The Cost of Risk Aversion

The Boss has a serious case of wanderlust and our collective success at running cash for work programs in Taliban controlled urban areas motivated him to go to the next level. For months all he talked about was Zarang – the capitol of Nimroz Province which is located on the border with Iran. Zarang attracted him because nobody knows anything about it so he loaded up the plane with himself and Team Canada (Tim from Panjwayi, Mullah John and New Guy Todd who is not really a new guy to Afghanistan but new to the outside the wire ops) and flew down for a reconnaissance in force.

Nimroz Province
Downtown Zarang – clean, quiet, safe, and dirt poor. This was how 99% of Afghanistan was back in 03 -04 ready for a little help and secure enough for outside the wire operations.

Michael Yon posted a white paper from Adam Holloway; a British MP who has made several trips to Afghanistan traveling both inside the official security bubble and outside the wire. Take the time to download and read the paper – it lays out exactly what we need to be doing and I suspect is just shy of 180 degrees out from the pablum we are currently fed by the legacy media. Here are some of the key points;

  • Afghanistan is just one area of confrontation in our wider struggle against political Islam, a struggle which we must win.

  • Afghanistan is no more important to Al Qaeda than a half dozen other countries. But it is strategically useful for AQ in generating propaganda footage of “infidels” fighting Muslims and Muslims fighting back.

  • NATO’s ill-conceived operation in Afghanistan is on the brink of failure. Support for UK and NATO forces is falling: only 45% of polled Afghans support a NATO presence in the south, down from 83% in the previous year.

  • Much of what NATO is doing is aggravation the problem and is making attacks in the UK and other NATO countries more likely, not less.

  • It is vital that Afghan territory is not used as a launch pad for future attacks; and that the Islamist minority cannot claim victory.

  • This can be achieved with a much smaller allied force.   There is always going to be some level of insurgency in Afghanistan.

One can only wish that somewhere in America there is a political leader with this much common sense. I suspect the current masters of Capitol Hill will be articulating some sort of weak ass cut and run strategy which will result in folly. In fact here is another Brit – this one a legacy press guy who wrote and article today saying “Afghanistan withdrawl would be a folly.” He too seems to know a thing or two about what he is talking about and is worth reading.

It is in this context that I want to focus on our efforts to take care of an entire Province using a small Ghost Team detachment.

Team Canada is pretty good at blending in - there is more than one of them in this picture and so far nobody had been ableo to successfully make all of them.
Team Canada is pretty good at blending in – there is more than one of them in this picture and so far nobody has been able to successfully identify who are the expats.

We still actually know precious little about Zaranj. The Mayor is Savar Khan. There are no ISAF forces in the city. We are not sure if they have ever seen NATO troops in this Province. There is a gravel airstrip with no control tower in the north end of the city and it took about 10 minutes of flying around to figure out that it was the municipal airport. The last 5 minutes of the flight included a brisk interrogation/warning from Iran which is less than a mile from the municipal airport.

Zarang is in perpetual drought with the canal intakes to the interior irrigation systems broken there is little water for farming. The Iranian border crossing is a major bridge and has a fraction of the Torkam border traffic in Nangarhar Province. The border is marked on the Iranian side by a massive wall complete with guard towers every 200-400 meters as far as the eye can see. There is one NGO, Education Concepts International, in town focusing on education and women’s programs. There are no UN or other international personnel in the entire Province of Nimroz. Farsi is the language of local government although most people speak Pashtu and some Balochi too.

We have rented a house and will be starting up multiple cash for work projects soon. It is going to cost a ton to get internet set up down there but everything else we need will come from the local economy and will be dirt cheap. The Mayor appreciates all the help but our focus is on the Governor and provincial irrigation situation. We’ll meet him on the next trip.

One international, a half dozen Afghan managers and a TCN finance manager and we will be able to run multiple projects for peanuts compared to what is being spent on aid in the rest of the country. Unlike every other USAID contractor we do not use brand new armored trucks, or have contracted expat security details, no need for the lavish compounds or food flown in from Dubai.

We may not produce fancy PowerPoint’s and professional presentations on our genius plans to get a project going nor do we have a large inside the beltway corporate HQ full of retired USAID and military officers.We have a dozen or so expats who know just one thing -how to get projects going at warp speed and for dirt cheap. We do not talk reconstruction we do reconstruction. Without the risk aversion based security postures that cripple the effectiveness while swelling the overhead of every other USAID project in the country.

The Boss doesn't even try to blend in - with his language skills he gets by just fine. He is looking over a potential project office
The Boss doesn’t even try to blend in – with his language skills he gets by just fine. He is looking over a potential project office.

There was never a need for the elaborate security which was foisted upon the reconstruction efforts by our Department of State when we started the reconstruction programs years ago.  There is now that we created an insurgency by failing to deliver meaningful aid while creating a central government that is the second most corrupt in the world. The Afghans see us riding around in armored vehicles with truck loads of gunmen fore and aft and wonder what the hell it is we think we are doing. I can’t blame them as I wonder the same thing myself.

The key to getting things done in a post conflict environment is to get things done quickly, with minimal footprint and then to get the fuck out. America uses large specialize corporations for USAID projects while relying on State Department Regional Security Officers to set minimum operational security standards. This is why some of these companies take years just to get their team set up in country and that’s not quick or agile. It is proving to be a waste of time, money and lives.

