afghanistan. He may be able to do something about the Haqqani clan.  Every attack inside Kabul and the recent devastating attack in Mazar-e Sharif had Haqqani fingerprints all over them. They are funded by Pakistan’s intelligence agency (the ISI) and have been able to penetrate Kabul seemingly at will. They are dedicated, professional butchers who kill without pity or remorse. They need to be put down and the sooner the better.

We have been trying for years to get both  Jalaluddin (the family patriarch) and his son Sirajuddin with drones but have come up empty. A man like Heckmatyar has the capability to get them the old fashioned way using car bombs or ambushes. I wonder if he’ll make the effort and know taking out the Haqqani’s would have an immediate impact on decreasing the level of violence directed at Kabul. Time will tell.

The Marines of Task Force Southwest are on the ground starting their advise and assist mission in the Helmand province. No news about them is good news because the only news we’ll see in the legacy media will concern casualties. I’m not aware of any reporters who plan to embed with them to write about their mission and how it is working out. Yet another reason why I want to embed with them for a month this summer. The Marines and soldiers on the front lines deserve to have their stories told and not just when they have sustained casualties.

There are no good options available to the international community in Afghanistan. My greatest concern, shared by many others, is that we will calibrate our advise and assist efforts to do just enough not to lose. If we are serious about the advise and assist mission then we have to accept two things. It is going to take more than a decade of sustained effort and at some point we will have to fight with the troops we are training and advising. Fighting means losing troops; it’s inevitable but the public has not been prepared for nor will it accept high numbers of American combat deaths in Afghanistan.

President Trump has not revealed his plan for Afghanistan yet but when he does his plan will be attacked by the legacy media regardless of content. That’s not good for our country or Afghanistan. It appears the President is allowing Secretary of Defense Mattis to shape this plan without micromanagement or intrigue from the White House. That is good news given the prior pattern of micromanagement by both the Bush and Obama administrations. If the new plan is the same as the old plan then we’ll know the Afghans are screwed. I doubt Secretary Mattis will settle for more of the same and know there is not another American alive today who could handle this task better. If he can quietly kill the current females in the infantry madness while he’s at it we can consider ourselves blessed. Let us hope that both of these things are not a bridge too far given the madness that passes for reality with our ruling class in Washington DC and their accomplices in the press.

There is no way to determine what is going on in Afghanistan without competent reporters on the ground digging up truth and reporting that in context. That is why I’m trying so hard to fund an embed back there but I cannot do that without your support. If you can please consider a donation to the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page in support of accurate reporting from the front lines.

 

ISIS Again And Now The NORK’s Are Looking For Some Tough Love Updated

Yesterday we lost two more solders fighting ISIS-K in Afghanistan; Cameron H. Thomas, 23, of Kettering, OH and Joshua P. Rodgers, 22 of  Bloomington, Ill were killed in action during a raid in the Achin district of Nangarhar Province. Both were from the Army Ranger regiment and they were supporting the counter-terrorism component of  Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. Rangers provide the support and security elements for Special Forces raiding teams who are the assault element in these operations which is why the Rangers were in the Achin district this week.

Both of these men were Sergeants and although  only in their young 20’s there is no doubt they were experienced, competent, effective fighters.  They were reportedly killed by small arms fire which I would guess means machinegun fire as ISIS and the Taliban are rarely encountered with battle zero’d rifles and can’t hit a damn thing more than 100 yards away.

Army Rangers Sgt. Joshua P. Rodgers and Sgt. Cameron H. Thomas
Photograph provided by U.S. ARMY.

What can you say about the loss of two more men other than they; like their Marine bothers, would not have wanted to be anywhere else. No warrior worth the name wants to miss out on a combat deployment.

Afghanistan is currently a true mess that has become what every knowledgeable observer predicted it would become the second they heard Obama announce a withdrawal date mere seconds after announcing a surge date. The only difference is that we did not suspect there would be a stay behind component.

