The Dutch Boy Dilemma

I have been victimized this week by a crashed internet system and one false start on this post. In addition when I do get a little net time I am engaged in several email conversations with FRI readers some of these are so good I may post them as standalone articles. Chris Chivers of the New York Times has been one of the readers I have been chatting with and it is his piece here which is the start point for this week’s post. This post will be unreasonably massive at times confusing but stick with it and I’ll tie all it all together in the end, inshallah. Bonus feature alert: this post includes a photo story board covering last Monday’s assassination attempt on President Karzai’s brother.   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.

Double bad news - being stuck behind an American convoy will triple the commute time to Kabul.  Of greatrer concern is the lack of traffic heading east from Kabul.  The Americans, oblivious to the fighting a few miles ahead, turned off shortly after we got stuck behind them
Double bad news - being stuck behind an American convoy will triple the commute time to Kabul. Of greatrer concern is the lack of traffic heading east from Kabul. The Americans, oblivious to the fighting a few miles ahead, turned off shortly after we got stuck behind them

I commented last week that this story shows the way forward but I was talking in nuanced terms as our democratic leaders would say which is stateist speak for not telling the whole story. The article covers a rifle company from the 1st Battalion 26th Infantry as they conduct a 40 hour sweep in the Korangel Valley of Kunar Province. That the rifle company was conducting a sweep is the good part of the story everything else about it is, to the professional observer, bad. Let us start with the duration of this patrol …  40 hours. That amount of time outside the wire means the troops reached the limit of their endurance given the heavy loads they must carry. In the last war we fought that rifle companies patrolled on their own (Vietnam),  patrolling outside the wire for only 40 hours would have been labeled  light weight. The company patrol Chivers wrote about was anything but light weight – here is the story.

There was one General Officer who left Vietnam with his reputation not only intact but enhanced  was Major General Razor Ray Davis of the 3rd Marine Division. He deployed his under strength, poorly equipped, infantry battalions out into the bush of Northern I Corps (near the DMZ between south and north Vietnam) to find fix and destroy the NVA maneuver regiments who infested the area. Forty hours? Try 21 days or more  of patrolling and if they  were not making contact he flew out, talked with the CO, called in a squadron of CH-46’s (the  same Marine helicopters still in use today) and flew the battalion to an area that showed more promise. My father, an operations officer with one of those battalions, said they smelled so bad at the end of one of these sweeps that when flown out to a Navy LPH, the ship’s captain insisted they strip in the hanger bay throw all their uniforms (what was left of them) overboard and get hosed down with fire hoses before going anywhere else on his ship. That didn’t work out to well for the Captain in case you were wondering.

More bad news - fuel tankers running in a big group with armed security - and still no traffic heading east from Kabul.  That means there is a large French or Amercan Convoy ahead or fighting on the road.  The danger for us is when the traffic is allowed to flow east - they will come three abreast and as fast as their beater cars will take them.  Vehicle accidents are the number one threat to outside the wire contractors followed by ISAF convoy gunners - the Taliban is a close third in our threat matrix.
More bad news - fuel tankers running in a big group with armed security - and still no traffic heading east from Kabul. That means there is a large French or Amercan Convoy ahead or fighting on the road. The danger for us is when the traffic is allowed to flow east - they will come three abreast and as fast as their beater cars will take them. Vehicle accidents are the number one threat to outside the wire contractors followed by ISAF convoy gunners - the Taliban is a close third in our threat matrix.

What has changed? Several things, starting with the amount of armor our troops must wear and ending with the risk aversion and force protection mind set which has infused the United States Military . Between those two data points lies a chain of command which is designed to reflect responsibility away from senior officers a development that I, a retired professional, find reprehensible. Let me cover that last statement first and we can start right here to see the results of a military decision making by committee. The story is about the first female Air Force Academy graduate to die in Afghanistan. She was killed by a anti tank mine on the road between Bagram and Kabul. The  road  was built by the Soviets to bypass the Shomali Plains where they were constantly ambushed back in the day. I took Megan Ortagus, who was embedding with the Army, down that road a month ago and pointed out all the massive pot holes that local children from a recently established refugee camp fill with sand in hopes that passing vehicles will throw them some cash or water. I wish I had a picture but imagine this – the only road connecting our main airbase in Bagram with our bases in Kabul is full of potholes so big that kids are constantly filling them with sand so vehicles can drive at a reasonable pace.   These holes are just the right size to hold a TC 6 or MK 7 anti tank mine –  the most common mines here – and I pointed out to Megan that if we had a military focused on counterinsurgency the first thing they would have done (like 7 years ago) would have been to fix and seal the road between their main airhead and main bases.   We are talking at most twenty miles or so of road     and every night Terry Taliban could have been effortlessly  seeding this route with antitank mines by the hundreds  BECAUSE THE HOLES WERE ALREADY THERE AS WAS THE SAND TO COVER THE MINES.   I also told Megan that when they do mine that road it will be an indicator of bloody times directly ahead. The only question now is who is going to do the bleeding us or our enemies? I don’t know, so lets get back to the story line.

Mk 7 mines - normally found on dirt roads
Mk 7 mines - normally found on dirt roads or unsealed paved roads
TC 6 mine - normally found on dirt roads or unsealed paved roads
TC 6 mine - normally found on dirt roads or unsealed paved roads

As I mentioned earlier, the forty hour patrol tested the limits of endurance of this rifle company for one simple reason – they carry too much weight.   If you are going to go after insurgents who occupy the higher passes of the Hindu Kush Mountain Range (hint, hint) why in the name of God would you be wearing  body armor and helmets?   We had this kind of warfare figured out about 50 years ago when the Marine Corps established the Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, California.   A mountain warfare training rotation was most popular with the troops because they didn’t have to wear  helmet and flak jackets during the training.   All this talk about fielding lighter body armor is ridiculous – we should be talking about no body armor, no ballistic helmets, and patrols that go out and stay out when working places like the Korengal Valley. These days the Pentagon would  recoil in horror at the mere thought of troops stepping one foot off a FOB without full ballistic protection these are the same officers and officials who reacted to the Mogadishu battle in 1993 by trying to buy more F- 32 ground superiority, center of excellence, air dominating, stealth, bat winged, frog footed, super quiet, swift, silent and deadly anti – guerilla fighter jet. I may have the nomenclature on that wrong. OK, OK,  I’m making the plane up but what about armored protection for the vehicles used by ground troops? Did not the battle in the streets of Mogadishu illustrate the need for that? Apparently careful study by our military experts determined that armored vehicles and ballistic plates were not a legitimate requirement for ground combat. Not until Secretary Rumsfeld started taking heat after we had invaded Iraq did anyone find the money to armor up our vehicles and troops.     But now the mere thought of operating without all the armor that the Pentagon was forced to buy about a decade after your average 7 year old could have figured out we should armor up some of our infantry vehicles and buy ballistic armor for all the troops now it is just inconceivable that they operate without it even when they are climbing around 12,000 foot mountain passes. Is it me or does this not strike you as stupid?

