Is Obama’s plan a Surge or the same thing done better approach?

When a large bureaucracy like the Pentagon is faced with making a major decision regarding an issue as complex as Afghanistan experienced observers know they will see one of two approaches. The first (and by far rarest) option is a radical departure from current operational methods representing a new way forward. The way soldiers from the SBS and Delta handled the fight in Tora Bora during the opening month of the war on terror sorry I guess it is now “overseas contingency operations” is a good example. Faced with a complex battlefield containing armed factions of dubious loyalty and motivation they improvised using small units to maneuver firepower in place of the manpower they did not have.

Their solutions or “lessons learned” according to the unit commander, Dalton Fury, were not recorded in the Army after action system and they have been forgotten probably because taking a truly decentralized approach when deploying American fighting forces is completely alien to senior Colonels and General Officers. The second and by far most common approach from the Pentagon is to do “more of the same but do it faster and better.” That is what the generals tried to sell President Bush back when he sold the surge idea to them. And it appears that is what the generals or most probably the national security team have sold President Obama. It will fail. Dismally.

There has been only one document I have seen in the last three months which shows a clear coherent understanding of the situation in Afghanistan. It was written by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and can be found here. Congressman Rohrabacher is “speaking truth to power” when he writes;

“America then put its emphasis on establishing a central government based in Kabul as the dominant authority in Afghanistan, something no one – foreign or Afghan – has been able to do for centuries.

…A genuine commitment to decentralizing power and authority in Afghanistan is only part of the solution, but a critical one. This is difficult for military leaders, schooled in chains of command and top-down structure, to comprehend.”

The performance of our General Officer Corps in both Iraq and Afghanistan seems to back the good Congressman. They were not comfortable with and had to be forced into the decentralized operations which worked so well during the Iraq surge. They have been unwilling to operate in a decentralized manner in Afghanistan with the notable exception of the U. S. Marine Corps Special Purpose Task Force Afghanistan. That unit has repeatedly fought two to three hundred man Taliban formations with reinforced rifle platoons and beat them like a drum. They are now enjoying unrestricted freedom of movement and bringing security to the remote areas of Farah and Helmand Provinces. But there are only so many Marines the US Army, which continues to favor large isolated bases from which they can commute to the war, is clearly not inclined to operate in a similar fashion and our other allies do not have the ability (even those who have the will) to conduct full spectrum combined arms counterinsurgency warfare.

There are many reasons why this is so but until our allies get comfortable with the idea of very junior lieutenants and sergeants making the battlefield calls, committing their forces when and how they feel while controlling all air and ground delivered ordinance they will not be able to duplicate Marine success. And it takes years of dedicated specialized training to produce a military organization which has a bias for action and the ability to train junior officers and non commissioned officers well enough to be true battle leaders. Battlefield geometry, keeping your cool when things go wrong (as they always do) maneuvering men while controlling air delivered ordinance danger close that is not an easy day and it takes the right men who have the right training to pull off with any degree a flare or élan. More importantly it takes senior leaders with the moral courage and intestinal fortitude to step back and let the men of the ground fight. We do not have many senior leaders like that. Not many at all.

Defensive tactics which do not conform to counterinsurgency doctrine, are stupid, unsafe, and cause needles casualties. Here are three car loads of American soldiers in uniform driving like lunatics down the Jalalabad road in Kabul. They would be much safer if they spread out, mixed with civilian traffic and drove in a reasonable manner like us normal people do. But it is too much fun for these young men to speed around blocking traffic, forcing slow moving cars off the road, and being a general pain in the ass to the public at large. Not smart, not safe, not reasonable.
Defensive tactics which do not conform to counterinsurgency doctrine, are stupid, unsafe, and cause needles casualties. Here are three car loads of American soldiers in uniform driving like lunatics down the Jalalabad road in Kabul. They would be much safer if they spread out, mixed with civilian traffic and drove in a reasonable manner like us normal people do. But it is too much fun for these young men to speed around blocking traffic, forcing slow moving cars off the road, and being a general pain in the ass to the public at large. Not smart, not safe, not reasonable.