Zarang is a perfect test bed for implimenting an outside the wire reconstuction strategy
Zarang is a perfect test bed for implementing an outside the wire reconstruction strategy

Adam Holloway is right on target with his assessment of the correct way forward. Smaller, agile military formations complemented by small agile teams of reconstruction experts are not only cost effective   – they are the only way to go.

We are going to a Province that has no international military presence and about which little is know and we are going to completely overhaul their irrigation’s systems (in every district) in three years. And we’re going to build schools and do woman empowerment projects too. If we are successful there will never be a need to send one Marine or soldier into that province to fight and die. Because that’s the cost of risk aversion – the forfeiting of brave men’s lives over folly and a lust for profit.

The Tribes

More interesting news is coming out of Kabul as the drive-by media continues its impressive efforts trying to explain our Commander in Chief’s continuing dithering on what to do about Afghanistan. His obvious attempt at moving President Karzai out of the way has ended in abject failure straining relations with the Kabul government to the point of breaking and driving Karzai right into the hands of the very people we have been trying to get off the Afghan stage. An excellent explanation on how the administration completely screwed themselves, the Afghans and the rest of us can be found in this Power Line post.

But the stupidity of our current administrations efforts are not what got the blood up this morning….what do you expect from a President with no prior executive experience and Hillary Clinton?  This article from the New York Times about tribes resisting the Taliban is why I’m pounding away on the laptop in a Dubai hotel lobby. Authored by Dexter Filkins the article announces a new strategy to called the Community Defense Initiative which is designed to engage and arm the tribes in the east and south. The article talks about our bearded Special Forces helicoptering into Nangarhar Provinces Achin district with flour and some other nonsense to support the tribal chiefs who have run out the Taliban. It talks about other SF soldiers “fanning our across the country” to engage the tribes and support them in defending their lands and way of life from depredations by the Taliban. Dexter Filkins writes a great article and it is worth reading but unfortunately as in most things published by the New York Times it is complete bullshit.

Chief Ajmal Khan Zaizi who has been featured in a series of blog posts by Steven Pressfield  and is a friend of The Boss. The Boss gave Ajmal a very competent Ghost Team member to start some major cash for work programs in his tribal area on the Pakistan border. We had worked out the logistics of going into the Jaji valley which is surrounded by areas under Taliban control and sent out a query to the local US Army COP about using their LZ to fly our guy out when he was finished. Here is the response we received:

Sir,

Thank you for your message. Any development project in Jaji would be great, but I would like to ensure that it ties into the district development list/tribal development list, in order to ensure that the district leadership is not undermined.

Unfortunately, Ahjmal Khan Jaji is not a tribal leader at all. I do not want you to come into this environment thinking that to be a fact.

Additionally, the security force of Amir Muhammad is an illegal force that is not endorsed by MOI.

The facts are that Azad Khan, the Jaji Sub Governor, has a great relationship with the tribes a focus for his district. The ANSF in this area (ANP and ABP) are a professional/legitimate force that does a tremendous job in keeping the best security for the people.

Yes indeed the Jaji Sub Governor has everything under control, the security situation is fine, and the tribes apparently content. That seems to be at odds with everything anybody knows about the portion of Paktia Province which borders Pakistan but there it is. How can the local American Army commander be so stupid you are no doubt asking yourself and the answer is he probably isn’t stupid – he is doing what he has been told to do.

You see the American military is an effective military leviathan which, unlike most other components of American society is focused on one thing – its assigned missions.   Mission accomplishment trumps everything else for the military and they are expected and will forfeit their lives and the lives of their men to accomplish their assigned missions.   The main mission for our military in Afghanistan is to nurture and support GoIRA – the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.  In most places we know and work in the government is more of a problem for the local people than the Taliban. This is a well documented fact which has zero impact on the American military.

Tribal Chiefs like Ajmal Zaizi are focused on their people and must protect them from outsiders who try to take their lands, rape their children, and disrupt the delicate balance of tribal social mores which allow all to live in peace. I have not heard of one reported rape of a child by Taliban but you can find dozens of articles about Afghan Security Forces being accused of that heinous crime with a simple goggle search. So when a tribal chief drives all the unsavory characters preying on his people off his lands who is it that he is driving out?  In Ajmal’s case it was both the Taliban and the GIRoA officials appointed by the Karzai government in Kabul.

Thus a western educated, populist style leader who has been on the run from the Taliban, who lost his father to the Taliban, who has driven out the Taliban, established good order and discipline in his strategic valley and even reached across the border into Pakistan to strike up alliances with the hard pressed Shia tribes located in the Parrots Beak area (didn’t know there were Shia there did you?  Me either but I know how important that is and also how much those people need friends like us) is now considered by the U.S. Army to be an AOG leader.   AOG means “Armed Opposition Group” which means Ajmal is now lumped in with the Taliban and drug barons.

If a tribe is strong enough to stand up to the Taliban it is also strong enough to stand up to crooked politicians appointed by Kabul and their pedophile policemen. In areas with a strong governor and decent infrastructure like Nangarhar Province the tribes do not have problems with Afghan Security Forces because they will tolerate no misbehavior and the governor would be prone to quickly, decisively and one hopes brutally deal with miscreants who rape and pillage the population they are supposed to be protecting. In isolated portions of the country with little infrastructure and a weak provincial government this is not the case and thus men like Ajmal do what they have to do to secure their people and that means driving predatory government and security forces off their lands.