There are two ways forward; we pull the counter-terrorist teams out of the fight and leave them on fortified FOB’s inside Afghan FOB’s to “mentor’ or we take the remaining advise and assist forces and let them off the FOB’s and into the fight. The first option is the default Washington DC option – Kabuki Theater designed to look like we’re helping when we’re not. The second option gives the Afghan people a chance at obtaining their elusive goal of peace.

Peace is much on my mind as the Korean situation heats up. North Korea has engaged in nuclear brinkmanship for years now and has been met by appeasement from Clinton, Bush and Obama and that appeasement has been met by increase belligerence every time.  President Trump has drawn a line and unlike any president before him he does not seemed inclined to ignore that line if it is broken. This was inevitable and the growing North Korean threat has to be dealt with or they are going to develop a multi stage missile to deliver the nuclear payloads they already have.

What are the chances of war? 50/50 is my guess and the tell is our deployment of THAAD batteries to South Korea. China didn’t say a word when we did that and in the past they would have gone high order having warned us repeatedly that it would be a provocation to them. Now it’s not

Japan is preparing it’s people for imminent attack right now and I bet the Chinese are moving forces to the Korean border only this time they are not there to fight us. This is serious and if war comes it will be short but expensive in lives and treasure. When it is over our forces in Afghanistan will still be there helping the Afghanistan National Security Forces in their fight against radical Islamic insurgents.

UPDATE:

In the what the hell is going on category the Pentagon is claiming the two Rangers who were killed yesterday may have been a friendly fire incident. At least a dozen soldiers who were on the raid are contacting media to say that story is bullshit and the two were hit by enemy fire. Check this out from the Army Times:

The military’s investigation aims to learn whether Rodgers and Thomas were killed by errant Afghan or American gunfire, officials said. But several soldiers who fought in the battle vehemently dispute that’s what happened, according to Task & Purpose. More than a dozen witnesses contacted the news site claiming their comrades were gunned down by ISIS militants.

There is no way to determine what the hell is going on over there without competent reporters on the ground digging up truth and reporting that in context. That is why I’m trying so hard to fund an embed back there but I cannot do that without your support. If you can please consider a donation to the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page in support of accurate reporting from the front lines.

Three In A Row And A Look At What Could Have Been

This morning the main stream media caught up with  FRI by reporting how the terrorists who attacked the Afghanistan National Army (ANA) in Mazar-i Sharif got onto the base. They also reported on the relief of the 209th Corps commanding general. To be fair the news report (linked here) contained details I didn’t know so good for them for the original reporting. Here’s one of those details:

When the first fighting broke out, one of the assailants dressed in a special forces uniform rushed into the mosque, the security source said. He herded the panicked recruits to take cover together in a room. “And there he blew himself up,” the source said. Any survivors were gunned down by the remaining militants, he added.

A picture from inside the ANA base mosque.  Photograph from AFP/file

That is a hard attack to defend against. In military terms it was a raid and raids are often easy to pull off because they, by design, target units or people who are not prepared for them. The hard part of any raid isn’t gaining surprise; it’s getting your troops back safely. That problem is mitigated when the assaulting troops have intentions of surviving the attack.

Saying “I told you” is, at this point, a tedious exercise in irrelevance. Nobody really cares and it makes for boring blogging. So, let me tell you something you didn’t know using another current news story.

Last week there was an uplifting story about high school girls in Herat, Afghanistan mastering basic internet skills in a computer lab apparently  provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. The article is titled “In Afghanistan, girls break cyber walls” and was a human interest story designed to showcase progress but really showcased failure, and did so with reckless disregard for the future health and well being of the girls being reported on.

Herat is in the Western part of the country and the local culture, as it is in Zaranj,  has a heavy Persian influence. The mores regarding women are a little more lax but not so lax that encouraging school girls to get on social media is a good idea. Both the Taliban and ISIS have used social media to target apostates and spies. Maybe the girls in this story belong to families with enough clout to keep them safe once we’re gone but I doubt it.