Large military formations are not only a hindrance to progress they are completely unnecessary. They seem to be part of a new strategy, hinted at but not so far reviled, of controlling the population centers and the main roads while attempting to bring redevelopment aid to the rural population. That my friends was the Soviet plan a plan that worked good enough for them to bring in about 80 times the redevelopment aid in their first eight years when compared to our bloated, inefficient, risk adverse efforts. I hear this from Afghans all the time by the way and I mean all the time – “why can’t the most powerful country on earth do a little better than the godless Soviets?” What can one say? I don’t know but I do know that there are hundreds thousands of unemployed young men in this country and each of them has only one goal in life and that is to get together enough money to get married. This is a powerful motivator in societies which strictly ban contact between men and woman unless they are direct family or married. These guys will go where the money is and right now the various Armed Opposition Groups (AOG) around the country are paying much better wages to those who will plant an IED or take a few shots at the infidels.

Now here is something interesting reportedly Joe Biden and “Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg, who argued in closed-door meetings for a minimal strategy of stabilizing Afghanistan that one source described as a “lowest common denominator” approach.” According to the linked article (from Bill Gertz who is a complete and total stud in my book for the excellent books he has authored) “The Holbrooke-Petraeus-Clinton faction, according to the sources, prevailed. The result is expected to be a major, long-term military and civilian program to reinvent Afghanistan from one of the most backward, least developed nations to a relatively prosperous democratic state.”

I hate to say this but I am on Joe Biden’s side of the debate. The way forward is using small teams comprised of civilians and military living in fortified compounds an working with Afghan officials at the district, province and shura level. Using the classic inkblot approach we could set up multiple teams in districts where the shura’s have invited them to come and help. Pashtunwali cuts both ways and we could use that code to our advantage by getting the invite in and holding leaders accountable when bad things happen in their respective villages. Bad things will happen by the way and it is important that we demonstrate resolve and commitment when they do. The ability to operate, even in hostile areas, with small groups is something I have blogged about in the past here, here and here. We did it before in 2001 and need to do it again because it is effective and very cheap. Last time I checked the United States was pretty much broke so the cost thing should be important. But more importantly there is am imperative documented in our doctrine yet ignored by our senior military leaders and that is YOU CANNOT COMMUTE TO A COUNTERINSURGENCY.

That tactic exposes your forces to the IED threat costing you in men and material while you gain nothing, win nothing, bring nothing to the people we are supposed to be helping, in short you spend American blood for not tangible good reason at all and that my friends is a crime. Passive risk adverse tactics cost more blood than going aggressive just look at the Marines down south for validation but we are building more FOB’s and sending more “presence patrols” out to be ambushed and shot up by enemies they cannot see or understand because they are isolated from the people and don’t know a damn thing about anything outside their respective FOB’s.

The kind of approach I advocate could produce an acceptable endstate by its very design. Go into the districts, finish the irrigation, road and school work which has already been identified in Provincial plans, and go home. Continue with the effort to train the Afghan military and use the embedded trainers and their units as your localized react force and you have a plan which conforms to current counterinsurgency doctrine. Low footprint, effective, pennies on the dollar to what we currently spend to support all the people we have deployed here the vast majority of whom never leave the bases to which they are assigned.

But we are not doing that. We are bringing in more forces and placing them on FOB’s. There is an expected “surge” of civilian experts but civilians operating under Department of State or US Military security rules are isolated from the population and of little use they tend to hit the DFAC early and horde the pecan pie too which is completely unsat. I was shut out seven days in a row in Kabul on the pecan pie front and am bitter I don’t get to eat at DFAC’s much which is why I get a little carried away on this whole pie thing. It seems from reporting that we are bringing in experts to help the central government build its capacity to administer this fractious land. That’s a great goal but it is also more of the same. Supporting a central government which is clearly every bit as much of a problem for the average citizen of Afghanistan as the warlords/Taliban are is not going to work well for anyone except the companies who win the lucrative contracts to bring civilian “experts” over here. This “Civilian Surge” is supposed to include a ton of lawyers and judges. What the hell do American lawyers and judges know about Afghan legal practices?   From the perspective of an American patriot I can state unequivocally that:

– The lawyers and judges will have zero impact on the Afghan legal system.