The FOB bound local American military units have little ability to observe or understand what is happening. They rarely leave their bases and when they do they have such large areas to cover that they can do little more than a “drive by” to show the flag or hand out some food stuffs or meaningless trinkets. The Americans have a mission to support GIRoA. Tribes with the cohesion and combat power to drive parasitic representatives of GIRoA off their lands are by default bad guys even if those same tribes are also keeping the Taliban wolf away from their door.

I know that I make this point over and over but feel compelled to point out yet again that one cannot “do” counterinsurgency by commuting daily from a large FOB. The concept of “bearded Special Forces” fanning out all over the country to help the tribal chiefs is a joke. What needs to happen is to put American troops into these tribal areas to live with, train with, and become allies with those tribes. There is no other way and you don’t need “Special Forces” for that mission – regular infantry can do the job with no additional training. The SF guys should shave off those beards anyway – 8 years of incompetently planned and executed “HVT” missions have given them a bad reputation while accomplishing nothing of strategic significance. What the hell is this helicoptering into Achin district by the “bearded soldiers” to pass out flour all about anyway? They could drive into the damn district in less than an hour, rent a nice safe house, move in and hang out for a year or two thus demonstrating a little commitment to the local tribes while simultaneously actually learning something about the place and its people. If they were really smart they would leave the beards, shed the uniform, rent local vehicles and ditch the stupid MRAP’s – that way the bad guys would not be able to target them with IED’s so easily – but that kind of thinking appears to be a bridge too far for the army these days.

The American military is a world leading institution when it comes to developing and using emerging technology.   Unfortunately that technology now allows our bloated, top heavy staffs to micromanage units in the field to an unprecedented degree. The results were predictable back in the 80’s when my Marine peers and I were first dealing with the impact of satellite position reporting systems, radios which actually worked most of the time and commanders who had video screens in their operations centers. What we predicted back then and are seeing today is the stifling of initiative on the ground combined with the removal of the tactical decision making by the commander on the ground. Our OODA loop has now been slowed down so much by the ability of multiple staffs far removed from the battle to insert themselves into the process that we risk becoming as slow and cumbersome as the old Soviet Army. If we do not step away from the computers, comfortable quarters, lavish DFAC’s and get our collective asses out into the field to really protect the population we are going to end up with another mark is the “lost” column. There is no excuse for that.

Fear Factor

I have been on the road for the past fortnight sorting things out for a prolonged leave back in the U.S.   In this post our good friend Chim Chim gets a load off his chest about the military and our various intelligence agencies.   Chim Chim knows what he is talking about having embedded with us back in 2006 on several trips into the south.   He too has traveled in every region of the country and is another kindred Free Ranger who walks the walk.


Big ops big problems

Little ops little problems

No ops no problems

— Post it note on some door on some floor in the Central Intelligence Agency Building

Big op big success; Little ops little success (few lives saved); No ops no success (people die).
— Unknown spy

The Problem

In the war on terror, our greatest enemy is our self.   Like the company picnic we have become a community of self licking ice cream cones and have forgotten the mission, or more tragically become so self-absorbed in power point success and vertical movement within dysfunctional organizations that champion mediocrity and the status quo.   This risk adverse culture has paralyzed the intelligence world and is metastasizing to the military and other government organizations to the point of a terminal diagnosis or paralysis through analysis.   Our current senior management (I cannot use the word leadership as that implies the ability to lead and inspire others which if were the case this post would not be necessary)in the military and intelligence services have become a large group of frighten children who put career advancement and self preservation ahead of the mission.   Our congressional management (see above why leadership does not apply) has redefined the carrot-stick philosophy.   Carrots are no longer given to the bold risk takers that complete the mission and succeed.   Instead carrots are given to those who don’t play with sticks due to the possibility of a mishap where the stick may cause injury to someone else or even worse cause personal injury due to the sharp nature of the item.     While little attention is paid to the actual cause of this disease, it can be understood by identifying the underlying core problem, fear.

In order to leave the base, the military must have a minimum of 4 MRAPS.  Because the commanders feal that saftey lies in numbers and big giganic vehicles.  Fear of not having the right assets and numbers in case something goes wrong drives these decisions.
In order to leave the base, the military must have a minimum of 4 MRAPS. Because the commanders feal that saftey lies in numbers and big giganic vehicles. Fear of not having the right assets and numbers in case something goes wrong drives these decisions.

Fear is our greatest asset or our greatest liability.   This is a national crisis in our military and intelligence services and the current situation in Afghanistan is a text book example of this national cancer called fear.   When our enemies have fear they do not think and act rationally.   Their thought processes become paralyzed and their performance substandard allowing them to be manipulated, cornered, and defeated.   Fear is our asset when we inspire it in our enemies.   Unfortunately fear is our greatest liability when it manifests in our selves.   An evaluation of our current mission in Afghanistan shows fear to the point of paralysis.   We don’t ever voice this however, but veil it in catchy phrases like, risk aversion, political correctness, and cultural awareness.   But the truth is the American military and intelligence community are scared to death.   The irony is that the fear is not inspired by the enemy but from within the community itself.   This fear and focus on self is allowing America to grab defeat from the jaws of victory in Afghanistan.