Bringing internet and IT training to Afghan children is not a new story; it’s been done before in a much more comprehensive way. But that effort garnered little media attention or big money foundation support.

Ten years ago in Jalalabad there was a computer and engineering training program that reached hundreds of children, involved sophisticated, appropriate, technical training designed to foster entrepreneurial skill-sets

High School girls from Jalalabad teaching younger children in the Fablab computer room July 2008

Unlike other aid programs this one cost the taxpayers exactly nothing.  Not a dime of aid funding funded the FabLab; the equipment was provided by MIT and grad students from MIT and their geek friends (known as Fab Folk) self funded their way to Afghanistan to set it up. They came from as far away as South Africa and Iceland; it was remarkable to see and best yet they paid their bar bills on time and with cash.

Fab Folk enjoying the world famous Tiki Bar at the Taj in Jalalabad while setting up computers that will be given to the kids at the Fab Lab

The Fab Lab equipment would have been of limited use without good internet conductivity which was installed by Baba Ken from Reachback.org.  Ken supported a start up portable satellite antenna company into field testing their new Gatr ball system to Taj, to determine how long this portable system would function in a remote location. A government agency based in the Fort Washington Facility donated the 15k a month worth of fat pipe bandwidth (they too were interested in seeing how long and at what capacity the system would last). FRI provided the expertise to get all this gear through customs (for a mere 200 buck bribe) and delivered to Jalalabad and (as we did with all our guests at the Taj) Shem Klimiuk and I provided security for the internationals who came to work on the project.

Shem and I with his driver back in the day
Gatr comms at the Taj with a FabFi chicken wire reflector (upper left) This was second one sent to us for testing.
The first Gatr ball took a beating from heavy winds, UV radiation and at least one bullet hole of unknown origin. This is a photo of it after the transponder was blown off in a storm; the Jbad geek squad repaired it every time. The designers were hoping to get 6 months of continues use from this model – it lasted over a year.

Their story is remarkable, inspirational, but never gained any traction despite being told in the pages of this blog and featured in an excellent interview by NPR of Dr. Amy Sun, who introduced the Fab Lab to Afghanistan. Listen to the interview; you’re not going to believe what they accomplished without the help or support of the US Government or any other international aid organization.

Dr. Sun entertaining herself after I got involved in minor traffic accident (with 30 cases of beer in the back of the SUV) at night just outside Surobi which was a bad place to be hanging out after dark

The Jalalabad Fab Lab was unable to generate the donations required to continue operations and I believe that is because the success was counter- narrative. While NATO was spending millions and millions of dollars developing  the”virtual silk road” the universities and teaching hospitals in Jalalabad had lightening fast internet provided free of cost by the Fab Folk and Baba Ken’s Jbad Geek squad (not pictured in this blog for security reasons).

My son Logan humping a Fab Fi reflector (he’ll take it all the way up the tallest water tower in the city) at the Jalalabad Teaching hospital

When dealing with the narrative we have to judge what we know to be true before speculating on anything else. What we know to be true is that the most effective cyber aid program in Afghanistan came about in the exact same manner as America’s current oil boom – despite, not because of the government. It was an effective grass roots movement that ultimately died because the Fab Folk were unable to attract organizations like the Gates foundation to sustain it and they did try that source and many others.

The Fab Folk had a deep reach inside the Jalalabad community that gave all kids to include the handicapped a chance at learning the basics of working with computers

These pictures and this story were once a source of great pride for those who participated in this noble effort. Viewing them now brings a sense of ennui. Baba Ken, Dr. Dave Warner of the Synergy Strike Force and Dr. Amy Sun were told over and over what they were doing could not be done. They took huge risks to prove it could be and did so because they wanted to help and knew their skill set could bring much needed technical education and resources to the Afghan people. But they had no connections in the halls of power and it seemed to me the last thing that the US government agencies deployed to Afghanistan wanted to see was people doing what they themselves contended could not be done. The ruling class and their technical experts hate being proven wrong.