– There will never be enough Taliban car bombs, IED’s or direct fire attacks around Kabul to weed out these damn lawyers while they are in a combat zone and vulnerable. (I know lawyer jokes are easy but they are also hard to resist sometimes.)

So if they will make exactly the same contribution their peers have made in the last 8 years (that would no contribution at all) and there is no chance of enough of the lawyers getting killed over here to reduce their numbers and parasitic impact on the American people why send them at all?

Here is a Turkish Army convoy heading into a FOB behind a convoy of French paratroopers. The Turks never drive fast, mix in with the local traffic and do not man turret guns in the capitol. The Afghan civilians like the Turks a lot and go out of their way to point out the difference between how the Turks operate when compared to American, British, and French forces. A head of this group were two truck loads of Norwegian Special Forces who travel like I do in unarmored local vehicles. If I had gotten a picture of them and posted it I suspect I'd be inundated by requests from young women to come intern with Free Range International. The guys looked like young Vikings and they should be out with us doing good deeds daily rather than forced to sortie for a large FOB
Here is a Turkish Army convoy heading into a FOB behind a convoy of French paratroopers. The Turks never drive fast, mix in with the local traffic and do not man turret guns in the capitol. The Afghan civilians like the Turks a lot and go out of their way to point out the difference between how the Turks operate when compared to American, British, and French forces. A head of this group were two truck loads of Norwegian Special Forces who travel like I do in unarmored local vehicles. If I had gotten a picture of them and posted it I suspect I’d be inundated by requests from young women to come intern with Free Range International. The guys looked like young Vikings and they should be out with us doing good deeds daily with us rather than forced to sortie out of a large FOB

Here is an original idea. Not that original actually I got the idea from Old Blue. We have many other nations joining us here under the flag of the International Security Forces Afghanistan (ISAF) flag. These allies include military formations from Muslim countries such as Turkey and the UAE. Why not break them down into Provincial level so that our Muslim allies can provide legal and governance guidance? Forget using American lawyers, or judges, or correctional officers who do not know a thing about this country or its people. Let some of our Muslim allies step up the plate and do some heavy lifting. But the Department of State already has programs to provide police, legal, and correctional training with mentorship to foreign nations. They do not required any original thinking or customization and can be implemented with little effort and supervision by our overworked State Department bureaucrats. That these programs have not produced one iota of positive change since they started several years ago is irrelevant (apparently) to our government.

Another important point these civ mil teams should have females attached. The reason for this is that women in Afghanistan wield significant power inside the family compound walls. They may not be able to go to the bazaar without a male relative but inside their home it is a different story. They will rat out the men folk in a heartbeat if they think they (the men) are doing stupid things. Now imagine this you’re a man sitting in your home and you tell your wife “Mohammad and I are going to go out tonight and set in some IED’s for cash.” How many of you men out there could say that and just screw off with your mates for the night? Think things are different here? Think again guys wives are wives and your average Afghan will pull this kind of stuff at his own peril. Because the wives will exact their revenge not directly mind you but indirectly. Last summer when Amy Sun and her MIT crew were here was the first time I realized how powerful women are in Afghan society. Now the San Diego Sister Cites program had brought over another young woman who has never been in a post conflict zone and you can find her blog here. I do not know her well and have no idea what she will do and experience during her visit but I know Afghanistan and she is in for a treat follow her blog she writes well and see for yourself. And remember she is demonstrating how freedom of action and the ability to interact with the local population in an unrestricted manner can bring rapid improvement and understanding with that population. We have doctrine which stresses this point but do not have commanders willing or able to execute that doctrine.

The newest Milblogger in Jalalabad
The newest Milblogger in Jalalabad

Here is an extract from this recent report about our new strategy in Afghanistan:

Most of the American reinforcements are being deployed to the south of the country, a Taliban stronghold that is one of the largest opium-producing regions in the world. U.S. and NATO officials believe that the drug trade provides the Taliban with billions of dollars each year.