Rule number one:  Bad things happen in war.  Technology is not a solution to tactical problems.  Fear hides behind the illusion of technology solving your tactical problems.  End result, people still die because this is war.
Rule number one: Bad things happen in war. Technology is not a solution to tactical problems. Fear hides behind the illusion of technology solving your tactical problems. End result, people still die because this is war.

We no longer ask the question how do we complete the mission and win, but more importantly how do we keep from making a mistake.     I would have to look back to when we moved the bar of success so low that it became a line in the sidewalk, easily crossed by anyone who was paying limited attention but this kum by ya mentality in the military and intelligence world has opened the flood gates for our enemies who define success as wining and destroying their opponent.   Our current model is so stagnate, outdated, and self limiting that it not only is ineffective but provides a template for our enemies to easily understand, exploit, and defeat us at every turn.   While we have the most highly sophisticated, technical abilities of any country in the world, it amounts to the analogy of a high speed multifunctional computer used only to play solitaire.   The various alphabets in the soup are continuously marking their spot on the nearest congressional tree for fear another four legged man’s best friend might just gain favor with the current elected potentate of the gold chest and their overinflated fecal filled budget will not get them into the current place to be seen where the size of a man’s genitalia is directly proportional to his place at the trough.   While the key words like Unity of Effort sound good on the parchment of the potentate,  they effectively come down to a dysfunctional three-legged race between different branches and agencies desperately trying to reach the finish line of bigger budgets equal more power.   This emperor’s clothes mentality is hamstringing the true believers and GSD (Get #@% done) personnel who are at the epicenter of any successful endeavor.   Outside the box thinking is labeled as cowboy and suspect with the potential for risk or God forbid massive success.   When talented aggressive patriots see the rotting decay of their superiors, the attrition rate makes websites like monster.com their quarterly bonus as the private sector continually draws the best and the brightest away from service to their country like congress to a $1000 a plate fundraiser.   This insanity must stop or all our forefathers fought for will be a distant memory in the ocean of incompetence and insecurity that currently is directing our efforts.

The Solution

Sometimes in order to build the perfect house you have to tear the current one down to its foundation.   Broken pipes, support structures, and shoddy architecture are best deposited in the dumpster of ineffectiveness.   This reconstruction effort starts at the top and defines a new Pavlovian response where the reward is tied to creativity, courage, and no fear of failure.   Success will be defined as success (bold new concept point), and not the mitigation of risk where all widgets were accounted for,   no one got a paper cut, and all off color non politically correct comments and conduct are currently being prosecuted to the maximum level of the law.   Certainly mistakes will be made but they will act as the temporary framework, providing for constructive evaluation to redefine a bold, dynamic structure that is indestructible due to its ability to adapt to its environment and overcome adversity on multiple levels.   In this structure each room will have a common goal of victory and as a group share in the success and learn from the failure.   The storm winds will change direction with each new season but this architectural wonder will continually adapt and overcome adversity.   The good news is that the materials for this structure are readily available; they are dedication, selflessness, integrity, and commitment to the mission.     You will find these materials growing where the soil is not choked out by the weeds of selfishness, insecurity, mediocrity, and self absorption.   Once this structure is built it will crush the rising storms and protect the country from future natural disasters.

Leadership begins with love of country and courage of your convictions.  One cannot lead if you have no love for your country and no personal convictions.
Leadership begins with love of country and courage of your convictions. One cannot lead if you have no love for your country and no personal convictions.

Fear can be overcome.   The process will take time and the conviction of true American patriots who will have to stand and put country before self.     We can start here in Afghanistan and begin to rebuild our house.

Turkey Shoot

I was enjoying a morning cup of coffee on the Baba Deck with a group of friends just in from the States when we saw the signature of a tanker attack just up the road.  That has never happened this close to Jalalabad before so we conducted a brief staff meeting which consisted of saying “let’s go” and headed up the road to see what was what.

Moments after the tankers were hit - photo taken from the Taj Jalalabad Baba Deck
Moments after the tankers were hit – photo taken from the Taj Jalalabad Baba Deck

The ANP had closed the Duranta Dam tunnel but recognizing us they waved us through and we continued through the tunnel at speed only to have the ANP on the other side of the tunnel wave us right on down the road and into the kill zone.

Approaching the ambush site - note the armed civilian - who knows who he is - running towards the firing. What is also important to note is the lack of any vegitation or cover in the hills where the bad guys are and the Amry OH 58 Kiowa circiling overhead.
Approaching the ambush site – note the armed civilian – who knows who he is – running towards the firing. What is also important to note is the lack of vegetation or cover in the hills where the bad guys are and the U.S. Army OH58D Kiowa circling overhead. The men on the ridge line are Blue Compass convoy escort who are on the flank of the Taliban ambush squad

We saw a string of tracers stitch the road to our front and immediately pulled a hard left into dead space well short of the burning trucks to continue forward on foot. The firing was sporadic, just a few incoming rounds cracking well over our heads and we were not sure if it was aimed at us or spill over from the firefight we could hear to our right. The villains had a belt fed machinegun (probably a PKM) which fired a few bursts in our direction during the 5 or so minutes it took us to work towards the their flank. Just shy of the ridge they were on they decided we were more than a nuisance and started cranking rounds our way in earnest. We withdrew which was a disappointment  because I had a new camera and wanted to put it to use.

