Actions Speak Louder That Words

There is no shortage of news flowing out of Afghanistan concerning election mischief and general mayhem. Just tonight we received a report about a BBIED who walked into the Pakistani Khasadar (Tribal) Guard mess and detonated his rig killing 22 and wounding another 15.  That was probably revenge for the recent killing of Baitullah Meshud by drone strike.  We have been spending an inordinate amount of time investigating the increased number of Anti Government Element (AGE) incidents on the main roads and in Jalalabad City to get a handle on what is  criminal and what is Taliban activity.

The Bot conducting a field interview at an ANP checkpoint which had been attacked the previous evening
The Bot conducting a field interview at an ANP checkpoint which had been attacked the previous evening

Late last week we had a fairly large firefight in downtown Jalalabad (most unusual) but upon investigation looked to be a Badal (pashto for vengeance) act – the third targeting a small ANP post in as many weeks. This was a new tactic though – one or possibly two gunmen firing at the post from across the street while a third assailant, described as small and swift, bum rushed the main gate with a satchel bag full of hand grenades. One ANP officer and the grenadier were killed and another five ANP officers were wounded by grenade shrapnel. Rushing into a building behind a shower of hand grenades is an effective technique when properly executed by a squad or so of infantry but this looks to be a poorly planned and executed attempt to kill someone – not a deliberate attack to seize a government facility.

The "small swift" assailant took about 30 to the chest before he could get all of his stores deployed - these are 2 Chinese stick grenades, 3 Russian F1 hand grenades and 2 Pakistani handgrenades models P1 and MK 1. Typical collection of hand grenades available on the black market in Afghanistan
The “small swift” assailant took about 30 to the chest before he could get all of his stores deployed – these are 2 Chinese stick grenades, 3 Russian F1 hand grenades and 2 Pakistani handgrenades models P1 and MK 1. Typical collection of hand grenades available on the black market in Afghanistan

There is no reason to anticipate the election results for some time. Allegations of fraud continue to pour in and this report from Ben Arnoldy of the Christian Science Monitor (who I have seen several times outside the wire getting his own stories) sums the situation up succinctly.

I have been reading the new U.S. Government Integrated Civilian- Military Campaign Plan for Support to Afghanistan as well as the Commander of ISAF COIN Guidance and all I can say about them is actions speak louder than words. There is a world of disconnect between what has been written in these documents and what is happening on the ground. Joshua Foust posted his thoughts on the topic yesterday pointing out that there is no detectable change from what the previous COMISAF guidance. I agree and wanted to exam a couple of recent incidents to explain why we (the United States and our allies) suck at fighting the counterinsurgency battle.

Earlier in the month this story about a Bagram PRT was published in Wired’s Danger Room and it is a classic example of attrition warfare mindset being applied to a COIN problem. The article covers what is termed a “KLE”   (key leader engagement) and “HA” (humanitarian assistance) mission to a small village just outside Bagram Air Base from which the military suspects rockets were fired toward Pogadishu (Bagram Airbase – hat tip to Old Blue for the new name.)   Although the reporter is not savvy enough to recognize what he is witnessing – this mission is a perfect example of what not to do when engaging an Afghan village.

This is part of the route clearance package from the local FOB. They are brining in a broken truck and had traffic halted for about 20 minutes before this picture was taken. Instead of using the brand new truck by-pass to get to the FOB they rolled through the city center which clogged traffic up for a good hour. This is a minor examaple but how hard is it to just use the brand new extra wide not that busy truck by pass which dumps you out at your front gate and spare the city folks the drama of a large convoy limping through the narrow streets?
This is part of the route clearance package from the local FOB. They are bringing in a broken truck and had traffic halted for about 20 minutes before this picture was taken. Instead of using the brand new truck by-pass to get to the FOB they rolled through the city center which clogged traffic up for a good hour. This is a minor example but how hard is it to just use the brand new extra wide not that busy truck by pass which dumps you out at your front gate and spare the city folks the drama of a large convoy limping through the narrow streets?

The problems start when a large force rolls into the town in MRAP’s with full battle kit, a bunch of “HA” aid bags full of tea packets, soccer balls, school supplies, two terps, some medical staff, and no plan. For those of you who have never been to Afghanistan let me clue you into a fact – the last thing in the world these people need is tea.They have plenty and they hate Lipton tea bags because they suck – that is like rolling into a Mexican border town and giving the locals packets of cocaine and boxes of 5.56 ammo – they have enough of that shit … although the thought counts for something I guess.

The “KLE” meeting doesn’t go well. The locals bum rush the supplies, the medics have no female terp and are also getting overwhelmed to the point of panic by people who no doubt have a ton of problems such as infected sores, intestinal parasites, malaria etc.. which the Americans could easily treat if they had the time, patience and a clue. They see a young man snapping pictures with a cell phone – something Afghans do all the time – and interpret this as possibly hostile activity so they scan him with the BATS (Biometric Automated Tool Set) and erase his cell phone. Of what possible relevance these cell phone pics could be remains a mystery to me. Young Afghans taking cell phone pictures is what one expects to see and is therefore not a “rule of opposites” scenario.

An old man smacks one of the little village girls and an American officer steps in to intervene with a “stern warning.” What kind of stern warning? What the hell is the Captain going to do? What did the terp tell the old man? I bet the Captain in this story has no idea and I also bet it was not what the young Captain told him to say. Little girls in this country have much more pressing concerns than getting cuffed upside the head by their granddad. That is no reason to draw a line in the sand which may alarm some readers but is the way it is here and the Terp knows that.  And throughout the mission the company First Sergeant is “getting very agitated” because “They’re going to put soldiers lives at risk.” I hate hearing “they”….who the hell is “they?” What exactly about “they” is putting soldiers lives at risk? A company first sergeant is supposed to be an island of calm in the sea of chaos which is the Big Army. One that gets flustered at being around Afghan woman and children is putting troops at more risk than a “they.”