Typical result of blocking traffic for convoys - when the cars are able to travel at speed again they end up doing stuff like this.  This picture was taken last Monday after a Frnch convoy moved through the Mahipar Pass
Typical result of blocking traffic for convoys - when the cars are able to travel at speed again they end up doing stuff like this. This picture was taken last Monday after a Frnch convoy moved through the Mahipar Pass

What happens when our men get shot you ask?   I ask what happens when they don’t.   Coach Vince Lombardi had the last word on this topic when  he said “fatigue makes cowards of us all.”   The argument against body armor is that too much weight causes physical exhaustion (lots of orthopedic injuries too) and physically exhausted troops are easier to hit.   That they survive being hit is something which is good but I am firmly in the “I want to hit the enemy and not be hit myself” camp.   I’ve been shot before and it hurts like hell so I’ll do most anything to avoid getting shot again.   I’m all for ballistic armor in most times and places but we are talking serious mountains and you cannot conduct mountain warfare in armor – I don’t care how fit the force is.   Hitting the enemy is what it is all about – and hitting the enemy is easier when you are not dehydrated and exhausted.   Read some of the articles recently published by Mr. Chivers.   He points out the enemy is physically weak, they appear malnourished, they can’t shoot a rifle with any accuracy, they cannot shoot mortars or machineguns in a remotly professional manner, nor can they coordinate among themselves.   These guys suck at fighting so why are we not dominating them like the chumps they are? Why? Because we do not have a clearly defined mission and thus have no understanding of why we are here which results in extreme risk aversion because the only measurement of success is keeping your casualties low as humanly possible. That’s why.

One of the few pics I was able to get because Misael was being such a sissy - you can see the expended brass at these ANP troops feet.  The fighting was long over by this time but the police were still insisting that traffic move along smartly
One of the few pics I was able to get because Misael was being such a sissy - you can see the expended brass at these ANP troops feet. The fighting was long over by this time but the police were still insisting that traffic move along smartly

What is our mission in Afghanistan? I have been here four years and I don’t have a clue. If it is to prevent the return of the Taliban and al Qaeda, that mission was accomplished years ago. They will never be back in any kind of force regardless of when and how we leave. Is it to stand up a central government to allow the people of Afghanistan to join the rest of the functioning core of nation states? That is a noble mission and one I often used to explain why we are here years ago when I first started talking to local leaders in Shrua’s. But our actions on the ground do not remotely correspond to that mission (if that is why we are here.) How can you mentor Afghans if all your diplomats stay completely isolated from them inside a posh embassy throwing endless rounds of parties for each other? Look at the Afghan government. It is judged by all international observers to be in the top three nation sates for official corruption and you can see where all the billions we have spent has gone. Just like the TARP money it has disappeared into thin air and we have nothing to show for it.

The bad guys fired on Karzai's convoy from the high ground to the right.  There are ANA soldiers stationed on in the hills to the left.  The shooter bpicked out the largest, newest SUV in a 12 vehcile convoy and hit it repeatedly from way up the hillside.  That normally takes a machinegun on a tripod with a T&E mechinsim and some stubby pencil math.  You have top dope the gun for the elevation drop - lining up the sights will not work becasue the fall of shot is not a straight line.  This was either some exceptionally good machinegunning or a very lucky shooter.  Remember the ANA is on the adjacent hill not 300 meteres away when the shooter opened up.  Karzai's brother - demonstrating better judgement than most Afghan VIP's was not sitting in the brand new SUV.
The bad guys fired on Karzai's convoy from the high ground to the right. There are ANA soldiers stationed on in the hills to the left. The shooter bpicked out the largest, newest SUV in a 12 vehcile convoy and hit it repeatedly from way up the hillside. That normally takes a machinegun on a tripod with a T&E mechinsim and some stubby pencil math. You have top dope the gun for the elevation drop - lining up the sights will not work becasue the fall of shot is not a straight line. This was either some exceptionally good machinegunning or a very lucky shooter. Remember the ANA is on the adjacent hill not 300 meteres away when the shooter opened up. Karzai's brother - demonstrating better judgement than most Afghan VIP's was not sitting in the brand new SUV.

This is how big the disconnect is between the inside the wire military and the rest of us currently residing on planet earth – I lifted it from Michael Yon’s website earlier in the week:
From: IDR-TCMC-Office Manager
TO:[Distribution list including contractors.]
Sent: Saturday, 16 May, 2009 4:52 PM
Greetings all;
The security state at KAF has been raised. Please ensure that all contractors at KAF, including visitors and transit personnel comply with the following instruction. The security dress state has changed to wearing Combat Body Armour and carrying Helmet when outside a hardened structure. Inside they are to be readily available. There is also now an additional alarm sounding which is a warbling alarm, and is the warning of a Ground Attack and all personnel should move inside a building and await further instructions. Instructions for Op ***** which will cover this procedure will be disseminated in the near future. All contractor personnel are to ensure that they carry their ID on them at all times. Further information is available from the TCMC if required.

Game On.

Game On?   How about Game over?   This is the law of unintended consequences in action and let me explain why.   Our Department of State has insisted on letting the Afghan government do what it wants and one of things they have done is to make the possession of body armor, helmets, weapons, two way   radios, and armored cars against the law unless you are a licensed security company.   Every contractor on that base who owns and issues body armor and helmets to  his or her  employees has violated  the law of the land. This, according to our military, is  grounds for contract termination (failure to comply with all local laws).    Check out my post here which was a cover feature in last March’s Soldier of Fortune magazine.   This  is what happens to contractors working outside the wire who have body armor – note also I had proper licenses.   The NDS  took the body armor from two MIT PhD candidates knowing full well they were clients and that we were operating in accordance with the law. But let us ignore the law like the State Department and our military do with their contractors and look at ramifications.   Say I have 1000 men working construction aboard the Kandahar Airfield (KAF) and receive the memo above.   It is now what military guys call a “specified task” meaning it must be addressed and I must comply or face mission failure. 1000 guys x $1800 or so for average body armor equal $1,800,000 which I would invoice immediately along with a contact modification.   There are over 10,000 contractors working aboard KAF.   Get the picture?

I never thought I'd see a Soviet BMP and American M 113 working side by side.  the BMP looks cool but is pretty mnuch useless becasue it cannot elevate the cannon enough to fight in the mountains.
I never thought I'd see a Soviet BMP and American M 113 working side by side. the BMP looks cool but is pretty mnuch useless becasue it cannot elevate the cannon enough to fight in the mountains.

The military is not congress. They cannot impose unfunded mandates on their contractors. Why do all the construction guys, accountants, cooks, bakers, Timmy Horton’s coffee shop girls etc need body armor and helmets? So they can put them on after a missile hits? The Army used to pull that silly drill in Kabul back in 2005. A rocket would land somewhere in Kabul and all the bases and the embassy would sound alarms sending all hands into bunkers with helmets and body armor. But even the slowest force protection officer began to realize that taking measures to mitigate an event which has already occurred was stupid.   But Tim, you ask, what if more missiles came?   Well we have these things called counter- battery radars which have been around for about 30 years and they so good that the launch point of any indirect fire system is determined before the projectile lands. Even the illiterate peasants commonly conned into launching missiles have figured out that remaining at a launch site is certain death for them. There has not been an indirect fire attack involving volley after volley of rockets in this country since 2001. Not one. Unsurprisingly, this fact never stopped the force protection officers from insisting that all hands wear body armor and helmets after a rockets had landed in Kabul back in ’05. The troops, diplomats and others inside these compounds would only comply for, at most,  four hours before they started taking the crap off because it was uncomfortable (and stupid.)   When you do not have the time, talent or money to do what is important the unimportant becomes important and that is what the memo above is all about.