There was a section (two) of Army OH58D  helicopters circling overhead very low as they worked out who was who on the ground so I tried taking pictures of them but they came out crappy because it was a new camera and I’m not that damn bright when it comes to cameras

There are no villages up in the hills above the Duranta Dam, no vegetation and no cover. Once the Kiowa’s obtained good situational awareness they engaged the ambush team the bad guys were toast.T hey couldn’t go to ground, they couldn’t hide, they were in the open and forced to be on the move by pressure from a convoy escort team from  Blue Compass and a few ANP troops who had followed them into the hills.

The first two tankers have been hit with multiple rounds and are leakng JP 8 all over the road
The first two tankers have been hit with multiple rounds and are leaking JP 8 all over the road

This was a more effective ambush then we normally see further west on the Jbad /Kabul highway. The terrain forced the shooters to be much closer to the road than they are when they ambush from the heights of the Tangi Valley further down the road. There were three tankers hit and dumping JP 8 all over the road but not burning. Three more were hit and on fire in the northern portion of the kill zone.

These trucks took a beating - there were no driver casualties reported just two escort guards who were reported injured
These trucks took a beating – there were no driver casualties   just two escort guards who were reported injured

Shortly after the photograph above was taken the OH58’s got a firing solution and let rip with rockets and gun pods. Kiowa pilots seem to like getting close and personal and these guys were not staying above some hard artificial “ceiling” dictated to them from on high but were on the deck, spitting venom like a good gunship should. I doubt the villains had much of a chance – reportedly four were killed.

When you see this much fuel pouring out of a tanker you know it is just a matter of time before something bad happens
When you see this much fuel pouring out of a tanker you know it is just a matter of time before something bad happens
Tghe truck drivers start some damage control efforts by sticking small tree branches into the bullet holes. There are coverd in fuel but doing a good job at protecting the shipment they are responsible for.
The truck drivers start some damage control efforts by sticking small tree branches into the bullet holes. They are covered in fuel but doing a good job at protecting the shipment they are responsible for.

The Kiowa’s ended this fight and the efforts on the ground turned to separating the leaking fuel tankers from the burning ones. This is an effort best watched from at least two ridge lines away and we had work to do so we headed back to Taj noting there were at least 50 fuel tankers lining the road just outside the kill zone. In the big scheme of things these attacks are meaningless; the loss of fuel is sucked up by the contractor who only gets paid for what he delivers. The numbers of trucks being lost are like-wise a problem for Pakistani truck companies and not Uncle Sam. The American taxpayer can’t buy a break like that in most places.

Napoleon reportedly said; “moral power is to the physical as three parts out of four”.  Attacks like the one we witnessed this morning are always victories on the moral level for the Taliban.  That is the problem for our efforts in Afghanistan in a nut shell.  The Taliban do not have to be tactically good or win on the physical level, they don’t have to be smart or survive half ass ambush attempts.  They just need to attack and if they lose every battle in the end it won’t matter; they’ll still win.

Convoy escort from Blue Compass telling us the "Taliban are nishta" after the Kiowa's fired them up
Convoy escort from Blue Compass telling us the “Taliban are nishta” after the Kiowa’s fired them up

The ambush squad who sortied out this morning to burn fuel trucks were clueless. They shoot up 6 trucks out of a convoy of around 80 and then found themselves flanked by armed guards, forced to move in open terrain where they were hunted down like rabid dogs by Kiowa helicopters. This also was a good demonstration of using PSC’s to perform tasks which are not cost effective for the military.  It was our good luck and the villains bad luck that two helicopters were hanging around the area with full ammo stores when this went down. The pressure applied by aggressive maneuver from the convoy escort security element helped the Kiowa’s PID (positive ID) the bad guys and obtain permission to smoke them. It is rare to see that work out so smoothly. Too bad its not always this easy with the Taliban.

The Tribes – A Bottom Up Approach

The last post generated quite a few interesting comments about the Steven Pressfield Blog, Chief Ajmal Khan Zazai, and the prospect of using specialized troops to embed with the tribes.  With the election now decided this is an excellent time to talk about the tribes and more importantly a bottom up approach. The government in Kabul is not going to change – in fact they already fired a shot across the bow of the international community with a message that is easy to decipher. Check out this email which came from a senior security manager in Kabul last night:

Dear All,

Last night the Lounge Restaurant in Wazir Akbar Khan was raided by police and all their liquor confiscated. They were also on their way to Gandamak but it was already closed. I made a phone call to the Regional Police Commander for Kabul who confirmed that the police is indeed conducting raids on restaurants 2 reasons:

  • Restaurants selling liquor are illegal
  • Restaurants are being closed because of an outbreak of swine flu.

You are thus instructed not to visit any restaurants until further notice.

Regards,

XXXXXXX

The restaurants servicing internationals in Kabul have been operating for over six years now and are licensed, legal establishments who pay a ton in taxes and other   charges to the local government officials. All of them openly sell liquor and always have because it is legal for non Muslims to drink alcohol in Afghanistan and, with the exception of the Taliban rule, always has been.  And Swine Flu?  Are you kidding me?  The Kabul government is doing what the Taliban cannot do (yet) and that is driving  out foreign aid workers so they can insert their own Afghan cronies to steal an even higher percentage of foreign aid dollars then they are currently stealing. Greed is a terrible thing which is why it is mentioned so often in the bible.  And the Koran too for that matter but who cares about minor technicalities like that these days?  Apparently nobody in the senior ranks of international community.

