Rainy Day in a White City (Updated)

Jalalabad finally has some winter weather with much needed rain. The Hindu Kush has sparse snow of their peaks; the weather has been unseasonably mild and dry so far this winter. A dry winter is a real disaster in a parched country that relies heavily on small scale farms to feed its people. So the rain is good but only if it stops soon. Nothing is straightforward in Afghanistan even when it comes to rain – a few more days of this will render most of the housing structures unstable.   Houses made of mud bricks do not handle the wet well at all.

It is good to see the Army using the truck bypass and avoiding the congestion of downtown Jalalabad - good for the army who has a clear route with good observation and good for the locals who have enough traffic congestion to deal with daily
It is good to see the Army using the truck bypass and avoiding the congestion of downtown Jalalabad – good for the Army who has a clear route with good observation, and good for the locals who have enough traffic congestion to deal with daily

Yesterday Dexter Filkins filed an interesting story on the recent conversion of the Shinwari tribe to the Afghan government side of the conflict. The Shinwaris have around 400,000 or so members in the southeastern portion of Afghanistan and are a major tribe. That they have openly declared themselves to be against the Taliban is a significant political victory for the Karzai regime but will have limited impact on the ground. They have a strong tribal militia that has no problems running Taliban off their lands. Throwing their prestige behind the government is one way to avoid having their tribal militia disarmed and declared illegal. I wonder if that represents a more pragmatic approach to using the tribes by Kabul?

I have learned from a State Department Foreign Service Officer (who worked the deal) that this announcement was brokered by the Army battlespace commander in conjunction with the Department of State. That is most encouraging and demonstrates the utility of allowing professional from our Foreign Service to slip outside the security bubble and engage tribal leaders directly. As hard as I am on our State Department this move deserves nothing but praise and respect. Love it.

 

 

The Tribes of Nangarhar Province
The Tribes of Nangarhar Province.   The vital route one runs along the south side of the Kabul River which is just south of Lal Pur District in the east to Jalalabad in the western portion of the province.

The Shinwaris control the area in and around the Route One corridor and they are directly responsible for keeping the route flowing freely because it is vital to their collective interests that trade flows smoothly. As Dexter noted in his piece, the American SF team from Jalalabad flew into the Mahmand Valley to offer support last summer (Mohmand is the tribe; Mahmand is the valley and Dexter got them wrong…need to stop in the Taj and chat us up Dexter – we’ll get you sorted). I commented on that story at that time bitching about commuting to the village of the FOB. I have since learned that the CJSOTF (Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force) teams wanted to stay, but here is where the problems of the convoluted bureaucracy came to bear.  The CJOSTF teams do not own the battle space in Nangarhar Province and they are reliant upon the battle space owner for vital support functions such as air lift support. The battle space owner clearly did not want CJSOTF teams operating in the Shinwari territory for some reason or I suspect they would have been there. (On a side note, the mission of CJSOTF is mostly to partner with “indigenous” forces in order to prosecute what’s known as FID missions – Foreign Internal Defense, i.e. partnering with the local security forces to counter an insurgency). SF teams are a perfect economy of force option which can, if done in enough places, have a significant impact on local security conditions and perceptions. They need to sort out whatever conflict they are having with big Army soon.  Mission first men.

This is what a large tribal shura looks like - the Shinwaris meeting at Farmi Hadda. Good thing it wasn't raining last week.
This is what a large tribal shura looks like – the Shinwaris meeting at Farmi Hadda. Good thing it wasn’t raining last week.

ISAF continues to confine itself to large bases while manning static outposts (some located in indefensible valleys) in key regions of the various provinces. Their focus is on resupplying these positions, responding to periodic attacks which target the more vulnerable outposts, and supporting the frequent patrols who venture from the outposts to engage local leaders. And of course they focus on IED’s because IED’s are the most common weapon used to attack them. This counter IED battle includes paying cash for IED’s which are turned in by local people. Think that might be incentive for locals to set off an IED now and then in an effort to sell a few to the Huckleberrys from the closest ISAF base?

Despite the limited number of troops who actually engage the locals at some level ISAF is having some success; this excellent article about Army Captain Michael Harrison is a great example. But Captain Harrison is the exception – he was requested by name by his brigade commander because he had served a tour in Kunar Province before where he was effective at engaging local villagers. There just are not that many rifle company commanders who have that unique qualification. From the small group of military leaders who have experience with successful tribal engagement only a few are stationed here at any given time. From that small cohort fewer still will find themselves in the same area they once worked and none will have the freedom of action currently enjoyed by CPT Harrison.