Juma Khan Hamdard, Governor of Paktia Province - important meetings should be treated exactly the same in Afghanistan as they are in America. How would it look to a state Govenor if a military commander arrived with 16 gunmen, embarked upon four Armored Praire Schooners and encased in body armor like Ivanho?
Juma Khan Hamdard, Governor of Paktia Province – important meetings should be treated exactly the same in Afghanistan as they are in America. How would it look to a state Governor if a military commander arrived with 16 gunmen, embarked upon four Armored Prairie Schooners and encased in body armor like Ivanho?

What is putting the soldiers at risk is the institutional stupidity. Let me explain why. In order to do “KLE” you need to engage the “key leaders” in a manner consistent with your objectives. If your objective is to provide aid and make new friends how should the company commander present himself? I vote for he drives in with his terp in an unarmored SUV; sits down with the local elders and asks permission to come in with his company and also for their help distributing some supplies. You ask them to provide male and female interpreters as well as supervisors to assist with the distribution of aid and you agree to the rate for these folks. You both agree exactly how the MEDCAP will go and pay for supervisors – both male and female to run that too.  Leave the security outside the village and walk in without all the body armor – side arms or slung rifles are no big deal and soldiers should never allow theirs to leave their bodies anyway so wear them. The visit is supposed to be about trust and you can only show trust with actions …. not words. If the elders do not hold up their end of the bargain you leave. It is that simple – Pashtunwali cuts both ways and if they won’t play ball they should get the stick … or just be ignored. Both responses are appropriate depending on location, tribal composition, and the overall Provincial security picture.

This is how we get large projects done in the most volatile regions of the south and east and is nothing more than good manners and common sense. What do you think is going to happen when you bring in a large convoy of fully armored troops who have not a clue what they are doing into a village? I run paydays where we distribute very large sums of money to hundreds of poor illiterate workers and these pay calls go like clockwork. The reason they are so smooth is that the Afghans organize them – I can only imagine what a Charlie Foxtrot it would be if the Bagram PRT did pay calls for me ….those guys seem clueless.

Payday in Gardez which runs like a Parris Island training evolution and is completly organized and administered by Afghan staff.
Payday in Gardez which runs like a Parris Island training evolution and is completely organized and administered by Afghan staff.

As I mentioned above the Bot and I have been spending a lot of time trying to get a handle on the nature and seriousness of the many incidents being reported daily. This means going out to the various posts and talking with the Afghan police or army guys who man them. The physical condition of these posts are very poor as is the most of the equipment the troops are issued, but what is most appalling is the complete lack of adult supervision, military planning, and meaningful mission.

typical conditons for the troops along route one between Jalalabad and Kabul
typical conditions for the troops along route one between Jalalabad and Kabul

The Bot and I are looking at a ridge line some 600 meters away which is the attack point for Taliban gunmen who fire on this post regularly. There are four ANA soldiers and four ANP policemen manning this position and they have a Hummer mounted M60 machinegun, and RPK machinegun and their rifles for defense.   Apparently the bad guys tend to attack in the evening when the ANP re-supply truck arrives with chow and they have wounded at least two ANP policemen this month.

glassing the ridge from ANP fighting position on Rte 1 - the AGE firing points are outside the range of rifles
glassing the ridge from ANP fighting position on Rte 1 – the AGE firing points are outside the range of rifles

What is frustrating to guys like Bot and I is the fact that we could easily sort out this threat with a good machinegun squad and a mortar – manned by proper infantry. An American squad with a sharp squad leader would be perfect for a job like this. The reason why American infantry is so effective is that their machineguns come with tripods and T&E’s which are traversing and elevation mechanisms. Machineguns are deadly in the defense because you can dial them in using a map, range finders, a little math and test firing. There are five different firing spots on the ridge across from this position and each of them should be dialed in on range cards so that the leader calls out a target designation off the card when he wants to shift fire. The machinegunner than dials that target in on his T&E and he can rock and roll. A mortar which has been placed in properly can do exactly the same thing – register the targets allowing for first round hits which saves ammo and pumps up the troops.

This machingun should be dug in on a tripod with T&E attached and registered to hit the 5 different firing points used by AGE gunmen. Shooting it off of a pintle mount (which is how it is attached to the vehicle) only works well in Hollywood movies; on planet earth it is a waste of ammo
This machingun should be dug in on a tripod with T&E attached and registered to hit the 5 different firing points used by AGE gunmen. Shooting it off of a pintle mount (which is how it is attached to the vehicle) only works well in Hollywood movies; on planet earth it is a waste of ammo

The generals can write all the pithy COIN sounding directives they want but words mean little outside the wire. Only actions count and it seems that our seniors are forgetting the age old dictum “you cannot fool the troops” and that applies to all troops including Afghans. We used to know how to do counterinsurgency back in the early parts of the last century. We would actually embed our troops in with the local formations to live, train, fight and die with them. We do not embed troops now – we say we do but we don’t. Embedded training teams live on mini FOB’s inside Afghan FOB’s and the Afghans they are supposed to mentor cannot enter the little American FOB’s without an escort and a body search. The Americans do not go out and stay out with the troops they mentor and when they do go out the Americans are in MRAP’s with full body armor while their trainees are in unarmored pickups without body armor. That is not leading be example – in fact it is not leading at all.  Embedded trainers need to train Afghans exactly as they would Americans which means they really embed, eating what they eat, sleeping like they sleep and fighting with them wearing the same kit they wear. That is what my friends who work that mission tell me they should be doing but they can’t and they are frustrated.