The local Bad Guys smoked a tanker two days ago between Jbad and Kabul. There were no less thanb 200 tankers lined up behind this one which got through fine. The consistent trend we see is attacking lone trucks every now and then and running away. It is not a serious effort at disrupting the logistical efforts on this lone route west to Kabul.
The local Bad Guys smoked a tanker two days ago between Jbad and Kabul. There were no less than 200 tankers lined up behind this one which got through fine. The consistent trend we see is attacking lone trucks every now and then and running away. It is not a serious effort at disrupting the logistical efforts on this lone route west to Kabul.

The central government is a much bigger hindrance to the efforts of the international community than the Taliban is which makes the option of bottom up change very appealing.   Author Steven Pressfield, one of my all time favorite writers, started a blog in which has has posted a number of interviews with Chief Ajmal Khan Azazi who has formed a 11 tribe alliance in the Zazai valley of Paktia Province. An area that is astride the Pakistan border and thought to be under Taliban control.   The interviews are remarkable for several reasons like the fact that Ajmal’s tribal fighters have driven both the Kabul government officials (who they consider to be corrupt and ineffective) as well as various Taliban bands out of their tribal lands.

I know Ajmal and have had two meetings with him in Dubai.  He is good friends with The Boss and we are trying to get some cash for work projects going in his area.  As you read through the various interviews with Chief Zazai you will notice instantly that he makes perfect sense to those who understand Afghan history.   Afghanistan has never been effectively ruled by a central government in Kabul and the one that is there now is no exception.   If we want to try a bottom up approach it is going to have to be done by partnering with tribal leaders like Chief Ajmal Khan Zazai.

Hate to see this - an IED going off right across the street from the Taj
Hate to see this – an IED going off right across the street from the Taj

There is a plan which outlines a solid concept of operations for tribal engagement on the Pressfield blog.   Major Jim Gant, an army SF Officer has written a paper called “One Tribe At A Time” and the link to download it is on the Pressfield homepage.   It is a great paper especially where he relates his experience in the Kunar Province back in 2003.   Major Gant succinctly covers why our current approach will not work and then goes on to recommend a strategy based of Tribal Engagement Teams. I like the part where he describes patrolling with his tribal hosts without body armor or helmets.   If we are going to fight with the tribes we have to fight like they do and that means no body armor if they have none.   Wearing body armor in the high mountains is stupid anyway but not all the tribes live in high mountain valleys – there are plenty of flat lander tribes too.

Ir is hard to know what to make of this - military grade explosives in a pile of marble chips next to the main road which goes off in the middle of the afternoon and hits nothing. There are no indications that this device was targeting anything let alone the internationals at the Taj Guesthouse
Point of origin for the IED that detonated across the street from the Taj.   It is hard to know what to make of this – military grade explosives in a pile of marble chips next to the main road which goes off in the middle of the afternoon and hits nothing. There are no indications that this device was targeting anything let alone the internationals at the Taj Guesthouse.   Is this a business dispute?   A poorly made IED to target traffic on the main road to Kabul?     Like most things in Afghanistan it is hard to imagine what this IED was all about.

The French used a similar concept during the Indochina War when they deployed the Groupement de Commandos Mixtes Aerportes (Composite Airborne Commando Group) known by the French initials of G.C.M.A.   They would send teams of volunteers (normally a junior officer and four sergeants or corporals)  deep into the North Vietnam mountains to link up with tribes who rejected the communist government.   Fifty years ago the French lacked the ability to resupply or even in some cases maintain contact with their inserted G.C.M.A. teams. The only way out for the G.C.M.A. team members was to be wounded, very sick, or mentally broken in which case an airplane would be sent to a remote strip for a medevac, if it were possible and it often was not.   Some teams went out and were never heard from again, others ended up raising and commanding entire battalions of tribal fighters.  None of the men involved received proper recognition for the unbelievably heroic efforts they put into the program because in the end they were tactically irrelevant in the large scheme of things. The Vietminh’s effective (and dreaded) 421st Intelligence Battalion targeted successful G.C.M.A. teams as soon as they surfaced and they knew what they were doing.

I'm practicing with the camera more - girls from Little Barabad village - a dirt poor Kuchi village across the river from Jalalabad
I’m practicing with the camera more – girls from Little Barabad village – a dirt poor Kuchi village across the river from Jalalabad

The Tribal Engagement Teams proposed by Major Gant would not have to endure the isolation, lack of logistical support, absence of command and control nor the multi-year long missions which made the G.C.M.A. such a bad deal.   But 2003 was a long time ago and special forces troops have not been engaging tribes as Major Gant was able to do back then. Their reputation is not exactly great now that they are known more for universally unpopular night raids than for living out among the tribes doing the time/labor intensive work of counterinsurgency.

I think these TET’s do not need to be special forces troops anyway – a rifle platoon would be a better organization in most locations given that tribal villages are often clustered about farming or grazing land giving the platoon the ability to deploy its three squads into different villages which are part of the tribal cluster.   Regardless of who does the mission one thing is certain and that is a tribal engagement strategy can’t be the central component of our Afghan strategy.   It  is an economy of force mission that would free up large numbers of conventional troops deployed along the Pakistani border. The conventional forces should be focused on developing the Afghan Security Forces (ANSF) so they can operate on their own if we ever to get our ground forces out of here.