Contracting officers like the one who wrote the memo above have a very hard job. They can earn no glory, they do not receive praise, the best thing that can happen to them on a tour in Afghanistan is to return home with their rank and reputation. To avoid the temptation or appearance of fraud or favoritism they write requests for proposals which make little to no sense and award contracts based exclusively on the lowest bid submitted. What is the price for disconnecting contracting from performance? You get security guards hired to protect bases who actually murder American soldiers. I know of three such incidents and there are more. I had a friend show up at the Taj who was asked to stand up a guard force as soon as he could to replace an outfit named Golden State. There is no company by that name on the Afghan list of 37 authorized security companies. It was a rogue outfit run by some Afghans who spent time in America and their bid for these guard jobs was less than half what the reputable firms bid. They won, they sucked, they were fired and shot at their Army employers on the way out the door but, being typical Afghans, they did not hit anyone. I asked my buddy if the Army had finally figured out their guard forces needed international supervision and of course the answer was no. Too expensive don’t you see. Our Army will spend 2 million dollars each on ground penetrating radars to mount on the front of the hundreds of multimillion dollar MRAPs despite the fact that they HAVE NEVER DETECTED A MINE IN AFGHANISTAN. But spending money on proper guard forces to watch over our troops on a base oh no, that is just too expensive. Buying uniforms and proper boots for the American contractor mentored Afghan EOD teams who work outside the wire finding and disarming mines daily not enough money for them either. Unlike the massive American contracts to high tech companies that produce worthless gizmos or large just about worthless MRAPs every contract in this country goes to the lowest bidder – a game the Afghans figured out long ago.

Let me provide the yellow for anyone reading this who works in contracting and is interested in how to do it right. I got this tip from a good friend who used this technique in 2003 when he was here serving in the American army. You put out a bid for Afghan companies (I’m not talking armed guards which should always be done by reputable international companies) and you’ll get three bids. Take the lowest number and tell the Afghans this is the ceiling and they should bid lower and tender the bid again. Then take the lowest two bidders and tell them to bid against each other and that lowest bid will win. You will end up awarding projects for less than half of the original lowest bid. That is how you save money if saving money is what you want to do. Any other method is just plain head in the sand stupidity which ignores the experience of the Army and Marine units who used to range around the country like true professionals back in the day. That changed when the Big Army came into the country and started getting things organized (read everyone goes on big box FOB’s to be micro managed.)

I mentioned that  reputable international security firms should be the only ones providing armed guards for military bases. What about the four Blackwater guys who shot and killed two Afghans  after a traffic accident on Jalalabad Road in downtown Kabul?   I have said in prior posts that Blackwater has a country manager who has been here longer than I have and is one of the most knowledgeable Americans I know on the state of play in Afghanistan. I have also written that the BW crews I see outside the wire working with the Afghan Border Police are first rate and I am always happy to know they are out and about when I am working the districts of Nangarhar Province.   They hardly ever get out and about now by the way, but that is a topic for another day. I stand by that and can surmise that the four individuals involved in this incident shot that Afghans for exactly the same reason that ISAF soldiers have killed about 500 civilians in their vehicles and that is because the car “was threatening.”   I don’t know what that means because I live and operate outside the wire and know that Afghan drivers do all sorts of crazy things, none of which seem too threatening to me.   Inside the wire types do not think like the thousands of guys (and gals) who are with me outside the wire.   They have no front specific knowledge, even after being in country for months and months, because they live on FOB’s.   Fobbits have no meaningful interaction with Afghans. That is the nature of the fobbit. They get front specific knowledge from Hollywood movies or dime store novels written by former SAS men or from the many “gun store commando” schools which have popped up in America, Britain and elsewhere.   Apparently the Blackwater guys are now on their way home and will probably avoid prosecution just like all the troops who have killed civilians here in the past.   They should be in jail awaiting prosecution to fullest extent of law.   Being a gun store commando is no excuse for murder and that is exactly what those four  committed.fobbit1

 

This brings us to the story which will not go away the civilians killed in an ISAF air strike in Farah Province. I pointed out in my last post that the United States military doesn’t even have white phosphorous rounds (called Willie Pete or WP) in the inventory a fact which was contradicted by C.J. Chivers himself in the story linked above. I saw this post by some anti war blogger which sited Chivers piece as proof that ISAF was lying about the entire incident. I was forced to go to Google  and yes, it turns out there are now Willie Pete rounds in the inventory for our field artillery. I am still right about the Farah incident that was Tac Air, not field artillery and Tac Air does  not have WP munitions. Willie Pete is used by Americans to mark targets for tactical aircraft to bomb. The last thing anyone on the ground wants to see is a jet jockey who is traveling around 400 mph at 25,000 feet above the battle believing he has the situational awareness to drop bombs where he thinks they are needed. Only in the fevered imaginations of Hollywood producers and Air Force Academy cadets would that make sense. In the real world you shoot a marking round, ask the pilot does he see the mark and if he does you tell him how far away from the mark, using meters a simple compass bearings, the target is and then you give him the direction of attack. The key to using Tac Air is to not allow the pilot to do any thinking at all he does exactly what you tell him and any deviation should result in an immediate abort call followed by a healthy round of cussing at him (or her these days) and then sending the offender home with all his stores so everyone back at the base knows he is a liability who cannot follow directions. Failure to follow these simple rules results in the alarming sight of pilots yelling tally ho and coming straight at you. If you let pilots think they can figure out what is happening on the ground without terminal guidance you they end up bombing Canadian field training exercises, or Marine Corps LAV’s.

That is what WP is for and the only reason why you would not use it against enemy troops in the open is that artillery batteries only load out with so much WP but lots of HE (high explosives.) Were I an infantry commander who saw dozens of enemy troops in the open and had enough Willie Pete (better yet the felt wedge red phosphorus rounds) I’d volley a battalion six on top of them in a heartbeat. It would cause all kinds of gruesome third degree burns and after stripping the survivors of their weapons and radios I’d pay the locals to haul the wounded back to Pakistan where they could die a lingering painful death from infection. There is no law of land warfare against hitting troops with WP or RP rounds not treating them would be a clear violation of international law and if I really did something like that as an active duty Marine I would face a well deserved courts martial. Still it is a good tactic pumps up the troops, demoralizes our enemies, lets the tribal leaders in Pakistan know we are serious about making them calm down and they even might stop cutting the heads off of every stranger wondering about the FATA. But RP rounds cost a lot more than HE rounds and that too would get you in hot water with a Marine chain of command. The only time in the history of the Marine Corps a unit fired hundreds of expensive smoke rounds occurred during the battle of Khe San. On Saint Patrick’s Day 1968 the 10th Marines fired hundreds green smoke rounds into all known and suspected NVA positions in the hills around that embattled outpost. That not only motivated the troops but got rid of the rounds the Marines couldn’t take with them when they abandoned the base.

Back to the incident in Farah Province: The locals claim we killed over 150 innocents which I can promise you is a gross exaggeration that is unverifiable due to our insistence on respecting local religious traditions. Of course if there were 150 bodies buried outside that village in Farah and we insisted on paying compensation for say 24 bodies the locals would be digging up the others with great haste to get the additional money but again, I  digress. There are several things about this incident that  are critical to understanding why we are failing in Afghanistan. The first is President Karzai’s insistence that  we stop using tactical aircraft under all circumstances. You cannot fight a counterinsurgency without the complete and total cooperation of the government you are trying to support. It cannot be done. The continued alienation of the President of Afghanistan (and he is going to win again in August of that I am certain), cannot continue if we hope to ever make progress on our fight to bring security to the people of this country. The continued use of the MSM preferred narrative degrades our counterinsurgency fight and the information warriors of the American military do nothing about this from their desks on the big box FOB’s. They cannot even see .af, .com; or .edu websites on military computers all they see is .mil websites. I know, you can’t make this kind of strangeness up. The detail in this story one for which I was taken to task at Registan.net is the ability of the Taliban to come into a village and force the people to act as human shields at the point of a gun.

I have said before that driving around Kabul like a bat out of hell is stupid and results in dead civilians and injured troops.  This is one of the reasons that the government of Iraq has now banned all "tactical" driving and I am sure the Afghans are not far behind.
I have said before that driving around Kabul like a bat out of hell is stupid and results in dead civilians and injured troops. This is one of the reasons that the government of Iraq has now banned all "tactical" driving and I am sure the Afghans are not far behind.