I have mentioned this before and want to stress it again – I joined the military in 1978 back when morale was in the toilet and discipline in the ranks almost nonexistent. The American military we know and love today was created in the 1980’s during the presidency of Ronald Reagan by a cadre of officers who were able to erase the stain of Vietnam with the generous help and support of the greatest President we have ever had. The current occupant of the White House knows nothing about the military and could not in a million years have the impact on that organization that President Reagan did. The current senior military leadership apparently knows nothing about Vietnam or they might understand the consequences of putting layers of ass kissing, careerist motivated, humorless and petty Colonels in stupid do nothing staff jobs to micromanage the troops in the field. Leaders who create larger and larger staffs do so to insulate them from having to take responsibility for everything happening under them in the chain in command. That is why you only see the Navy relieving O-6 level officers as a matter of routine – you can’t create more and more staff jobs on a ship so a Navy CO actually has to live up to the responsibility for everything which happens or fails to happen in his command ….just like a junior officer in the Army does. We need Generals who come to Afghanistan and command in the manner of a U.S. Grant or Patton or Razor Ray Davis. Men who will dump the staffs, ignore PowerPoint briefs, get off the FOB’s and out with the men in the field.

Election Day

It is hot, humid and sunny this morning in Jalalabad with a pleasant light wind blowing out of the Northeast. The traffic is light, people calm and as we sit here on the Baba deck monitoring the election we are receiving a report about every 10 minutes of mischief and mayhem. I bet less than 50% of them are true. For example, there is a report out of Kunar that the Taliban is shooting “an RPG” off near a polling station “every hour.” We are getting a steady stream of SMS messages out of Kabul where most of the international community is currently located due to potential instability and they say there are several gunfights and a few bombs in the capitol. As most of the security companies are on complete lock-down it is impossible to verify the reporting. Good security companies and good operatives report as fact only those things they have verified themselves – everything else is suspect. So when we hear there is a “gun fight between political parties in Zone 9 of Kabul” we don’t necessarily believe it.

I still believe the Taliban do not view the election as a significant event although it is clear some actors do. Around the city of Kunduz there were 24 election stations burned down on Tuesday night which indicates Hekmatyar’s group HiG is sending a message about the election. HiG reportedly conducted their own version of a RIP (relief in place) by replacing all the commanders in Kunduz last winter and ordering them to fight. They have been battling with the Germans all summer up in the previously very quiet and safe north and it will be interesting to see if the German’s step up their game and rediscover the art of small unit infantry warfare like the French have done outside of Kabul.

The French now move in small fast formations or "sierials" in milspeak allowing them to move thier company sized convoys quickly and with the ability to mutually support. Classic infantry tactics and a new look for the Frnech who have gotten better and better at the COIN fight since their embarrasing defeat a year agpo in the Uzbin valley outside of Surobi.
The French now move in small fast formations or “serials” in milspeak allowing them to move their company sized convoys quickly and with the ability to mutually support. Classic infantry tactics and a new look for the French who have gotten better and better at the COIN fight since their embarrassing defeat a year ago in the Uzbin valley outside of Surobi.

We will be out and about later in the day to get some food and ice – the staff is off today and we are forced to fend for ourselves. The extra tight ring of steel securitynever showed in Jalalabad and folded in Gardez the troops folded up their checkpoints at around 2000 local which does not bode well. There is also a ban on reporting of security incidents put on the media from on high according to this article from McClatchy. At the Taj we are tracking the incident levels in real time with software, programming and super tech geek support from Ken and Mullah Todd. The press has picked up on our low budget highly efficient efforts – here is the BBC’s report.  Here is the link to Alive Afghanistan and Mullah Todd’s tracking map….it is smoking right now with live reporting from Afghan’s across the country via SMS text messaging.

The end of a quiet day in Jalalabad as viewed from the Baba Deck of the Taj. The mound in the foreground is a Buddhist Burial Mound dating back to 300 BC
The end of a quiet day in Jalalabad as viewed from the Baba Deck of the Taj. The mound in the foreground is a Buddhist Burial Mound dating back to 300 BC

Although quiet in the city the election day produced some 80+ security incidents in the Eastern Region.   Most of them appear to be minor – only two civilian deaths were reported –   in Paktia Province and they were civilians caught in a cross fire between the ANP and villains of unknown affiliation. It is clear that in many places in both the south, southeast and east the vote did not go well. The entire Province of Nimroz did not participate according to reporting on the Afghan Alive election tracker. In most of the north the vote went as planned.

This is downtown Jalalabad at 1300 this afternoon. The town was deserted and there were a few more ANP troops on the streets than normal. We did not see many kids out and about today either.
This is downtown Jalalabad at 1300 this afternoon. The town was deserted and there were a few more ANP troops on the streets than normal. We did not see many kids out and about today either.

It is hard to predict how today’s vote will turn out. We received a report around 1500 today that females and children were moving in mass from the Panjshir section of Kabul but that is unconfirmed. If true it would be a troubling signal but a dumb move by the Northern Alliance party. They are still well positioned to get a seat at the table and I would doubt they are serious about clearing the decks for action in Kabul.

There was not much evidence of increased security in Jalalabad on election day although the regular ANP checkpoints were checking all traffic which they rarely do
There was not much evidence of increased security in Jalalabad on election day although the regular ANP checkpoints were checking all traffic which they rarely do

In Gardez the ANP detected a suicide bomber on a motorcycle and opened fire on him.   He withdrew about 500 meters away from the checkpoint and detonated his vest.  It would appear that at the price of 2 civilians and open hapless suicide bomber the collective entities operating under the Taliban flag did a sufficient job of disrupting things today.   Accomplishing this without a high body count is pretty impressive and probably proves me wrong on my prediction above that the various Taliban Shura’s did not view the election as a significant event. I’m not adding the three idiot bank robbers in Kabul yesterday to the Taliban ledger – seizing a bank which is empty of money is too stupid even for them. The countrywide death toll for today is in at 26   which is pretty low yesterday we saw 101 dead and 563 wounded in a Baghdad bombing and it seems to me that Iraq is more important to us strategically than Afghanistan.

voters 2
A group of supporters for Karzai heading out of Jalalabad at full throttle. This was just about the only traffic we saw downtown today.