The Obama administration hopes to undercut the Taliban by launching a new counter-narcotics offensive in the Helmand River Valley and other parts of southern Afghanistan. The mission will be the primary focus of the U.S. reinforcements.

Under one facet of the plan, U.S. or Afghan troops will first offer Afghan farmers free wheat seed to replace their crops that produce opium. If the farmers refuse, U.S. or Afghan personnel will burn their fields, and then again offer them free replacement seeds. A senior U.S. military official described the approach as a “carrot, stick, carrot” effort.

I assume this bit a strategic wisdom has been blessed by the new ambassador our first active duty general to become an ambassador who was here as the guy in charge years ago. Back when General Eikenberry assumed command in Afghanistan we could drive down to Kandahar with no problem. By the time he left that was a guaranteed fire fight unless you were embedded in a military convoy and many of them were getting attacked too. It is impossible to generate “change you can believe in” using the same people who have yet to demonstrate any original thinking on this complex problem. Carrot, stick, carrot my ass. That is stick, stick and more stick at the end of which the poor farmer sells his 9 y/o daughter for 500 bucks to give the rest of your family a chance to make it through the winter. Wheat seed who thinks up this kind of madness?

Here is another tip for the military that is going to have to implement this new “mo better” plan. An Afghan farmer with a poppy crop in the ground has gone into considerable debt to get that crop started. Destroying his fields will leave him with nothing. He will be forced to sell his children to get out from under his debt to the drug lords. The fields belonging to the rich and powerful have never been touched to date by the poppy eradication teams and they won’t under this new strategy because the Afghan government will not allow them to be touched. I know that the media says drugs are fueling the insurgency and they are certainly contributing but the real winners in the drug trade are the landowners who rent the lots, seed and fertilizer to share croppers.   Those land owners can be found in Kabul and Dubai as well as   Quetta and Peshawar.   Our government knows this heck even the main stream media is getting around to figuring this out too. The large majority of Taliban make their money on the transport and security portions of the pipeline which is chump change compared to the big bucks being made by the land owners.

So as the new surge rolls out the mandarins of Kabul are most pleased they will make millions providing (or leaning on the providers) secure isolated giant FOB’s. They will be able to skim millions from the completely ridiculous and ineffective police and legal “mentoring programs” which has already deployed thousands of European and American police officers to Kabul where they toil daily in a secure purpose built facility churning out paperwork and having absolutely no impact at all on the ability of the Afghan police to do their jobs. They will make tons of money knowing full well the programs they are skimming millions from will not produce anything for the average Afghan which will allow them to retain power. Change you can believe in? Right.

Combat Operator Podcast and the Civilian Surge for Afghanistan

I had a great interview with Jake Allen from the Combat Operator Ezine. He is just as talented on the radio as he is with the pen and it turns out we had met each other several years ago when his former rifle company commander Dave Furness and I dropped by his home in Salt Lake City. In the small world department I should be seeing the good Colonel tomorrow night when he swings through Kabul. Colonel Furness is irritating over two decades of infantry service, multiple combat tours, and he remains in perfect shape and looks like he’s about 37 years old. Smart as a whip, writes way better than I do, no bad back or trick knee or even good scars but a great friend and I could not be prouder seeing him doing so well. There was that kidney stone incident which (unfortunately for Dave) was witnessed by then Captain now Colonel Eric Mellinger acknowledged as one of the best comedic talent amongst our generation of infantry officers. That is a great story involving surprise, suspense, danger (Dave was driving when the stone hit) lots of bad language and a surprise ending. But you won’t get it from me if there is a Marine lurking out there looking for Mess Night material the FRI blog respects the USMC bashido code so you’ll have to look elsewhere. But it is a damn funny story and one which the good Colonel is most reluctant to tell.

Jake and I had wide ranging interview which touched on contractors and reconstruction a topic which is leading current news cycles. You can listen to the interview here. For those who are interested in the private security market you should bookmark Jake’s ezine he is an excellent writer and has a very astute read on the industry. Private security contracting is a growth industry and Jake covers the industry better than any other writer I know.