These boys ran three miles with a Pashto - English translation book to see if they were saying "my friend can swim like a fish" correctly. We need to focus on these young guys because there are so many of them who want to learn.
These boys ran three miles with a Pashto – English translation book to see if they were saying “my friend can swim like a fish” correctly. We need to focus on these young guys because there are so many of them who want to learn. They want and need a future and if we don’t help create that for them…..

Despite the inherent coolness of an outfit like the French G.C.M.A. the best they could have done was nip around the margins of the Vietminh Army and they didn’t do that.  But Afghanistan is different and the Taliban doesn’t have an army. Tribal Engagement strategies have another huge advantage which our military and civilian leaders do not want to talk about and that is they cut out the central government in Kabul.  The biggest threat to our interests in Afghanistan is he blatant, in your face corruption that defines the Karzai government. If we don’t acknowledge this and find a way to work around it every penny we spent and droop of blood we lost will be in vain.  When we eventually leave, the Taliban will return and Afghans who were foolish enough to believe in us and cooperate with us will be hunted down and slaughtered. In that respect the end game here will be identical to the end game in Vietnam.

 

Nothing about Afghanistan is easy or straight forward but the TET concept is worth a shot.

The State of Play

The best way to view the current state of play in Afghanistan is to start at the top of food chain and work down to what is important.   The presidential election remains undecided and now Abdullah Abdullah has pulled out of the run-off election. Our Secretary of State says that means nothing. I agree but for different reasons; in the end it does not matter who is leading the country – the Afghan government will not be a proper COIN partner and will continue to be part of the problem regardless of how these elections turn out. Conducting a runoff will only give the bad guys more opportunity for mischief while accomplishing nothing.

Another big story from up the food chain concerned former Marine Captain Matthew Hoh who resigned from the State Department because he no longer knew why we are fighting in Afghanistan. As a fellow Devil Dog he will be spared my harsh opinion because that is the way us Marines roll – you want to hear us taking the piss out of fellow Marines you need to be wearing the Eagle Globe and Anchor. The only thing relevant about young Mathew is the level of play he is getting in the drive-by media.

This story is a brush back pitch to President Obama from his friends in the press announcing that the honeymoon is over.   When the story broke Michael Yon and I chatted about it on the net and the first thing I asked him was how many Afghan villages had he visited that  would not be thrilled to see a platoon of American (or ISAF but to the Afghans they are all Americans) infantry move in to stay for a long time? Like me his answer was very few. Michael has been over much of this country often riding along with the Bot or I. I have been in a lot more places than Michael and can name only a few that would not immediately welcome the semi-permanent deployment of American troops. On his most important point Hoh is wrong as wrong can be.

Army troops from the 4th Brigade chatting up the folks along the new road they built in Kunar Province. It is good to see American infantry dismoounted and interacting with the local peoples in a calm professional manner. But this is not COIN - these troops will mount up and move on in an hour. They are not providing security to the local people they are just showing the flag which expensive, inefficient, dangerous for the troops and at this stage of the conflict just plain silly
Army troops from the 4th Brigade chatting up the folks along the new road they built in Kunar Province. It is good to see American infantry dismounted and interacting with the local peoples in a calm professional manner. But this is not COIN – these troops will mount up and move on in an hour. They are not providing security to the local people they are just showing the flag which expensive, inefficient, dangerous for the troops because there is only one way out and one way back to their base.   Better to go out and stay out then to be predictable every time you leave the wire

Mister Hoh stuck to his guns when offered a seat at the big table by the ambassador which showed commendable conviction and character. But the reason the military fights here is because it has been told to fight here. Once that decision is made the men at the pointed end of the spear fight for each other. That is the nature of professional warriors.   If the host nation government isn’t a reliable partner – that is supposed to be a problem for the State Department. But hear me when I tell you the Afghan government is not going to change and it is a bigger obstacle to peace than the Taliban.

The overall security situation is what it is too; which not good in many places. The disturbing attack on a Kabul Guesthouse – which was UN MOSS (minimum operational safety standard) compliant and had some UN workers in residence again shows the bad guys can penetrate the tight security in capitol.

If it was the bad guys who attacked this particular target which just happened to be the UN team shipped in to monitor the presidential elections. Lot’s of people were unhappy about having those do-gooders running around and in this country when people are unhappy about you being here they let you know in unequivocal terms.

Weapons are not allowed in the official UN billets outside Kabul but they are temporary Guesthouses which there were not more internationals killed in this attack.

If the Taliban did this (which I doubt) the attack too is not enough to change the overall security picture. If the Taliban follow up with multiple attacks directed at internationals it would force all of us to operate like we did in Iraq back in 2005 and 2006. That would virtually halt all reconstruction activities until a massive security effort could be designed and staffed. That is not going to happen; all the sides in this conflict and all the surrounding countries are making too much money on the massive effort being expended in support of the Afghan reconstruction endeavor. The Taliban are Afghans and they know how the foreigner gravy train works.