My buddy Gaz sends the following from Kandahar; “at 1915 we have counted 37 explosions in the city.”   That is a lot of rocket fire and one has to wonder how that happens given the counter battery radar, aircraft and other sensors ringing the city. Here are some pics from some of the closer strikes:

Kandahar City as viewed from Gaz's roof
Kandahar City as viewed from Gaz’s roof
More from Gaz
More from Gaz
It is impossible to have a proper barbi when sharp like this is flying around
It is impossible to have a proper barbi when shrap like this is flying around the poop deck

I’m glad I live in Jalalabad – this level of excitement is bad on the digestion.

Ground Truth

As the elections approach there has been much in the news on Afghanistan and most of it is not terribly accurate. Yesterday’s VBIED in Kabul is a good example. Most news outlets are connecting this attack to a countrywide effort by Taliban groups to interfere with the Presidential election scheduled for Thursday.   I’m not buying that and I don’t think the Taliban view this upcoming election as a significant event. Some groups have publicly stated they will not interfere, other groups say they will disrupt the process, but we are not seeing any real attempts to do that.

Intiail reporting indicated that the VBIED had targeted 2 ISAF Humvees but that turned out to be false. It appears that the driver just detonated his bomb about 50 meters shy of the first American Embassy checkpoint. If this is the vehicle then I take back what I said in an interivew with the Christian Science Monitor - this was another poorly made VBIED and with a trigger man who missed his objective and killed a bunch of civilians like the poor bastard in the foregrounds who riding by on his bike. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time is a problem in Afghanistan
Initial reporting indicated that the VBIED had targeted 2 ISAF Humvees but that turned out to be false. It appears that the driver just detonated his bomb about 50 meters shy of the first American Embassy checkpoint. If this is the vehicle then I take back what I said in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor – this was another poorly made VBIED and with a trigger man who missed his objective and killed a bunch of civilians like the poor bastard in the foregrounds who riding by on his bike. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time is a problem in Afghanistan

This Washington Post story is typical of the MSM reporting on the Kabul blast with the title of “Pre Vote Blast in Kabul Signal Taliban Intent.”   That is bullshit – what the blast signals is that somebody was able to bribe their way past the ANP check-posts and get right up to the U.S. Embassy checkpoint without being detected. This is the first successful Taliban attack in Kabul since last winter and although the execution was better than average the Taliban once again managed to kill or wound innocent Afghan civilians most of whom were undoubtedly children. I was interviewed for my take on the bombing by the Christian Science Monitor and remarked that it seemed this attack was executed better than the average Taliban lash up but after seeing the picture above I take it back. Poor bomb making with typically poor execution – there would be nothing left of the vehicle or that poor bike rider had this been a Baghdad VBIED.

Street children hang outside all ISAF bases becasue ISAF soldiers are quick to fork over a spare dollar or some pocket change.
Street children hang outside all ISAF bases becasue ISAF soldiers are quick to fork over a spare dollar or some pocket change.

This blast in Kabul needs to be investigated with both forensics and interviews with every guard at every post around ISAF being grilled by counter intelligence specialists in an effort to determine how that little as vehicle with all the explosives on board made it to the front of ISAF Headquarters. But that is not going to happen. Take a moment to read this article from CSM and to see why.  The ANP general in charge of conducting criminal investigations is denied access to the scene and run off by ISAF HQ troops who would not know an Afghan general from the Easter Bunny. What kind of an investigation do you think we will have now?  The Afghans have done a good job at securing Kabul and this was a serious breach but we (ISAF we) will never know how it happened because we do not embed with the police – we have meetings and PowerPoint briefs and drink a little tea with them and call that “mentoring.”

Gen. Sayed Abdul Ghafar Sayed Zada is not going to be inclined to help us when he is treated so poorly during a routine bombing investigation and who can blame him?  But it gets worse. In Jalalabad the city is emptying of civilian internationals who are being forced to spend the week in Kabul or out of the country as election day nears. The Army Brigade in Jalalabad has nightly meetings to go over and over and over the plans for placing Afghan security forces in concentric rings to screen all the traffic coming into the city. An officer I chatted with today was very proud telling me how they have the Afghans in on the planning and everything is going just perfectly. But there is one problem; there are no security checkpoints going up around Jalalabad.  The officer was stunned when I told him that I have seen only one extra checkpoint and that was up for 3 hours several night ago. No I was told “they are up all night and have been for weeks.” I swear you cannot make this stuff up…they are no extra check posts up and I drive frequently from the Taj to the Shem Bot’s house at night and know exactly which check posts are working, how many men are manning them and who the men are. This is what happens when you live on a FOB and your daily reality is defined by PowerPoint briefs and classified(read closed loop) reporting. Just because a bunch of guys sitting in a conference room say something is happening doesn’t mean it is happening – whatever happened to the old troop leading steps?

These American Army troops are moving low profile in a 2 vehicle covoy which is stuck in downtown Kabul traffic - this is the way to move with vehicles through urban areas.
These American Army troops are moving low profile in a 2 vehicle covoy which is stuck in downtown Kabul traffic – this is the way to move with vehicles through urban areas.