In 2008 young boys from the dirt poor hamlet of Bagrami will building their own bots

The boys pictured above, if they are still alive, are in the fight now; on one side or the other. They wanted to be in university, they wanted a chance to live a productive life. What the can you say to them now? Sorry just doesn’t seem to cut it.

Baba Ken reaching out to village elders and I’m not sure where because he did this all the time. Going to shura’s alone is considered madness by military folks but it was the safest way to do business in contested lands. Afghans respect men of courage and conviction who travel alone to their villages to offer their help; something both Baba Ken and the late Dan Terry taught me early on.

I’d like to report how this story ends but I cannot do that without your support. If you can please consider a donation to the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page in support of accurate reporting from the front lines.

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.

MOAB Madness; The Media Gets It Wrong Again

If I needed a sign to confirm my plan to return to Afghanistan was a sound one I need look no further than the coverage of yesterday’s MOAB bombing. It is clear that the usual ‘experts’ who comment on these types of events are clueless and that makes me wonder (yet again) just how much of the news we digest is factually correct.

The only Fox news show I’ll watch (occasionally) is Tucker Carlson but yesterday he struck out when he interviewed  an “army veteran” who claimed these tunnels were the same ones used by Osama bin Laden to escape in 2001. He then added some nonsense about the Haqqani group using them too before saying the MOAB was intended to “make ISIS fighters think twice about using such tunnels.” Everything the guy said was demonstrably wrong as is most of the reporting out today following up this story.

Osama bin Laden was trapped in the Tora Bora Complex in Khogyani district not the tunnel complex in Achin district which is at the head of the Mamand valley and the terminus for supply runs from across the border. It is also a training complex as well as a command and control node. ISIS has used this complex from day one because it is remote, easy to defend, fortified from back in the Mujaheddin days  and is a direct link (via donkey train) to the ISIS-K Pakistani homeland.

The MOAB will have a psychological impact on ISIS but that impact may or may not strengthen their resolve; it’s hard to say. What we do know is that militants in Afghanistan have been on the receiving end of unbelievable amounts of firepower for 16 years now and it does not appear to have affected their ability to replace casualties, motivate their fighters or stay in the fight.  ISIS can now claim that not even the “Mother of all Bombs” can hurt them and use the attack to drive recruiting through the roof. I don’t know how they’ll react and also know that nobody in the meida does either.

We do know that Islamic State of Khorasan (ISIS-K) is comprised mainly of former Tehrik-e Taleban Pakistan (TTP) militants from various tribal districts on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line. We also know they have been joined by Salafis from Kunar, Nuristan, Nangarhar and a number of other provinces.  What we don’t know (not that it matters) is how many militants were killed in the strike. The Independent Journal Review says over 100 people were killed based on a source who appears bogus to me, the Guardian says 36 were killed but doesn’t explain where that number comes from and the BBC is reporting dozens killed. All of these reports carry speculation about the number of civilians killed in the strike too which is something the press never speculated on when Obama was president but I digress.

The truth is we’ll never know how many were killed because their bodies are sealed inside the cave complex. That’s what 18,700 pounds of H6, (a mixture of RDX (Cyclotrimethylene trinitramine), TNT, and aluminum) delivered in an air-bust ordnance is designed to do. Were there non combatants present in the caves? There had to be a number of boys and old men who do the cooking, goat herding, water humping, firewood gathering and other housekeeping chores. But I wouldn’t call them noncombatants; young males and old men will always be co-located with Islamic terrorist fighters in the bush.

Weaponeering is the process of determining the quantity of a specific type of lethal or nonlethal weapons required to achieve a specific level of damage to a given target, considering target vulnerability, weapon effect, munitions delivery accuracy, damage criteria, probability of kill and weapon reliability. The  use of the GBU-43 MOAB yesterday was a weaponeering decision; nothing more. It may well have sent a message to other potential antagonists but was used because we wanted to destroy several metric tons of weapons and ammunition stored inside a cave complex.