This is not what you want to see driving down the road; sunburned, lean men with hard eyes and high top sneakers. These are Taliban fighters and we saw hundreds of them hanging out along the roadside in the Province. Kunar statisically the most dangerous province in the country - that will change as the Americans pull out of their forward bases becasue the raw incident numbers will pulmmet but it will always be a bad place for us internationals. Most of the people in Kunar want to be left alone; we should accomidate them and let the Afghans deal with this chronically unstable area
This is not what you want to see driving down the road; Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. The dress gives them away; note the squared tunic bottoms on some of these cats – that’s a Pakistani thing – Afghans prefer rounded corners on their tunics and you can see both in this picture. I suspect there are new Taliban fighters hanging out on the road side so they can watch our convoys and the troops who have dismounted and are playing grab ass with the local kids. This is a standard tactic of de-mystifying the large scary looking MRAP’s. 

If the Taliban had to strength and ability to really go after internationals they probably would but they don’t. But they can penetrate the Afghan security blanket which covers the capitol and cause all sorts of problems. The only way to prevent that and really the only way to have any real impact at all is to focus our efforts on the Afghan security forces. Our current mentoring efforts are not effective. We do not “embed” with the Afghans really. They are no Afghan liaison officers in any of the tactical operations centers resident in every battalion and brigade headquarters. An Afghan brigade HQ is a map table and a few radios – ours have dozens of people all with computer work stations and large video screens streaming in multiple feeds. We have hundreds of EuPol police officers here doing God knows what. They are not out with the Afghan police and seem to hang out in large purpose built buildings sending each other emails or surfing the internet. Kabul will be safe on the day you see EuPol officers or ISAF military out manning the checkpoints with the Afghans and not one day before that. Until then we will continue to see effective car bombing and armed raids. Check that – I doubt we will see more armed raids because in most of the Guesthouses I know in Kabul there are so many armed internationals that the bad guys would be shredded by the time they made it past the gates.

If we want to rapidly build the Afghan Security Forces the only way to do it is to live and work with them 24/7. We need to adopt them, feed them, pay them, and watch after them. What can a US officer really do when the Colonel he is mentoring cannot feed his own troops because the money to buy that chow is siphoned off by officers above him? If they make a stink about it the Afghan Colonel is sure to be relieved and thrown out on the streets. The current mentors have guys fighting daily while dealing with problems they would never encounter in the American system. They do the best they can to support the unit they are assigned to mentor, but they are not really embedded. They live of separate compounds inside the Afghan compounds completely separate from their charges. Mentoring means leading by example while living and fighting with your host country troops. It does not mean setting up a parallel TOC, camp, cook house, offices, and coffee shop where the Afghans are not welcomed or allowed.

Look at the size of these stupid MRAP's. When the troops are inside them they have no ability to hear what is happening outside the vehicle and most of the occupant cannot see a damn thing from inside them. These vehicles isolate the people inside them completley from the outside world which makes them more, not less vulnerable to attack. Still it was good to see the Americans hanging out with the locals in a relaxed calm manner.....a little late for this mind you but still a positive sign
This is what the bad guys in the photo above were looking at. Army troops hanging out with the local kids. The MRAPS are big and look impressive but they don’t shoot TOW’s like the Hummers did so in Kunar they are essentially worthless and we are losing too many because they can’t shoot high enough in the mountains.

The military is bitching about the fact that the Afghan government is not a reliable partner and a big part of the insecurity problem. This is true but the military can’t change that. They can make the Afghan military part of the solution but not by treating them the way they treat them now. We need to get the troops off the FOB’s and out with their counterparts in the villages. We also need to pull out of areas where the local people do not want our help – which is not that many areas in the country as a whole.

Kunar farmer threshing wheat the old fashioned way
Kunar farmer threshing wheat the old fashioned way

Every officer in all the NATO forces is taught the Principles of Warfare which are pasted in below:

  • Objective: Direct every military operation toward a clearly defined, decisive and attainable objective. “The ultimate military purpose of war is the destruction of the enemy’s armed forces and will to fight.”
  • Offensive: Seize, retain, and exploit the initiative. Even in defense, a military organization is expected to maintain a level of aggressiveness by patrolling and launching limited counter-offensives.
  • Mass: Mass the effects of overwhelming combat power at the decisive place and time.
  • Economy of Force: Employ all combat power available in the most effective way possible; allocate minimum essential combat power to secondary efforts.
  • Maneuver: Place the enemy in a position of disadvantage through the flexible application of combat power.
  • Unity of Command: For every objective, seek unity of command and unity of effort.
  • Security: Never permit the enemy to acquire unexpected advantage.
  • Surprise: Strike the enemy at a time or place or in a manner for which he is unprepared.
  • Simplicity: Prepare clear, uncomplicated plans and concise orders to ensure thorough understanding.

Not one of these rules are being followed in Afghanistan. Not one. The most important principal above is unity of command but we don’t come close. Gen McChrystal cannot tell his NATO subordinates to do a damn thing they don’t want to do- they will just call home to their respective capitols and tell the politicians to tell them not to do what they were just told to do but do not want to do. We have no mass and therefore cannot really do economy of force operations. Simplicity is a concept all but forgotten by the modern military and nobody can tell you in clear concise terms what the objective or our current efforts are.

The Kabul government will never be a reliable partner but the Afghan Army could develop into an effective force which, inshallah, could help drive Afghanistan into the functioning core of nation states (that should be our objective by the way.) General McChrystal should focus on that goal and continue with his efforts to send the REMF’s home, get off the FOB’s and get more troops into areas where they can protect the population.