Military officers are not the only ones with a warped perception about how things are going in Afghanistan big time foreign policy wonks are capable of making fools of themselves too. This article in Foreign Policy by Anna Husarska is full of the kind of lunacy which can only come from classified reports and briefing with senior officers. In the article Anna states that ANSO – the Afghanistan NGO security office has stated   NGO’s “were generally attacked for being perceived as intrinsic to the military and political objectives.”   ANSO has said no such thing.  NGO’s are targeted by criminals because they are easy targets and the Taliban because they are foreigners or work for foreigners. Ms Husaraska goes on to bitch about ISAF using white SUV’s saying that NGO’s use white SUV’s and the military shouldn’t so that the bad guys don’t get confused about which SUV’s to attack. Pick your own cuss word for a response – the NGO’s in Afghanistan do not all have white SUV’s (very few do) and the military is not about to change the color of the white trucks they have finally gotten around to procuring …why should they? The final interesting tidbit in this article is the description of her ride from the Jalalabad Airport to downtown Jbad. That is a drive I do almost daily and I promise tell you she is not describing Jalalabad in her article. Maybe the military flew her into Ghor Province and told her she was in Jalalabad…who knows?

107 Chinesse rocket fused with a jury rigged Russian fuze - the bad guys still are not remotely proficient with artillery rockets
107 Chinesse rocket fused with a jury rigged Russian fuze – the bad guys still are not remotely proficient with artillery rockets

There was also this article from USA Today concerning the counter IED program in Nangarhar Province.   It covers a call made to the local Army FOB concerning an IED and the soldiers response with a 4 MRAP flying squad. The mission unquestionably went down as described but there is a problem with the whole story line and that is 95% of the ordinance recovered and 99% of the calls for EOD support go to a single American contractor who lives outside the wire and has a team of Afghan EOD techs in training. The reason he gets all the calls and most of the recoveries is that he responds within 5 minutes of notification 24 hours a day 7 days a week. The FOB bound Army cannot run to their vehicles and respond – they take at least 3 hours to get organized, make a patrol plan, file and brief the plan before even drawing their weapons. A retired Navy Chief who travels in unarmored low profile vehicles – exactly as most of us do can often be on scene, disarm and secure the device, and be back home in bed before the ISAF team can even clear the base.   That is the price of fighting a counterinsurgency off of big box FOB’s. The lone American also has the time and ability to rent a backhoe and dig out reported missile hits from farmers fields – just like the one above which impacted right outside the Army base in Jalalabad.   It is important to know why missiles fail to function which is the whole point in having highly trained EOD techs in country. The Army guys locked down on their FOB in Jbad can do this work too but they have to be given the freedom of movement to allow them to work like their lone out side the wire contractor does.

It is always easier and cheaper to defeat new battlefield technologies than it is to designe and field them
It is always easier and cheaper to defeat new battlefield technologies than it is to designe and field them

It would be safer for an EOD flying squad to be in armored SUV’s like the cats in Kabul pictured earlier in the post. The belief that MRAP’s will protect you from the bad guys is just not true. They have saved many lives so far in Afghanistan but that will not last. It is always, in all times and in all places, easier and cheaper to defeat a new technology than it is to field it.

In The Graveyard of Fuel Tankers

It appears that Taliban fighters are moving out of the “Southern Triangle” of Nangarhar Province and attempting to interdict the road to Kabul. The latest attack (August 6th) occurred closer to Jalalabad then attacks targeting fuel tankers last summer. The talented RPG gunner we nicknamed “The Mechanic” was working the Tangi valley closer to Surobi  last summer shooting up scores of fuel tankers but we are not seeing evidence of the Mechanic this year and have been told French Special Forces whacked him last winter.

The most recent attack happened in broad daylight around 0800 and the ambush team stayed on scene to fight with the ANP/ANA for around an hour; pulling out only after American soldiers arrived on scene. This is a new (not cool) milestone for the Taliban.

This was the targeted tanker - it took multiple hits to the cab and tanker from small arms fire and an RPG hit to the external fuel tank behing the cab
This was the targeted tanker – it took multiple hits to the cab and tanker from small arms fire and an RPG hit to the external fuel tank behing the cab

I was in Kabul when this ambush went down so Shem Bot and Mullah John went out to have a look and reported the following:

20 or so bad guys moved into a refugee settlement from the ridge line of the Tor Ghar mountains (Black Mountains). They dug hasty fighting positions and whacked a fuel tanker then stayed around to fight with the ANP. The villains kept up a sustained rate of fire for 45 minutes and broke contact when the Americans got SA (situational awareness) and got their 81’s (81mm mortars) in action.

When the Taliban attack a major road it brings traffic to a halt which blocks the road and isolates the fight.  Afghans always fill all lanes and road shoulders to push up as close as humanly possible to a road blockage knowing full well that by doing so they will extend the length and time of the blockage. I have seen Afghans jumping a 100 person line at the Dubai airport look mystified when they are forced to go to the back of the line to wait their turn. They just do not like to que up so when the road clears it takes hours to unblock the east/west travel lanes and get moving. An ambush like this will normally make the movement of reinforcements into the fight impossible but the Americans made it through in 45 minutes winning an official Mention in Dispatches from the staff of FRI.

RPG strike - not the work of the Mechanic who would never waste a rocket like this - he consistently hit the cabs killing the drivers last summer...we have no idea what he had against fule truck drivers but I bet Steven King could come up with a good story line about it
RPG strike – not the work of the Mechanic who would never waste a rocket like this – he consistently hit the cabs killing the drivers last summer…we have no idea what he had against fule truck drivers but I bet Steven King could come up with a good story line about it

Our question remains how did a squad of Taliban move over the Tor Ghar mountains, dig in and ambush a fuel tanker to draw all the local ANP units into a sustained firefight. Break contact after the Americans show up yet make it back over the mountains without being hit by 300 to 400 rounds of 30mm cannon fire by an Apache, or a Kiowa or maybe even a fast mover (jet)? I think I found the answer to that question when I was down south with the Marines last week. The Marines are shooting rockets – a lot of them and I was chatting up the Operations Officer who told me he has been coordinating with some Geo Space type agency in DC.