Afghanistan could use some civilian fire/rescue mentors with modern trucks and equipment.  Especially if they could call in medevac birds and use the excellent military trauma centers for serious auto accident victims.  That is the kind of operation which would generate nothing but goodwill from your average Afghan
Afghanistan could use some civilian fire/rescue mentors with modern trucks and equipment. Especially if they could call in medevac birds and use the excellent military trauma centers for serious auto accident victims. That is the kind of operation which would generate nothing but goodwill from your average Afghan

 

The “civilian surge” has been a topic getting much press as of late. There is little question that Afghanistan could benefit from a surge of civilian reconstruction types with the money and the ability to fund and supervise redevelopment projects. The question is will this “civilian surge” contain people who can do that. Judging from the feeding frenzy I am seeing in the private security market my guess is the answer is no. There are several large US AID prime contractors operating here and they all share similar traits. They have large corporate headquarters in Washington DC. They protect their field teams with expatriate security operatives and live in heavily fortified compounds which is consistent with the contracts they have been awarded. They have lots of corporate overhead to pay for. When they deploy teams into the Provinces it takes a ton of money. Because these are large corporations who are performing a very large contracts the management of money is very strict which I appreciate as a taxpayer but it slows everything down, especially on large complex projects.

I want to be clear about the fact that these companies are running good programs and are executing their assigned projects professionally. There is no question the people on the ground working for these companies are doing great work no question. The point is a ton of money for these projects goes into the front end and most of it is siphoned off before any comes out the receiving end. That fact which is a common complaint aired by Afghan politicians in the local press and thus a point not lost on the Afghan population is compounded with the lack of urgency and commitment with which aid is being delivered.

Work for cash programs can briefly employ massive amounts of manpower.  But it takes internationals in the districts to allow these programs to make a significant impact
Work for cash programs can briefly employ massive amounts of manpower. But it takes internationals in the districts to allow these programs to make a significant impact

 

As I have said many times before you can still travel throughout the majority of Afghanistan without elaborate security measures. Internationals can set up very secure living compounds using the United Nations Minimum Operational Security Standards (UN MOSS) for about half the cost of building a compound to meet the standards on US AID contracts. We need a surge of civilians but it should be a surge of armed contractors who are able to live in the communities with local security. I blogged about exactly that kind of program here and it is this type of cost effective reconstruction that will be effective because it allows capacity building in Afghan firms while keeping the majority of the reconstruction dollars in the Afghan economy.

I would take that concept one step further by saying we should also consider attaching teams of armed contractors directly to maneuver military units. They could represent one of several current US AID programs which are designed to fund and mentor small to medium Afghan businesses. That would instantly magnify the already considerable positive economic impact of the current Commanders Emergency Funds Program (CERP) by allowing a commander to turn to his civvie contractor team and say “I want to get the machinery in here to open this green marble quarry find a program that can fund it.” That would take one phone call right to the ops guy in Kabul for ASMED or one of the many other US AID programs set up to create Afghan enterprises and you’re funded. Working with US AID money is a pain due to the required accounting and reporting procedures but with a small staff embedded into the military you can manage the paperwork delivering aid and starting capitol with precision. And it is dirt cheap compared to how we are doing it now and better yet it would directly support the efforts of maneuver commanders who are on the ground and know much more about what is needed than their US AID or State counterparts in Kabul.

The French are getting better at moving through the constricted Mahipar Pass.  They are much more relaxed too as they have gotten very used to running this road which leads to Surobi
The French are getting better at moving through the constricted Mahipar Pass. They are much more relaxed too as they have gotten very used to running this road which leads to Surobi

 

Also mentioned in the podcast was a current shortage of weapons in the Kabul area. I was trying to find a good pistol for a friend and discovered that all the old sources are not selling any weapons at the moment. There are a hundred theories floating about concerning why this is the case I have my suspicions but don’t really know. What I can say with authority that it is not a positive sign. And then this pops up today in the media. Ten policemen and a district chief ambushed way up north in Jawzjan Province. There were some dusts ups in that province last summer between the police and armed fighters representing who knows but they didn’t amount to much with the ANP easily driving off their antagonists. The provincial chief of police says the Taliban were responsible and that he has also arrested four of the attackers. That is hard to believe so I put a call into the Bot but he’s in Mazar-e-Sharif which is completely locked down due to today’s New Years visit by the foreign ministers from Iran and Tajikistan. He’s not too sure Taliban would be poking around up there but is alarmed with the proficiency of the bad guys who did this one. Ten killed, four more wounded – that was an ambush conducted with a good degree of skillful planning and execution. We would hate to see that kind of stuff happening with any degree of regularity.