It seems that a healthy percentage of our no knock HVT Special Forces raids result in the killing of local men who, as expected, grab their guns and race out of their compounds to help defend their neighbors. Yet every report we see of the Taliban using villagers as human shields implies that no local men put up armed resistance. Does that make sense to you? The local men are more than willing to fight our tier one Special Forces operators, yet cower in fear and act like a flock of sheep when groups of Taliban show up in the village? The truth is somewhere in the middle no group of Taliban is going to heard a bunch of Shinwari (dominate Nangarhar Pashtun tribe) into a hut and shower them with Willie Pete grenades and get away with it. But they could do that to the Kuchi villagers of Little Barabad because that village is surrounded by Shinwari tribal peoples who could give a rat’s patootie  about the Kuchi’s and would not lift a finger to help them. Clearly there are villages that are vulnerable to Taliban intimidation  but they are a minority. There are four kinds of tribes in Afghanistan; ones that want to be left alone (Nuristan and Kunar Provinces have many of them); ones that are interested in making money and cooperate with both sides to do just that (the Shinwari are the classic example); tribes clearly affiliated with the Taliban mostly in the south; and tribes that want our help to bring security and reconstruction to their lands that would be all the tribes of the north, most of the west, some in the east and none in the south. Our answer to this complex human mosaic is to treat all tribes exactly the same. Again does that make sense to you?

Our current military Afghan Campaign can best be illustrated by the old Dutch Boy with his finger in the dike parable. We cannot take our finger out of the dike or it will implode, we cannot try something new to solve the problem of a small breach in the dike because we are afraid it will make the problem worse. Every year the commander rotates and a new guy puts his finger in the dike hoping against hope that the dike will not fail on his watch. At the end of that year he goes home to never again worry himself about Afghanistan, its peoples or its problems. We can do better but that takes a leader with the understanding and ability to change our approach radically. That could have happened if the plan floated by General Conway to let the Marines handle Afghanistan was accepted Generals Mattis, or Kelley, or Allen any of them have the character and ability to change  a failing strategy and they have junior General Officers like Hummer, Osterman, and Nicholson (to name a few) to back them up along with a lions’ brood of experienced combat infantry colonels (the army probably has a bunch with equal ability and talent, I just don’t know them and they do not appear to be operating in Afghanistan.)   But that is not going to happen so we wait for the next rotation of Big Army and our NATO allies to come put their fingers in the dike while spending billions and billions of dollars we do not have pursuing a strategy that  is guaranteed to fail.

Status quo ante bellum

My last post has generated considerable interest from all over the blogsphere, providing me a great opportunity to restate a few of my firmly help beliefs about Afghanistan. One of the first and most contentious of my views is that al Qaeda and their Taliban allies will never again run Afghanistan no matter what happens from this point forward.   Status quo ante bellum means “the way things were before the war” and it is not possible for the Taliban to ever get back to that point.   This is  important  because you will still see articles in the press emanating from Washington saying that they will.  I base my reasoning  on four years of traveling about the country and talking with local people.   The Taliban were ultimately despised for their self righteous cruelty, just like al Qaeda in Iraq.   They filled a power vacuum back in 1996 bringing justice and the rule of law to a country with no infrastructure, no central government, no functioning economy, and ruled by warlords who had varying degrees of competency and cruelty.

Afghanistan now has a good road network, a functioning central government, and an increasingly  capable army.   The Taliban can at best, leverage their popularity and numbers in the south for a seat at the table with the central government but that is about the best they could do if we pulled out tomorrow   and let the chips fall where they may.   Look at how the Pashtun tribesmen are reacting to the Taliban who have taken over the Swat Valley in Pakistan – do you think Afghans want a return to that?    They don’t and they have enough guns, organization and support from the people to ensure they will  never be  under the Taliban yoke again.

Yet we continue to battle the Taliban, their various allies and the, “fight for pay” cadres.   The intensity of combat increases with each passing year, as do the numbers of Armed Opposition Groups.   We are losing ground, a fact that led  to the relief for cause of General McKerinan … who Sarah Palin accidentally called “Gen McClellan”  during a debate last summer, proving yet again her uncanny grasp of complex affairs of state. It appears that Gen McKerinan had what Abraham Lincoln diagnosed as General McClellan’s problem  … a case of the “slows”. The relief for cause of a four star general is no small matter.  Clearly things are supposed to change in our approach to the Afghan Campaign. But, one must ask, “what change?”

We are fighting an insurgency.   Military formations facing a competent insurgency far away from their homeland and among people who are culturally, linguistically, religiously, and ethnically distinct are at a severe disadvantage.   Counterinsurgencies can be won but they can cost a fortune in either time, money, munitions or men, or for that matter, all of the above.   Let me refine that … they will cost a fortune in time or money or munitions or men if you have a military that has  the organization, doctrine, training, equipment  and public support, including time, to wage counterinsurgency warfare.   They will cost a larger  fortune in time and money and munitions and men if  you have a military that  is not organized, trained and equipped for counterinsurgency warfare.   With the exception of the Taliban, none of the military organizations currently operating in Afghanistan  is fully organized, trained and  equipped for  that war.   This story provides a typical example of the consequences of establishing what I term the big box FOB around the contested south to fight a counterinsurgency. In order to accommodate the expected surge in troop levels, the U.S. Army needed to expand its  base in Zabul Province. An Army captain who leads the local embedded training team working with the Afghan Army (and who  belongs to a separate task force with a completely different chain of command), warned the base CO that the expansion would cut off a vital karez (water) access to  the locals, a fact certain to  cause problems. He was  ignored until the Army realized that cutting off the karez access tunnel was in fact causing real problems with the locals. At that point they engaged the local shura but it was too late. The Afghans reacted with indignation and cold fury at the thought that the Army would cut off their karez. The reaction  was  expected by old Afghan hands.  Either the villagers were rightfully outraged or they were  posturing because they knew that such behavior  would  get them bigger compensation payments (your tax dollar at work one more time). But as the story moves on, we find that  the Taliban had beaten the Army to the punch. The elder from the one village that  agreed to cooperate, was paid a visit by the local Talibs and lost an ear. Things of this nature cannot  ever be allowed to happen in a counterinsurgency fight.

In counterinsurgency warfare there is one simple imperative; who stays wins. This extract from the article linked in the Belmont Club (the best milblog going) says it all.

And unfortunately a reality of this kind of war is that civilians have no choice but to support the group that exerts the most pressure on them. So in order to be effective, the counterinsurgent must exert more authority and control and protect the civilians over a long period of time. Temporary security is self-defeating because of erosion of trust and exposure of the population to retribution. Furthermore, to be successful the counterinsurgent must form a closeness to the population at the local levels to compete with and edge out the guerrilla and insurgent who by nature are closer and more connected to the population than the central government; centralized counterinsurgency is less effective, local effective governance and security are more effective.

The United States military and her NATO allies are not trained or organized for  this kind of warfare.   The big box bases we are building would be useful if we were going to exercise the “Carthage Solution” but we do not do that kind of thing unless we are involved in a “total war.”   See show # 23 in attached link – Dan Carlin is one of the best history podcasts going – every episode is worth listening to.Counterinsurgency warfare requires close cooperation between the host country and foreign troops.   But we don’t have that.   We have this the President of Afghanistan calling for the end of air strikes based on an incident I blogged about last week and one which appears to be the work of the Taliban.   The end of air strikes?   How the hell do you fight a counterinsurgency without using tac air?