There will be unintended consequences from the use of this weapon and one of them is this: the world just became a much safer place. I just finished an interesting book titled The Upcoming War With Russia, written by General Sir Richard Shirreff, the recently retired Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (NATO). The book is an urgent warning from a senior commander about an impending conflict with Russia and takes place in May through July of 2017. It starts when the Russians seize the Baltic states because they are convinced NATO lacks the will and combat power to stop them. General Shirreff cities the problems we are currently facing regarding aircraft and combat unit readiness (they are at the worst levels of my lifetime and damn near as bad as 1949) as well as the attitudes of our current political leaders as the precipitating factor in Russia’s decision to initiate hostilities.

The purpose of his book was to alert the reader to a real, no shit, existential threat and he was spot on with one exception. He anticipated that Hillary Clinton would win the election and American foreign policy would remain as fickle as it had been under Obama. The sales of his book will now plummet because in one bold move President Trump removed the greatest enticement to World War III and thus the purpose of the book.  America has returned as a legitimate counterweight to any nation seeking to overthrow the current status quo. We are leading from the front again and tolerating no shenanigans.

But just because we are great again doesn’t mean things are going to go smoothly from this point forward. We are in a real sticky situation in Afghanistan and if we do not radically change the approach we are taking there we’ll never leave, never make the place better, never stop the fighting and never stop the dying. The Marine deployment to Helmand province this spring is the first attempt by the United States  military to try something a little different. That deployment needs to be covered by somebody who knows what he is seeing and can understand context as well as the big picture.

You’ve got me to do that but I need you to help get me over there and in position to report. Please take the time to visit the Baba Tim Go Fund Me Page and support independent, honest, competent reporting from the front lines.

MOAB’ing ISIS in Afghanistan

Last Sunday (April 9th) CNN published a report of another American soldier killed in action while fighting in Afghanistan. The operator; Staff Sgt. Mark R. De Alencar, 37 from Edgewood, Maryland, a member of the 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne); was killed in while battling with  Khorashan in the Nangarhar province. Today the pentagon announced it had dropped the “mother of all bombs”, a GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) on Islamic State in Iraq and Syria-Khorasan province, or ISIS-K.

Readers who have followed our combat efforts overseas will remember the Khorashan Group as a fake news story  floated to justify the use of American tac air in Syria. During the summer of 2014, James Clapper, the US Director of National Intelligence for the Obama administration, released a dire warning about a new threat emanating from Syria called the Khorashan Group. A collection of 50 experienced, hard core former Taliban leaders in Syria specifically to develop external attacks, construct and test improvised explosive devices and recruit Westerners to conduct operations targeting the USA and Europe.

The Khorashan Group story was instantly outed on the internet. I was confused to see the ISIS group in Nangarhar province called  Khorashan; they have been there for years and I had never seen them called Khorashan before so I started looking into the ISIS problem in Nangarhar and found a hell of a strange story.

Free Range International on the Torkham border crossing in 2009

The current ISIS-K is not related to the former Khorashan group and probably got that name from the excellent Afghanistan Analysis Network (AAN). In July, 2016 Boris Osman of AAN published a report titled The Islamic State in ‘Khorasan’: How it began and where it stands now in Nangarhar. Boris explains in detail where ISIS came from, how they gained a foothold, why they remain and also why they are not spreading outside of Nangarhar province.  He also get’s the credit (as best I can tell) for the adding Khorashan to ISIS when referring to the ISIS movement in Nangarhar. The Afghan’s, like the Arabs, call them Daesh which seems easier to me but conflict analysts seem to like more specificity.