As I said the Bot is on lockdown but I’m not sure what that means. Here is more or less the end of our conversation.

Bot        “On lock down mate going to go on the piss with the boys”

Me        “how are you going to go on the piss if you’re locked down?”

Bot        “I’m not that locked down mate for God sakes man”

Me        “Oh then what does lockdown mean?”

Bot        “It means I’m going on the piss mate what’s the problem”

Me        “You know what I mean where is my Blog post?”

Bot        “Now you done it mate XXXXXX and further more mate here is another fact XXXXXXXXXX etc”

I can’t print the rest because then this post won’t get through my Dad’s net nanny which would precipitate a harsh email from him with foul language which somehow escapes his net nanny via the outlook program. Who knows how that works? For the hundreds who have asked the Shem Bot is fine and will post again once he has recovered from being “locked down.”

Northern Exposure Part Two

Over the last couple of weeks I have been conducting a Regional Security Assessment throughout the Northern Region. I approached this task with minimal planning as far as geographical objectives were concerned. Since it was conducted by myself and my driver only, I didn’t feel the need to generate a formal and extensive  plan. A vehicle, map, GPS, med kit, water, MRE’s,  overnight bag, and personal protection equipment was  satisfactory enough for me to hit the road.

Our journey began with the objective to reach Sherberghan City in Jowzjan Province approximately 140km west  from Mazar-e-Sharif  . One of my  aims was to try and organize a meeting with Gen. Dostum, however that plan didn’t work out  since he happened to be on an overseas visit at that point in time.   So, from Sheberghan we moved further west  toward Andkhoy, Faryab Province which is approximately 75km from Sheberghan. In  Andkhoy, I decided to  visit Aqena, the border crossing between Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. Having  a poor quality map and not  knowing the  quality of the road, it was a stab in the dark.  Along the way I had my driver inquire about distances and other minor details, however the reports  came back  very conflicting (ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours, good road, bad road). It took us approximately one and a half hours to reach the border. Once we reached Aqena, we encountered an Afghan Border Police Checkpoint (ABP CP) where the guards  looked rather surprised and a little confused as to why and what we were doing there.  This area does not receive much attention from the international community.  I thought it would be a good time  to seize the opportunity and  asked for a meeting with the Commander of the border crossing.

The Commander took us in  eagerly and even though the CP finished their lunch, like the  hospitality elsewhere in the country, he  delegated one of his guards to  make a lunch for my driver and I – fried eggs, vegetables, fresh bread and an endless supply of Chai. Over the short period of time we spent in Aqena, I conversed with the Commander about numerous issues ranging from the district situation to the upcoming elections.

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Upon  the conclusion  of our impromptu  meeting, we decided to move back to Andkhoy, and since we had around an hour to pass, we would decide our next leg of the journey along the way. The move back from the border went a little faster and smoother since we were a little bit more familiar with the route. One thing that  we’ve noted along the journey back was the truck drivers’ nervous reaction  to an  SUV rapidly  approaching them at great speed from rear. This is due to this route (along with  other border crossing routes throughout the country) being subject to frequent  armed criminality. However, once we passed each truck, a wave and a smile was well received.

By mid afternoon we were back  in Andkhoy. The next leg of the journey was to head into the southern part  of the province  where the capital, Maymana is located, which is approximately 140 km south of Andhkoy. The trip was rather picturesque; the road in very good condition so speed was no problem. It took us approximately one hour to reach Maymana.  As we moved through southern Faryab, since it was too late in the day  to organize a proper meeting with any law enforcement chiefs, I thought it would be a good chance to speak with local commanders of various checkpoints, and verify certain information as well as  obtaining new information. Once we completed our rounds it was time to move back to Sheberghan in a race against the sunset.