You can’t. We have a huge problem. The Afghan and American led ISAF forces need to be in complete agreement, presenting a united front having   a simple message. Something like this:

“We are fighting for the people of Afghanistan.   We do not run. We do not hide. We do not throw acid on little girls nor do we behead little  boys.   We fight for the people. We will not stop. We will not waver. We will fight until every armed opposition group in this country sends their foreign lackeys away and joins us in peace as brothers.”

I’m no expert but that is a good start on a message which would play well in the local market if used over and over and over.   It is bold talk which must be backed up with bold action which is, of course, the problem.   A problem that is part self inflicted due to our risk adverse poorly thought out military plans and in part the work of a dying organization – the main stream media.

Here is the opening from a Reuters “correspondent” which uses the preferred main stream media narrative and also indirectly links to my last post.

Life as 8-year-old Razia knew it ended one March morning when a shell her father says was fired by Western troops exploded into their house, enveloping her head and neck in a blazing chemical, she writes. Now she spends her days in a U.S. hospital bed at the Bagram airbase, her small fingernails still covered with   flaking red polish but her face an almost unrecognizable mess of burned tissue and half her scalp a bald scar.

Well, no shit.   Life normally changes when an 8 year old girls head and torso are enveloped in a blazing chemical.   That sort of   thing is a real bummer and in Afghanistan normally happens to older girls who have angered  their husband’s family.   There is a reason why Afghanistan is the only country in the world having a  female suicide rate  higher than the male rate.   I am not ignoring the horrible fate that befell  this young child – I do think she is lucky to be cared for by ISAF who at least have access to strong pain killers.   Believe it or not opiate based pain medicine is in short supply throughout the third world which is why the DEA looks like a bunch of retards when they insist that using the poppy to make morphine is off the   table. Absolute mouth breathing retards. Spraying poppies with aerial delivered herbicide  is the  kind of stupidity that  should be rewarded with a wood shampoo and three years in prison, not with promotions and fancy corner offices in DC. Sorry,  again I digress.   War is a horrible thing and nobody understands better or grieves stronger for the loss of innocent life than the American military and our ISAF allies. But war is war – what does focusing on a wounded child do to help us in our understanding of what is happening in Afghanistan?   Not one damn thing. It simply allows the MSM to parade their sense of moral superiority and self righteousness in front of the world at the expense of the men and women who are doing the fighting.

Here is something you’ll never see in the main stream media narrative.   “Life as 8-year old Monique knew it changed forever when a Volkswagen sized shell fired from one of the  American battleships off the coast of France slammed into her summer beach home in Normandy on the 6th of June.”     Or this – “Life for 13-year old Jesse Dirkhising changed forever the morning of September 26 when the homosexual couple living below young Jesse and his mother decided to spend the evening raping and torturing him.”   Poor Jesse was killed the same weekend as Mathew Shepard and even though the drug addicts who killed Mathew said they were after money, not young homosexual males, the media and HBO had a feeding frenzy telling the American people Mathew was killed due to our “intolerance.”   They made Mathew (who was gay) into a martyr.   He was and remains the preferred media narrative on homosexuality in America   – not the two rapists who killed young Jesse.   The main stream media doesn’t want to inflame the passions of us gun carrying, bible loving, rubes.   They determine which stories become part of our national dialogue – and stories about homosexual murders and rapists are not ever going to be on their radar screen anymore than stories about the poor souls who jumped out of the World Trade Towers on 9/11.

But they are soon to be gone, to be  replaced by people like me who know what they are talking about, have strong opinions which they do not hide, and care about something bigger than themselves … which in my case is   the United States of America and our beautiful constitution. A constitution  that,  I have learned, is the envy of Canadians, Australians, Brits and Kiwi’s, all of  whom want to live as  free men,  not wards of the state.

So the context of the preferred media narrative is well established – if a girl is horribly wounded during fighting between ISAF and the Taliban than that girls was victim of “a shell fired by western troops.” What kind of shell? what ordnance do we have that penetrates houses, detonates, yet leaves the people inside alive?   Anyone know what that can possibly be?   I do – a Willie Pete hand grenade which apparently the Taliban were using in attempt to kill the non combatants they had herded into local compounds.   Our air delivered ordnance, artillery, and mortars would not have   detonated inside a house and caused just chemical burns -they would have killed all inside.   We don’t even have WP rounds anymore – we use felt wedge red phosphorous rounds that detonate way above the ground.   Willie Pete was phased out of our inventory about 20 years ago.   I know technical details – we can’t expect that from Reuters “correspondents” now can we?

American infantry stripped down to as light as they can possible be with all the modern force protection gear.  There is only one way to fight insurgents in mountainious terrain and that is with no body aromor, no helmets, just a little food, water and ammo. Anyone who thinks they can do thte job in body armor and helmets is a deluded fool who have never humped the mountains of eastern Afghanbistan.  Photo by Tyler Hicks of the New York Times
American infantry stripped down to as light as they can possible be with all the modern force protection gear. There is only one way to fight insurgents in mountainious terrain and that is with no body aromor, no helmets, just a little food, water and ammo. Anyone who thinks they can do thte job in body armor and helmets is a deluded fool who have never humped the mountains of eastern Afghanbistan. Photo by Tyler Hicks of the New York Times

But we can find accurate technical reporting on the military in the New York Times (of all places) which has featured the work of C J Chivers as of late.   Mr. Chivers is a former Marine infantry officer who has been reporting from inside the Kunar Province where he is spending considerable time embedded with our troops.   C.J. broke the news about the night ambush I commented on in my last post.   This guy knows his topic and is giving it to us straight – he will no doubt soon be downsized – bet a 20 spot on it – but for now he is one of the few main stream media correspondents who knows the job.   He wrote a piece last week about two Marines who are in an outpost mentoring a squad of ANA deep in the Koringal Valley.   He titled his piece “Dream Job” which is what I’d expect from a former Marine infantryman and that title alone vaulted him past all competition to become my favorite newspaper reporter of all time.

We have hamstrung our efforts by placing our maneuver forces in “big box” FOB’s.   Afghanistan as viewed from behind the wire of a big box is not the Afghanistan I know and see daily.   It can’t be – that is nature of an isolated, high security FOB – it completely removes you from meaningful interaction with the local people.   Adding to the problem is the “main stream media” preferred narrative which is being used as a wedge to divide us even more from the people we  are supposed to be here to protect.   Chivers’ recent articles provide an example of a rational way forward for our military efforts in Afghanistan and this will be the start point of my next post.

Nothing replaces being there in counterinsurgency warfare for both military and reconstruction specialist.  This is a working lunch in downtown Gardez last week concerning public works projects we will be doing this summer.
Nothing replaces being there in counterinsurgency warfare for both military and reconstruction specialist. This is a working lunch in downtown Gardez last week concerning public works projects we will be doing this summer.

Collateral Damage

It is time to turn the ole gimlet eye onto the news, cut through the clutter, provide a little ground truth, and introduce another obscure military concept to the FRI family and their informed friends. The start point is this article concerning the killing of a little girl by the Italian army ISAF contingent in Herat which I want to compare to the current civilian casualty flap in Farah Province where over 100 people are reported to have been killed in ISAF air strikes. In my opinion one these incidents should result in a murder charge and the other is the way things have to be but we are not managing that message well at all.

The facts as reported about the Italian shooting seem very clear. They overtook a civilian vehicle but reported it to be driving at high speed they claim to have fired warning shots but TV footage of the car shows it was hit repeatedly in the left rear quarter panel area indicating the shooter was behind the vehicle. The shooting resulted in the death of a 12 year old girl and the Italians drove right past after shooting this car load of people without even stopping. That is murder. There is no way to justify it as anything else based on the facts presented in the news article. Most civilian traffic will attempt to stay in front of convoys because once overtaken you’ll join 100’s of other vehicles in a miles long 20 mph rat line. Which of course is point #1 how can the Italians overtake a racing car in their armored troop carriers? They can’t.