It turns out the new generation of the Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) goes so high that they have to de-conflict the missile track with satellites and other stuff hanging out in space. When I asked why they shot so many he said the new ROE makes getting clearance to use Tac Air difficult to do in a timely manner. He added that they’ll fix that in due time when they’ve been in theater a bit longer but for now have to tolerate ISAF micromanagement.

It seems that the Taliban understand the ROE has changed enough that they now operate near local villages knowing we will not shoot when they go to ground around civilians. A year ago there would have been so many attack birds stacked over those deadbeats they would have needed an airborne controller to keep them from hitting each other. There is no vegetation or cover in this area of the country so men moving across the countryside are easy prey for attack pilots.  But not anymore apparently – drop the rifles and you’re no longer a PID (positive ID) candidate.

Michael Yonis down south with the Marines and sent this very cool picture of a CH-47 landing in brownout conditions. It takes a ton of both skill and guts to land a bird in these kinds of conditions
Michael Yon is down south with the Marines and sent this very cool picture of a CH-47 landing in brownout conditions. It takes a ton of both skill and guts to land a bird in these kinds of conditions

Changing the Rules of Engagement (ROE) based on pressure over civilian casualties would be one thing if the civilian casualty statistics were solid but they’re not.  For example; a convoy of fuel trucks is attacked by the villains and in that attack 20 PSC guards and 15 tanker drivers are killed. Under current polices (which are not standardized among the UN, military, ANSO or  the Afghan Security Forces) they are civilians. Another example; A local land owner hosts a war party of Villains in his Qalat providing them food, shelter, safe haven and weapons storage. Those fighters later attack an Afghan police checkpoint and a predator follows them back to the Qalat allowing it’s controllers to call in fast movers and light the place up. The compound owner, his wife and kids are killed in the ensuing air strike….are they civilians or fighters?

I have been a consistent and harsh critic of the way we have used air strikes which have resulted in the killing of innocent civilians and only innocent civilians because the target was nominated by intel that in-evidently involves a walk-in HumInt asset.  The over reliance on technology and “trusted” government officials resulted in dropping ordinance on people we don’t know to be Taliban. Their crime was getting on the wrong side of “trusted government assets” and are then whacked based on intel provided by these them to the spooks.     That’s bad tactics and bad tactics rarely provide good opportunists for lasting results. The Captains Journal, using excerpts from Vampire Six and the FRI blog has the best write up on the topic I have seen right here.

Expended brass in one of the fighting positions used on the 6 August tanker ambush. 20 armed men should not be allowed to walk anywhere in Afghanistan without feeling the heat of an airborne targeting laser on their neck just before the lights go out for good. Photo by The Shem Bot
Expended brass in one of the fighting positions used on the 6 August tanker ambush. 20 armed men should not be allowed to walk anywhere in Afghanistan without feeling the heat of an airborne targeting laser on their neck just before the lights go out for good. Photo by The Shem Bot

In war people die; that’s why it is in everyone’s best interest to get this shit over quickly and to beat the enemy decisively. It’s not important how wars start but how they end is critical. When the enemy is beaten and knows he’s beaten wars end. Until we reach that point we will spend blood, our blood, their blood and the blood of innocents. The longer this is allowed to continue the more we are going to bleed which is why we need to finish it. And the only way to finish it is to kill the Big T Taliban when and where we find them even when there might be innocents around them.

The Elections are Coming

The pending Afghanistan election is heating up. The main challenger Abdullah Abdullah has suffered three attacks in three days on different offices around the country and one of his senior aides claimed that if Karzai won they would take up their rifles and fight in the streets of Kabul.   The other serious challenger, Ashraf Ghani   (a Columbia graduate and   a dual citizen of  Afghanistan and America) has hired on the Little Dog James Carvelle (he whines too much to be a big dog and no Afghan  understands a word he says due to speed, pitch, volume and ludicrous content)  over here working for him.   The Raging Cajun has been babbling something about change, or it’s the economy, or whatever the locals have no idea what he is trying to say so the TV anchors smile politely and say the foreigner said interesting things and he helped elect Bill Clinton.   Afghans are mesmerized by Bill Clinton they cannot believe he got on international TV and cried over something as trivial as forcing a subordinate to perform a sex act on him.   The public crying thing is what they cannot get over but then he remained in office acting as if the whole thing had never happened.that is a very Afghan thing to do.   The MSM was dead wrong to call him our first Black President he was our first Afghan president and the fire sale of presidential pardons he had at the end of his term (aided and abetted by our current Attorney General) proves it.

One of my best friends is now right down the road from the Taj.  LtCol Jeff Kenney was badly wounded in Iraq but had made it back into the fight.  For a long time my friends and I thought Jeff would not be able to remain on active duty but here he is tan, rested and fit.  He will be taking over the ANP embeded training team is the East of Afghanistan.
One of my best friends is now right down the road from the Taj. LtCol Jeff Kenney was badly wounded in Iraq but had made it back into the fight. For a long time my friends and I thought Jeff would not be able to remain on active duty but here he is tan, rested and fit. He will be taking over the ANP embeded training team is the East of Afghanistan.

ISAF is focused on election security which is what the mini surge brigades have also been tasked to facilitate.   The UN and many of the local NGO’s are also focused on the election and are spring loaded to immediately displace to Dubai at the first sign of instability or general unrest.   Wild rumors swirl around the clusters of outside the wire expats about potential problems, advancing Taliban, the cutting off of the booze supply (we’re good at the Taj) riots at the polls etc.. and they are very nervous.   The Afghans are not, in fact they are more concerned with the coming summertime Ramadan.   Ramadan is something in which the boys take great pride in enduring but they get surly and bitchy about it.   I think it is going cold turkey with the cigarettes that gets to them the most but the length of the day and heat it’s going to suck and the smart expat goes home for a month if he can.