The plan was for us to  stay in Sheberghan for the night, however, the guest house that was organized had little (if any)  security measures and I didn’t think it was worth taking a risk of staying there since Mazar-e-Sharif was only 140 km south.  The main danger for internationals in this region is being targeted by criminal gangs.  We did not know anyone in Sheberghan and could not get a good local assessment on security situation in general or our proposed guesthouse specifically, so I decided to push for Mazar in the dark. The main concern in this region whilst traveling after sunset is the chance of being halted by a rogue CP on the highway which is usually manned by armed criminals, especially in areas such as Chahar Bolak District of  Balkh Province. Other risks include being subject to crossfire when attacks on law enforcement facilities  are  being conducted by  Anti-Government Elements (AGE)/Taliban (TB) groups  along the highway, and these attacks, which were exceedingly rare prior to 2008 have been occurring with greater frequency along our intended route of travel.

Whilst passing through Chahar Bolak District, we encountered what appeared to look like two members of the Afghan National Police (ANP) standing on the road. We know this section of the route quite  well and had never seen a checkpoint in this area before. There is really only one response in a situation like this turning around and going back will expose you for several seconds well within rifle range as you’re turning (there are no fancy J turns on these crappy roads mate) it is best to hit the gas, get the weapon up and be ready to respond if the guys in the road attempt to bring their weapons to bear. Criminal gangs are known to wear ANP uniforms whilst performing their dastardly deeds which is a fact well known to the ANP who always run night time checkpoints in force with lots of ANP vehicles. The two men in front of us who were diving out of the way of my driver were definitely free lancing trouble makers.

Once this unknown CP was passed, we reached Mazar-e-Sharif safely without any further incidents.

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The next day we  proceeded  to Sar-e-Pul Province, which is  located approximately 200km from  Mazar-e-Sharif  in the southern part of the region.  From the Provincial capital, which is of the same name we moved out into the direction of Sangcharak and Gosfandi Districts in order to complete a reconnaissance on a route which leads back into Blakh province.

As  we moved into Sangcharak District, with the weather deteriorating we decided that the remainder of the route would have to be abandoned due to the wet conditions which would slow us down considerably and we would have been still on route in isolated areas which were prone to armed criminality and AGE/TB activity at times after dark. Hand in hand with that, a few days prior to our visit to the area an INGO vehicle containing three expatriates (one of whom was believed to be a reporter for Reuters) was halted and robbed by armed criminals.   Something  that  our friends from the international community have been failing to realize in recent months (especially in the Northern Region, where incidents are predominantly lower in comparison to the rest of the country) is that the days of moving around districts on secondary/isolated routes without adequate security measures  are coming rather abruptly to an end. This isn’t  a Taliban problem it is armed criminality which the Afghan security forces have proved unable to contain.

Following our decision to retreat, we made our way back to Mazar-e-Sharif. The remainder  mission will be resumed shortly.  Over these  two days alone (and there were a few others)  we covered approximately 1400 km along primary and  secondary routes,  calm, medium risk  as well as  hostile areas.  Bearing in mind that this task was executed by a two man team (a driver and a shooter)  – this is something I have come to terms with  whilst operating in Afghanistan. Although this  configuration may not be ideal, it proves that missions of such kind  can be achieved without  spending millions of dollars  annually on multiple expat operators and countless armored vehicles which end up doing nothing more along the routes but cause traffic jams and  dismay  toward the local population. As they say at FRI… “Low Profile = High Speed, Low Drag”! This  is exactly how this task was executed.

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In conclusion, I would have to say that the stance on security measures and operations  within Afghanistan  has always been of a  ‘reactive’ nature. And by stating this, I am  including the collective effort, military and civilian organizations combined.   As opposed to knee jerk reactions which are usually  a result of mitigating incidents well after they have occurred, a proactive posture can actually  be assumed and become an effective tool for achieving goals and missions.  This subject will be elaborated in  the next post.