It is a common technique for suicide bombers to slow down and wait for a convoy to draw close and then detonate their vehicles. It is also common for the slow moving traffic to allow convoys to overtake them too. These convoys pass vehicles all the time so that fact that this car slowed to allow the convoy to draw near and pass was also very typical behavior. I have mentioned this whole convoy procedure thing so many times that my Dad will send emails sounding like this; oh great son another post about convoysif I didn’t know better I’d mistake you for a whiner. At risk of receiving yet another email of this nature let me again attempt to point out the problem with convoys who shoot at vehicles they think to be VBIED’s.

His Excellency Gul Agha Shirzai, Governor of Nangarhar Proince the day after he withdrew from the presidential race.  Mr W and I were bringing him good news - very good news about but the Govenor was clearly both exhausted and pre-occupied.  Gov Shirzai is a very powerful, respected, experienced leader and stepped aside for a damn good reason.  More on this towards the end of the post
His Excellency Gul Agha Shirzai, Governor of Nangarhar Proince the day after he withdrew from the presidential race. Mr W and I were bringing him good news - very good news about but the Govenor was clearly both exhausted and pre-occupied. Gov Shirzai is a very powerful, respected, experienced leader and stepped aside for a damn good reason. More on this towards the end of the post

John Boyd, who I had the pleasure of meeting once, is one of those eccentric’s often found behind the scenes in military history. He was a Colonel in the Air Force with the reputation as a strategist and unorthodox reformer. One of his greater contributions to military science was the Observe Orient Decide Act (OODA) Loop. Here is the Wikipedia entry on the subject:

According to Boyd, decision-making occurs in a recurring cycle of observe-orient-decide-act. An entity (whether an individual or an organization) that can process this cycle quickly, observing and reacting to unfolding events more rapidly than an opponent, can thereby “get inside” the opponent’s decision cycle and gain the advantage. Frans Osinga argues that Boyd’s own views on the OODA loop are much deeper, richer, and more comprehensive than the common interpretation of the ‘rapid OODA loop’ idea

Boyd developed this theory after an analysis of enemy tactics during air to air engagements over Korea during the conflict there. At the time the Soviet MiG-15 was faster than the American F-86 Sabre and they were operating from Chinese airfields close to the fight while the American jets would arrive with maybe 15 minutes of fuel. The MiG could out-climb the Sabre at all altitudes, and it had a greater operational ceiling.   But the MiG had design flaws resulting in poor control at high speeds, a low rate of roll and directional instability at high altitudes. Boyd recognized that the way of taking advantage of these flaws was to enter a series of intricate turns designed to make the MiG react to the Sabre. Once the MiG was committed it just a matter of time before the Sabre was able convert his high speed maneuver advantage to get a gun solution using the K14 radar gun-sight, which was designed to use derivative movement information for the firing solution. This is why there is a Top Gun course and whatever the Air Force calls their jet fighter school which obviously lacks cool factor or we’d have seen a movie about it.

Confusing techie version of the Boyd OODA loop
Confusing techie version of the Boyd OODA loop

For earthbound gunfighters the OODA loop also has great utility. The best example would be the famous (in my circles anyway) Tueller drill. Named after Salt Lake City Police Sergeant Dennis Tueller (he was a Gunsight instructor too) it is a simple demonstration of perceived vs actual risk. The drill assumes an assailant armed with an edged weapon is being uncooperative and is designed to show how close is too close in that situation. The assailant stands back to back with a shooter who has a holstered pistol and is facing a target 7 yards away. On cue the assailant starts to run and stops when he hears the pistol report the shooter presents his weapon to the target and delivers a controlled pair center mass. A well trained shooter using a good rig and pistol can deliver a controlled pair from the holster in 1.1 to 1.3 seconds – about the time it takes a young adult male to cover the 21 feet.

Twenty one feet is about three car parking spaces or the length of a slightly bigger than average room.   Most people feel safe with that much room between them and a stranger.   If an assailant starts at you full speed from that distance only the best trained top tier shooters in the world have a chance of presenting a pistol and firing two effective shots. And that is only if they have already decided to shoot;   the step in the OODA loop model which takes the longest to work through.   The Tueller drill is a perfect example of training designed to improve OODA loop decision making. By illustrating how close is too close and reinforcing the concept with dynamic training the students learn how to make the critical shoot don’t shoot decision faster based off legitimate state of the art training.

Which brings us to ISAF convoys and machinegunners;   ISAF convoys over take civilian traffic and pass on coming civilian traffic as a matter of routine. Convoy gunners are responsible for recognizing potential threats, warning them to keep their distance, and firing on them when that warning is ignored. Although ISAF convoys are slow they will still close with on coming traffic at a rate of 60 feet per second which is 3.5 car lengths.   On a flat road with perfect visibility a convoy gunner has about 60 seconds – the time it takes a vehicle to reach him from just outside the max effective range of his machine gun – to determine if a vehicle is a threat.   There are very few places in Afghanistan with that much flat terrain – my guess would be that the average civilian car to ISAF convoy encounter is around 10 to 15 seconds long.   What do you think it would take to get your attention, have you orient your weapon, then make the critical friend or foe decision before firing into an oncoming car?

To distinguish potential threats in the normal chaotic local traffic clutter requires gunners with enough knowledge to apply the rule of opposites. Suicide vehicle drivers tend to have a signature, they tend to behave erratically, and in order to detect one in time to warn and engage him you would have to detect him a long way off. If you think through this process – especially while driving so you can do a little real time war gaming – you will come to the same conclusion I have. And that is our counter VBIED measures will never work because it is not possible for a soldier to complete the OODA loop and reach an informed firing solution given the small amount of time, short distances, and number of innocent people who drive like lunatics in Afghanistan.   You cannot recognize a VBIED that fast – not possible – so why the hell are we still shooting 12 year old girls in this country? Because we have the wrong troops here.   Killing people is serious business best left to professionals.

Then there is the story of the 100 dead civilians, victim of an ISAF air strike. Apparently the Afghan Army responded in support of a police post which had been repeatedly attacked by fighters who disappeared into some small hamlet in Farah Province. The Taliban continued to fight from that hamlet and ISAF air was called in to deal with them. ISAF air is not controlled by the Afghan army which means American trainers or an SF team was with them to handle the tac air. The Taliban starts a fight, kills a few of the local cops, goes to ground in a local compound which we blast causing the deaths of all inside you tell me who is the asshat? Not us this is what happens when you allow the Taliban to operate out of your village. And don’t tell me the poor villagers are defenseless in the face of these swarms of Taliban which just appear out of nowhere in their midst. They are anything but defenseless and the last time I checked there was the Kharan Desert just south of Farah province so where are all these Taliban fighters coming from anyway?

The people in Farah are rioting over this incident; the politicians are making hay with it. Time magazine is outraged (I know I could give a rats ass too about what Time thinks) and the newly rehabilitated President Karzai has chimed in to declare the incident unacceptable. This is not the same as all the previous incidents where we acted based on false intelligence because we are not smart enough to confirm targets with ground based assets this was hot pursuit and they have to end the same way every time with a bang not a whimper. Body counts are irrelevant we will never kill enough Taliban to win what we need to do is bring security to the people.     Do the reconstruction we said we would do, and go home. But to do that we must deal with armed assaults by putting a hurting on those doing the assaulting.   You cannot let these guys ambush you time and time again with impunity.   They want to fight? fine we fight and when that happens they die.   That is how it has to be.