I have never claimed to be smart so I am sticking it out to the bitter end like a man.   Good thing too because it is turning out to be an interesting summer.   This week the press reported that the Taliban have released their very own rules of engagement which when you read them appear quite sensible.   Thirteen chapters, containing 67 articles with pearls of wisdom like; “Every Muslim can invite anyone working for the slave government in Kabul to leave their job, and cut their relationship with this corrupt administration. If the person accepts, then with the permission of the provincial and district leadership, a guarantee of safety can be given.”   If Mullah Omar and his Shura actually controlled the various groups of armed combatants who operate under the Taliban flag I would be worried.   But he doesn’t and the new Taliban ROE is just another demonstration that the Taliban can do Information Warfare much better than ISAF can.

Cover of the new improved Taliban Rules of Engagement
Cover of the new improved Taliban Rules of Engagement

There are also press reports from the new Commanding Generals soon to be released assessment of what needs to be done to win in Afghanistan.   Here are the money quotes.

The biggest change urged in McChrystal’s report is a “cultural shift” in how U.S. and foreign troops operate — ranging from how they live and travel among the Afghan population to where and how they fight, a senior military official in Kabul said Friday.

Using intelligence less to hunt insurgents and more to understand local, tribal and social power structures in the areas where they operate. McChrystal is considering concentrating troops around populated areas rather than going after sparsely populated mountain areas where Taliban hide.

Getting troops more active in fighting corruption. U.S. forces will need to take care in their dealings with local Afghan leaders to ensure that they are not perceived by the Afghan population to be empowering corrupt officials.

This sounds familiar and people like me who have been saying this for years would be heartened were it not for the fact that it is complete nonsense.   Based on years of “effects based” observations (actions speak louder than words)   the priorities of the US Armed Forces in Afghanistan are as follows;

  1. Force Protection
  2. Health, comfort and welfare of the troops
  3. Protecting the careers and reputations of senior officers
  4. Getting ahead of the curve in submitting documentation for awards and medals
  5. Accounting for all the extra money and equipment every unit receives to accomplish their mission here.

There is no way one General officer can conduct a cultural shift in the American military. Especially when it comes to how they live and travel amongst the Afghan population.   And Gen McChrystal has admitted as much check out the quote from him I found on the Abu Muqawama blog;

Q.  Is the lonely fire base in the mountains fighting Taliban a thing of the past? Are you pulling out to get . . .

McChrystal:  In some cases it might be — in some cases. Some it might not be. If the population is in the valley, sometimes putting the small fire base in the mountains accomplished the ability to accomplish security for the population. What I don’t think you will see as much of is big unit sweeps or operations where you sweep them, then come out. Historically it doesn’t work, but almost every counterinsurgency tries it and relearns the lesson.

I suspect that after rigorous analysis and thousands of PowerPoint slides it will turnout that in all cases the fire base on the hill, isolated from the population, will be the way we accomplish security for the population. the price for separating our forces from the people is that we must deal through the Afghan political leaders, all of whom are Karzai appointees, which means we are perceived by the Afghan population to be empowering corrupt officials because we are empowering corrupt officials. I don’t even want to think about the “fighting corruption” comment.   Given the way our current administration is running if we wanted to “fight corruption” the place to begin would be back in Washington DC (using the ballot box as our constitution mandates.)

But one can hope and for me that hope rests with the United States Marines.   I am writing once again from Camp Leatherneck, and at the risk of irritating a few of my loyal readers, feel compelled to make a few observations.   The first of which is that there were two brigades sent here as part of the “mini surge” the Marine Brigade and a Stryker Brigade from Fort Lewis Washington.   The 5th Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division is trained and ready according to what I can find on the net…just one question?   Where the hell are they?

Col Mike Killion seeing off his good friend Col Eric Mellinger who has completed his tour as 2nd MEB G3 and is off to Parris Island to command the Recruit Training Regiment.  The Marine Corps places great emphasis on both recruiting and entry level training.  Being selected to command the RTR is a big deal but this is a bitter sweet moment for Eric.  Although he would never say so in public Eric would much rather stay to fight the MEB but he is a consumate professional and he turned over the operations section to a good friend who he has known well and worked with off and on for the past 20 years.  That makes leaving much easier.  The Lieutentant they are chatting up is  demonstrating great composure - I was terrified of full Colonels when I was a junior officer.
Col Mike Killion seeing off his good friend Col Eric Mellinger who has completed his tour as 2nd MEB G3 and is off to Parris Island to command the Recruit Training Regiment. The Marine Corps places great emphasis on both recruiting and entry level training. Being selected to command the RTR is a big deal but this is a bitter sweet moment for Eric. Although he would never say so in public Eric would much rather stay to fight the MEB but he is a consumate professional and he turned over the operations section to a good friend who he has known well and worked with off and on for the past 20 years. That makes leaving much easier. The Lieutentant they are chatting up is demonstrating great composure - I was terrified of full Colonels when I was a junior officer.

Here is something which most of you probably do not know.   Last December there was no 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade.   Gen Nicholson and Eric Mellinger found out they were going to form the 2nd Brigade around the 15th of December 2008.   The Marine Corps is not big enough to have standing brigades instead they train and fight as task organized units.   The Marines will change up their task organization while deployed and in contact as the situation dictates which is something we have been practicing in live fire exercises in 29 Palms California for the past 40 or so years.   General Nicholson and Eric had to build their MEB and that involved some serious cherry picking from around the Corps (Eric did a tour as the ground monitor so as a member of the Manpower Mafia he has great insight as to who he could steal and how to get them reassigned.)   The maneuver battalions assigned to the MEB come from both the east and west coast and are organic to both the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions which is typical of task organized combat formations – all the senior officers and enlisted SNCO’s know each other anyway – fighting for an East Coast or West Coast MEB makes little difference to them.