The ISIS-K designation makes sense when divorced from the bogus Khorashan Group of 2014. The definition of Khorashan (from the article linked above) is pasted below:

Khorasan is a historical term for areas populated by peoples speaking Iranian languages in northeastern Iran, the Transoxania part of Central Asia (Mawr-un-Nahr) and Afghanistan, mainly north of the Hindu Kush Mountains. In IS propaganda, it now comprises all of Afghanistan, most of Pakistan as well as Central Asia. Its reaches are felt as north as Kazakhstan and in eastern Turkistan.

That definition encompasses a wide range of tribes and peoples including Tajiks, Uzbecks, and the Hazara who do not normally cooperate with the largely Pashtun Taliban. Four main themes resonate throughout its propaganda: the duty of violent jihad, ISIS’s own legitimacy in fronting this cause, the trans-nationalism of its movement, and the discrediting of the “deviance” of its jihadi rivals. The propaganda is sophisticated and designed to affirm its legitimacy, and therefore “ownership” of the Afghan jihad.

This map of a proposed railway line (that will never happen in our lifetimes) also shows the critical Jalalabad – Torkham road

The most important road in Afghanistan runs from the Torkham border crossing in Jalalabad province to Kabul. Over eighty percent of Afghanistan’s trade comes across that border which is a direct link to Pakistan’s ports. In 2010 Pakistani Taliban, mainly from Tehrik-e Taleban Pakistan (TTP) started to settle in  Achin, Nazian, Kot, Deh Bala, Rodat and Ghanikhel districts. They invoked  Melmastia from the local communities saying it was their moral obligation to help their Pashtun brothers escape the Pakistani army which was mounting operations targeting the TTP in the Northwest Frontier.

Crossing into Afghanistan at the Torkham border crossing

Fast forward to 2014; the muhajerin (refugees) from Pakistan have continued to settle in Nangarhar but then the Pakistani army starts operation Khyber II and militants from the Pakistani tribal agencies flood across the border to get away from them. Mule trains full of weapons and ammo, some of them 50 animals long, arrive daily into the Mamand valley in Achin district along with hundreds of militants. Suddenly the muhajerin declare they are now ISIS and evict the Taliban from the districts they control but leave the Afghan security forces alone. The locals are happy because trade is moving, Taliban and government road blocks are down and nobody is shooting at anybody.

But then the Taliban attack ISIS in Nazim district and all hell broke lose with ISIS battling back hard and taking control of five districts by June of 2015. Then the Taliban call in their ” elite forces under brutal commanders from Loya Paktia and Loy Kandahar” and these guys infiltrate the Mamand valley (in Achin district) one night during Ramadan and (from the linked AAN article):

……. on 3 July 2015, local men (including those not usually sympathetic to the Taleban) and Taleban rose up together against ISKP, with calls by the Taleban via the mosque’s loud-speakers for all men of fighting age to come out and participate, or face seeing their homes burnt down. Taken by surprise, the ISKP fighters retreated from most of Mamand valley by the end of that day.

Could you imagine that? Every mosque in the valley telling the locals to come fight the Daesh (which is what they call ISIS-K) or else? I would have loved to have seen that and now at the head of that same valley we dropped a  MOAB on the caves where those donkey train loads of weapons were stashed. But how the hell does the Taliban shift elite forces around the country? I have some experience moving truck loads of armed men around Afghanistan and even when it was legal it was hard to pull off. It’s impossible now (for us foreigners) but the Taliban did it.  Plus where was the Afghan Security Forces and Resolute Support in all this?  They have been targeting ISIS-k with drones in the past and have fought them before and are apparently fighting them now.

Afghanistan, a country I honestly love, is a weird damn place where the most improbable things like the population of an entire valley; reinforced by elite Taliban units from Kandahar and Paktia, stage an uprising and drive out a powerful foe in one day; happen as a matter of routine . Amazing.

This is a reminder that we are not done in Afghanistan. We will be sending the Marines back this spring to the Helmand province. My goal is to cover that deployment with a month-long embed but I need your financial help to pull that off. Please visit the Baba Tim Go Fund Me Page to support quality journalism from the front lines.