I had a dream – in that dream my Commander in Chief gets President Karzai into the oval office and leans on him like he does the lawyers representing the secure debt holders of Chrysler Motors. He tells Karazi in no uncertain terms how things are going to be and to stop the pissing and moaning over civilians who give sanctuary to Taliban fighters. He’ll allow him to continue to get upset over random acts of stupidity like the Italian shooting, which I think to be murder anyway but would make him toe the line on civilian casualties which were taken when we flew in SUPPORT OF HIS ARMY WHO WAS IN CONTACT AT THE TIME. If he doesn’t like it then the Chief of Staff Rahim “Boom Boom” Emanual might just take him for a ride and give him some truck music Chicago style.   Just like we do to hard working honest Americans who attempt to discharge their fiduciary obligations in accordance with our laws and blessed constitution. If the President can bully them why not our allies too?

Yeah it is a dream but if the President of the United States can attack private citizens engaged in the execution of their fiduciary obligations to clients and expose them to harassment and ridicule for refusing to sell their clients out in order to benefit the auto unions than why can’t he do a little arm bending to benefit all the citizens of this country? Isn’t that his job now? Well.Chris Matthews leg says he is executing all duties flawlessly so what do I know?

I mentioned a rehabilitated President Karazi because by my calculations August’s presidential election was decided about five days ago and Karzai is the winner. The day after Nangarhar Provincial Governor Gul Agha Shirzai withdrew from the presidential race I had the following conversation with my local fixer/manager/man of influence Mr. W.

Me: what is going on the President Karzai and why is the Governor so down?

Mr. W: He is the leader of our country and a great man. His Excellency Governor Shirzai is tired is all he too is very happy for our country

I thought Karzai was just the mayor of Kabul who cannot even stop his ministries from preying upon the citizens let alone govern?

When he first started he was just Kabul mayor but he had no one below who knew about government and it was bad. But he now learn how to govern and how to work with the Americans and this is the most important thing to work with Americans.

What about Marshall Fahim? Isn’t he a warlord from the north?

No he is great Mujahedeen leader from the north and also a great man

What? When did all this happen? How long have you been thinking that Marshall Fahim and the President are the future of your country?

Ohfor five maybe six days now.

Ole Mr. W – demonstrating a text book use of one of most potent tools of the Scots Irish tribe irony. This from a man who as child worked on an NGO project in Jalalabad during the Taliban times carried a flag for escorting female NGO sponsored health awareness workers.   His job was to escort them in public and then stand outside the compound during their home visits so that all knew the woman was out and about on official government business and should not be beaten on sight. For this he earned 5 kilos of wheat per day and now Mr. W, who is the driving force behind many aid programs which target the female population because he believes their education and empowerment is key to the future of his country, is mastering irony too.

Scout is getting bigger but has started wondering out of the room and pretending to be asleep when I try to read my posts back to her.  Is it me or is that not a familar female coping mechinism?
Scout is getting bigger but has started wondering out of the room and pretending to be asleep when I try to read my posts back to her. Is it me or is that not a familar female coping mechinism?

It would appear that President Karzai has quietly built a capable coalition during these last 100 days despite snubs from both VP Biden and President Obama. It was rumored that Speaker of the House Pelosi commissioned a hand crafted Haitian-American Karzai voodoo doll for just 375,000 tax payer dollars into which she plunged needles dipped in Newt’s urine. Newt Gingrich urine; not urine from the small amphibian known to all Disney fans as a common witch spell ingredient. Nothing but the best for our speaker and that includes the urine used on hand crafted voodoo dolls. But none of that fazed President Karzai who is off to Washington to deal with Obama with a recently acquired position of strength.   Intuition tells me that Karzai has taken the measure of our bright, handsome, articulate, President and decided to stay in the game despite months of our side (the most talented and honest administration ever) hinting he should collect his chips and go home. I wonder why that is?

Killology

There were a series of news stories which aroused more than a little interest amongst the circle of professional infantrymen I correspond with. One of those stories concerned young lieutenant leading a nighttime ambush patrol with his platoon from the 1st battalion of the 26th infantry. And what a story it is they patrol onto the bad guys side of the mountain, set up a classic linear ambush with all the fixings claymores, hand grenades and machineguns, along a known trail and within hours bag a squad plus of Taliban. There are few things in life more gratifying than going to the enemy’s side of the mountain, kicking his ass like he’s a punk, and with the help of Rotary CAS (gunships) hunting down and killing all the leakers just so everyone in the area understands who the apex predators are. Classic infantry tactics executed by proficient, aggressive infantrymen; I’d donate a kidney for the opportunity to do a mission like that as would several thousand of my good friends. As you’ll note in the story all involved say this bold move has sent shock waves through the Korangal Valley because the Taliban are not used to having the Americans snooping around their neck of the woods at night annihilating all the bad guys unlucky enough to cross their path.

Megan Ortagus from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies spent so time outside the wire on her last embed.  This has nothing to do with the post but I thought ...well it is a good picture.
Megan Ortagus from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies spent some time with the Freerange crew outside the wire on her last embed. This has nothing to do with the post but I thought ...well it is a good picture.

Then there was this story about an American army convoy getting ambushed repeatedly as they exited the small hamlet called Doab in Nuristan Province. There was nothing unusual about this tale. The Army went in with a large convoy for an overnight stay in a remote Nuristan valley and on the way out had to run a gauntlet of ambushes. They suspect the local village elders were complicit in the attacks and they are without question correct. Nuristan is a province where the people are linguistically and ethnically distinct from other Afghans. They have a long history of feuding with their neighbors, all of them mind you, and their women are highly prized as wives among other Afghan tribes because they have a reputation for delivering many children and enjoying sex. I doubt that is 100% true but who knows? What is a fact is that there is no way armed opposition groups made their way into this remote valley without the permission and support of the local village leaders. These are a remote clannish people who have spent the last 2,000 years defending their wives and daughters from raiding parties by horny teenagers from the rest of the country. I have no idea why we would venture into Nuristan in the first place those people want to be left alone and I’m all for that. If we are there because our National Intelligence Assets think that Al Qaeda will infiltrate through Chitral and destabilize the government than I say those assets should actually get off the FOB’s and try to infiltrate into Kabul through Nuristan. There are no less than 1,473 routes into Kabul from Pakistan that are easier and do not involve tangling with Nuristani’s.

Upon reflection I take that back – it is probably easier to move through Nuristan now that we have built all those roads in there.   My point is that we don’t need to be in every remote valley or hamlet to do what needs to be done in this country.   If the remote villagers don’t want our help concentrate on the vast majority of the country who does.   The only enemies operating in Nuristan pay through the nose to operate there and the only reason they do that is to get at Americans who they mistakenly think are isolated and vulnerable. That was what the fight in Wanat was about last year and it cost us 9 KIA. The villagers and their paymaster guests from Pakistan got a chance to experience consequences of trying to overrun and American position but putting an ass whooping on them was small consolation given the cost.