Major Jeff Rule was a student back when Eric, Mike and I were instructors at The Basic School.  Our Commanding Officer at that time is now the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James Conway.  Jeff was assigned to the CMC as a speech writer and was one of the first guys Col Mellinger successfully pinched. The Commandant is a good man who we all respect and admire greatly - it was pretty cool of him to cough up Jeff who has a good pen and a noggin full of common sense
Major Jeff Rule was a student back when Eric, Mike and I were instructors at The Basic School. Our Commanding Officer at that time is now the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James Conway. Jeff was assigned to the CMC as a speech writer and was one of the first guys Col Mellinger successfully pinched. The Commandant is a good man who we all respect and admire greatly - it was pretty cool of him to cough up Jeff who has a good pen and a noggin full of common sense

We had a mini surge scheduled to help out during the 2009 fighting season and to also help out with security during the Afghan presidential elections.   The Marines – who did not even have units assigned to this task until about 8 months ago have stood up, trained, certified, and deployed a 10,000 man brigade.   That brigade has arrived in Afghanistan, sorted itself out, and launched into the field a month ago where they took the Helmand River Valley away from the Taliban and where they have stated they intend to stay. The Army contingent who is supposed to be around Spin Boldak is, as far as I can determine, still in the United States.     They are a real Brigade which was formed years ago yet have still not made it to the fight – how the hell does that happen?

I do not know how the Marines are setting up in these forward areas they have taken nor how they are interacting with the local population.   I suspect that when I do get a chance to see for myself what I will find is not isolated combat outposts (COP’s) from which the troops fight but seldom venture.   The reason I say that is because fighting that way is stupid it costs men, material, and lots of money for which nothing is gained.

But that has been how ISAF has been operating.   This article covers a recent report from the British   House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee about Afghanistan and here is their money quote:

We conclude that the international effort in Afghanistan since 2001 has delivered much less than it promised and that its impact has been significantly diluted by the absence of a unified vision and strategy grounded in the realities of Afghanistan’s history, culture and politics,”

Writing pithy commentary about where we are going wrong in Afghanistan is the easy part.   The hard part is understanding that you have to fundamentally change the way your troops deploy, live and fight.   Gen McChrystal has gotten to that point already but the hardest of the hard part is to actually put those pithy words into action. This the Brits are not doing – they are on isolated COP’s from which they patrol regularly and during these patrols they often fight.   They are not having any meaningful interaction with the locals, they are not bringing security to the people, and they are not winning the fight.   This excellent post by Mike Yon who has been the Brits for the past month describes with great writing and even better pictures that exact phenomenon.

This sucks - the Bot was on Rte 1 yesterday when another tanker attack was reported.  This incident is well to the east of the RPG mechanics turff and Bot thinks it was an ambush team which worked its way over the southern ridges from Sherzaid District in Nangarhar Province.  I has a two part post about that district and the potential problems brewing there last fall....I really have to get a suit, a lawyer and a good powerpoint together and go to DC to sell something as a professional prognosticator - it is scary how dead on I am getting with the predictions.  This was not fuel theft cover up and I have been promised better pics by Shem Bot
This sucks - the Bot was on Rte 1 yesterday when another tanker attack was reported. This incident is well to the east of the RPG mechanics turff and Bot thinks it was an ambush team which worked its way over the southern ridges from Sherzaid District in Nangarhar Province. I has a two part post about that district and the potential problems brewing there last fall....I really have to get a suit, a lawyer and a good powerpoint together and go to DC to sell something as a professional prognosticator - it is scary how dead on I am getting with the predictions. This was not fuel theft cover up and I have been promised better pics by Shem Bot

Last week I was in the 2nd MEB operations center waiting to give Mike and Eric a lift to the air head.   A squad was in contact down to the south, they had suffered a IED strike, had no casualties, and were aggressively maneuvering to catch the dumb asses who had tried to ambush them.   The watch officer told this to Mike who said “let me know if they need anything” and went onto other business.   The company commander was running the fight and the platoon commander was en route with reinforcements.   I did not hear anyone else from outside the rifle company on the net with the exception of a brief call by (I think) the battalion commander asking if they needed any help.   The answer was no – the company could handle this on their own.

This is not the way the Army fights – stories   of units being micro managed from on high are legion. Here is my favoriate example from Vampire Six who writes the blog Afghanistan Shrugged.   If the US Military and her allies really want to start to fight in the manner Gen McChrystal says he wants to fight then the first step is to immediately stop all micro management of units in contact.   What the 2nd MEB is doing when it allows a company to fight its own fight with no interference from on high is developing trust and confidence of all the Marines in that unit for their chain of command.   You cannot successfully deploy little detachments of infantry in a large geographical space and expect them to fight and behave within the frame work of their commanders intent   unless they know their commander trusts them to do the job.   The commander can tell them he trusts them all he wants but actions speak louder than words.   If he insists on micro managing units when they are in contact the message he is sending is “I do not trust you and do not think you will make the right calls in combat.”   The first step towards being able to fight a proper counterinsurgency is to deploy units in the field whom you trust and do not micromanage.   There is no other way and I do not care how many Colonels in Bagram there are who will tell you differently using all sorts of anecdodal stories to illustrate why they are compelled to control fights from on high. In the counterinsurgency fight   junior leaders have got to be left alone to do what junior leaders are supposed to do – fight when they have to and figure out how help the local population when they are not fighting.

Patrolling out of a COP where you get contact with the enenmy within   minutes after leaving the wire is not counterinsurgency warfare it is attrition warfare.   A war of attrition is a war we can never win Central Asia, we do not have the manpower, money or time for that.     The Marines are poised to be the game changers but they are going to take casualties doing this thing and let us hope that the body count does not allow our political leaders to force them back into the “force protection” mode.   If the mission in Afghanistan remains “force protection” than everyone who has made the ultimate sacrifice here have done so in vain and the Afghans have much more to worry about than a summertime Ramadan.