I am straying way off the story line again anyway there was nothing unusual about this ambush except that Chim Chim was along for the ride and he told me something fascinating. He said the fight from beginning to end was controlled by the BCT (Brigade Combat Team) headquarters in Jalalabad via drone feeds. That surprised me, there is no way a Marine regimental commander would reach around a battalion commander to control a fight. Ever it is just not done and this news seemed to validate the grave concern my peers and I had in the 80’s and 90’s as technology evolved allowing commanders from on high to micromanage units under contact. After thinking it through I have come up with an interesting angle. I know a few guys from that BCT and they are first rate.   They have a solid commanding officer and the brigade chief of staff is well known, well liked and much respected by the local politicians and leaders in Nangarhar Province and no doubt Kunar Province too. It takes a ton of time, patience, and ability to accomplish as much as that Lieutenant Colonel has during his short time here. The current BCT has done as much as they can possibly be done give the constraints they must deal with to engage and support the government which is critical in counterinsurgency operations.

out-the-hill-main-st-dow-ad
Downtown Doab, Nuristan Province Afghanistan

These two enemy contacts explain a lot about what kind of forces we have in country, what kind we need in country, and why the move made by the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Conway, to take over operations in Afghanistan was brilliant (although DOA due to inter-service rivalry.) To help illustrate my point for those of you who are not military professionals I am going to introduce a topic most have never heard of or thought about. It is time to talk about Killology.

Former Army Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman coined the term Killology back in the early 90’s when he published a book of the same name and subtitled The Price and Process of Killing in Battle. One of the topics he covers is the misconception most people have of the fight or flight response. The fight or flight model applies only to extra-species confrontations; for all inter-species conflicts there is a four option model; fight, flight, posture, or submission. When confronted by a rattlesnake you can kill the snake or leave the immediate area; you cannot plead with it, or threaten it, or scare it because it’s just a snake. With humans it is obviously different; the typical confrontation is a rapid escalation of name calling followed by a half ass shoving match and few ineffective roundhouses. Is that fighting? It may be under the eyes of our law but in the law of the jungle that is posturing. Posturing and submission are how animals solve disputes with each other; snakes don’t bite other snakes (of the same species) they wrestle each other. Bucks do not gore other bucks to death they lock horns and push each other around. Inter-species animal fights are a series of posturing moves followed by submission from the loser. In humans it is a small percentage of the population which responds to provocation by immediately fighting really fighting when provoked. Check this out did you know 2% of the fighter pilots in WW II were responsible for downing over 40% of verified enemy kills? Know what trait they had in common? They all had a propensity for and history of fighting when provoked. This is interesting stuff and you should visit the Killology website and read through some of the articles. Better yet buy the Killology book it is the work of a very bright, very talented guy who has created a dedicated following in the international law enforcement community.

As Grossman points out there is a distinct difference, on several levels, between losing a dozen men to an airstrike from an unseen drone and losing them in a point blank ambush by infantrymen who want, more than anything else in life, the chance to close with a destroy and armed enemy. It is the same difference seen in people who have survived critical injuries sustain in an auto accident as opposed to people who sustained similar serious injury at the hands of a violent criminal predator. The auto accident victim will not have to deal with the possibility of post traumatic stress; the assault victim stands a near 100% chance of suffering severe psychological problems during their recovery. This is basic psychology hard wired into all of us bipeds and it is also why having a crew of highly competent American infantrymen tooling around the AO (area of operations) destroying entire units in short, decisive, bloody, contacts has more impact on our enemies than a thousand armed drones. Drone missiles strike out of the blue with no warning and although deadly they just do not have the same psychological impact as a band of infantry who lurking about with only one mission in life which is to hunt you down and kill you. This is why the classic air power theorist Giulio Dohet was proved wrong in World War II. One of the objectives behind the massive bombings of civilian cities in Germany and Japan was to inflict PTSD type symptoms upon them thus rendering the population incapable of supporting war related industry. The law of unintended consequences dictated otherwise it turned out pummeling civilians with air delivered ordinance increased their resolve. The German civilian population didn’t start to fold until the Red Army was on their door step. Bombs don’t terrify humans humans terrify humans.

Here is the connection – sending large armored convoys into remote mountainous hamlets who respond to an ambush by breaking contact is posturing; not fighting. Sending ambush patrols deep into contested territory is fighting; not posturing. A brigade commander who is fighting as part of a larger formation against a uniformed enemy army that is a legitimate threat to world peace and our way of life will routinely probe enemy terrain and positions with ambush patrols knowing full well he will lose some of them. If it costs the lives of 10 or 20 men in the course of an evening so be it if in return you are able to get a good fix on the enemy strength and disposition. That is the grim calculus of war, military commanders deal in the commodity of blood their men’s blood – and although losing men you have trained, personally know, in most cases respect and always care for is never easy but it is the job.

View from behind the Doab Girls School
View from behind the Doab Girls School

So we have two incidents last week; the one in Nuristan fit the typical profile a large armored column travels into a remote valley, they get ambushed repeatedly and expend all their time, energy and resources evacuating wounded and breaking contact while being controlled from on high. In the other we have a platoon allowed to go out into the unknown at night to ambush any and all enemy formations stumbling into their kill zones. Both of these missions were controlled by the same BCT command team who is approaching the end of their tour and very aware of what happened to their predecessors last year in Wanat as they were finishing up their time in the Stan. Ambush patrols are high risk evolutions where a whole host of things can go wrong resulting in a hefty butcher’s bill. So what is going on? A unit with the talent, confidence and ability to launch nighttime ambush patrols should also be able to react with the same intensity and aggressiveness to an ambush. Good infantry does not break contact in an ambush they attack the flanks attempt to fix the enemy and then destroy him with fire and maneuver.

What is going on is that we do not have the right forces on the ground. The difference in the two fights was that one was conducted by professional infantrymen and one was fought with a temporary lash-up of red legs (artillerymen) and National Guard with a bunch of strap hangers from various other organizations. Those were Stability Operations troops in Nuristan not a combat maneuver unit and they are not designed to or capable of operating as a combat maneuver element.

In October of 2007 the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James Conway created one hell of a dust up when he proposed the Marines take over responsibility for Afghanistan and the Army take on sole responsibility for Iraq. Gen Conway was hammered by the other services who pointed out (correctly) that the Marines would still need their help to support them. General Conway is not a foolish man, he was my commanding officer in the early 90’s at The Basic School and is one of the most seasoned and impressive Commandants the Marines have ever had.   He did his homework before floating that trial balloon and he must have had an impressive list of facts supporting his incredibly bold move.

He was right because what last week’s action illustrated perfectly is the need for infantry. The Marines are a small (by American standards) service but they have a lot of infantry. They also have a lot of combat arms and support units who, due to the unique training system, can function as infantry with very little notice or additional training. The Marines field good infantry as does our army and those of many of our allies. We need to bring security to vast swaths of the Afghan countryside and when challenged we need to respond with decisiveness. That takes infantry who know how to close with and destroy their adversaries. Too many Taliban, rent a Taliban, and all the other types of armed opposition groups are taking on ISAF units and escaping unscathed. We can’t have that experience will teach these knuckleheads how to stay on the front sight and hit what they shoot at. If the armed opposition starts to actually master the demanding art of warfighting we are going to have serious problems. Just imagine if the troops in Nuristan had been ambushed by a platoon as proficient as the men from the 26th Infantry? They would have never been able to winch out wounded men, or attempt to recover a downed truck, in fact they probably would not have survived the beating a platoon like that can deliver to a road bound convoy.

typical valley in Nuristan - this is tough terrain and tough terrain requires the right kind of troops
typical valley in Nuristan - this is tough terrain and tough terrain requires the right kind of troops

The ambush by the 26th Infantry indicates that the army, like their Marine comrades down south, have developed the confidence and situational awareness to send small units deep seeking contact. That is great news. Tactics like that allow you to start working on the enemies’ morale and confidence. Gaining that kind of moral ascendancy over your adversaries is worth the risks incurred. But once ground is gained it must be held and that can be done here by small agile teams of reconstruction experts most of them Afghan headed by internationals who know the area, know the people, and are capable of defending themselves. That is exactly what I am doing now as part of a new US AID project. More on that soon.