Yesterday morning there was a reported IED attack on the Surk rod Chief of Police who is a spitting image of Stonewall Jackson only bigger. Much bigger than me with long grey beard and the hard eyes of a man who has known battle all his life. Surk Rod district has some issues but targeting the COP this close to Jalalabad - and one who has a pretty solid control on things in his area would have been a serious escallation in villianry.
Yesterday morning there was a reported IED attack on the Surkh Rod Chief of Police, who is a spitting image of Stonewall Jackson, only bigger. Much bigger than me, with long grey beard and the hard eyes of a man who has known battle all his life. Surkh Rod District has some issues, but targeting the COP this close to Jalalabad – and one who has a pretty solid control on things in his area would have been a serious escalation in villanery. Turns out there was one IED that detonated about 400 meters behind a joint ANA/ANP patrol.   They reportedly found another at the scene.   The IED was small and poorly sited – there is no shrapnel damage to the tress across the road and minimal damage to the road bed.

 

The blast energy from this IED was 180 out from the road. This is not unusual in the east and i wish it were more common in the south where IED's are much more effective.
The blast energy from this IED was 180 degrees out from the road. This is not unusual in the east and I, wish it were more common in the south where IED’s are much more effective.

 

We found the joint patrol a few miles away where they were searching every vehicle and all passangers heading towards Jalalabad. They said six men were in the field pictured above with a cell phone and that they had command detonated the IED. The patrol turned around and engaged the men who ran off and they found another IED which they said "was just an IED" and they weren't sure where it was at the moment. The machinegunner spoke pretty good english and they were running a very professional checkpoint. The kind of IED attack they described is indicative to us of IED makers who want to turn in product to the military for cash.
We found the joint patrol a few miles away where they were searching every vehicle and all passengers heading towards Jalalabad. They said six men were in the field, pictured above with a cell phone, and that they had command detonated the IED. The patrol turned around and engaged the men who ran off and they found another IED which they said “was just an IED” and they weren’t sure where it was at the moment. The machine gunner spoke pretty good English and they were running a very professional checkpoint. The kind of IED attack they described is indicative to us of IED makers who want to turn in their products to the military for cash.

 

These checkpoints function very smoothly when they are done correctly. We think the reason they are joint is because the ANP do not have a great reputation while the ANA is held in high regard by most Afghans.
These checkpoints function very smoothly when they are done correctly. We think the reason they are joint is because the ANP do not have a great reputation, while the ANA is held in high regard by most Afghans.   The presence of ANA troops at hasty road checkpoints is a good way to let the local people know this in an above board security screening where everyone gets searched and baksheesh is not welcome.  

Jalalabad was on lock down for the international community today. Declared a “white city” by the UN due to two reports; one of “five female BBIED (Body Borne Improvised Explosive Device) bombers who are looking to strike important targets” and one concerning reporting “spectacular attacks,” while President Karzai is in London attending an international conference. There has never been a female suicide bomber in Afghanistan to the best of my knowledge and there is no historical correlation to President Karzai attending international meetings and “spectacular” attacks. We aren’t buying it.

We ignored the White City warning and carried on with our daily routine. International reconstruction specialists cost the taxpayers of America over $1000 per day, so locking them down for no reason is a very expensive mistake. The military knew the principal threat spooking the UN security people was bogus, but they don’t talk to each other much. Both the UN and the military are operating inside huge bureaucratic closed loops – neither organization has the capacity to get into the local environment to conduct real time assessments. Only the small fries in the reconstruction business: JICA, CADG, CHF, etc… pay attention to White Information because they have to in order to operate. The large bureaucracies react to bogus intel which flows around the closed, insulated loops because in part their analysts deal with emails not people. Plus the UN can afford to spend day after day on “lockdown” due to non specific and they have booze in abundance so and I heard White City Parties can and do get out of hand.

Speaking of money our army had taken to shuttling personnel between the airport and PRT in helicopters.  You could walk between the bases in less than 15 minutes  or drive it in 5.  Does the military honestly believe that the 200 meters of Route 1 separating their bases is so dangerous that it warrants flying helicopters between them? Of course not – but flying in helicopters is easier than running four vehicle MRAP convoys and every time a soldier drives outside the front gate of a base he has to be in a four vehicle convoy with at least 16 riflemen. Who the hell can afford to spend money this way?  Helicopter crashes in Afghanistan routinely kill two to three times more military members than the Taliban has ever been able to kill even when they mass their best fighters against isolated positions held by only a handful of Americans. Why is flying in a helicopter safer than a 15 minute walk or 5 minute bus ride? In large bureaucracies cost efficiency and common sense are not part of the operational paradigm.

There are people getting it right on the ground right now and they represent the only feasible way forward. But small fries have no champions in Washington and getting the job done right in areas where the big boys are floundering is not proving to be relevant at this time. One can only hope it gets relevant in the near future.

Amateur Hour

The attack on Kabul yesterday was yet another demonstration of how inept the Taliban are at the planning and execution of a simple raid.   The attack has been described in the press as “audacious” and “brazen” which is true.   All their attacks in downtown Kabul are conceptually bold military moves; but they accomplish nothing.   A better description of their performance would be incompetent. Seven heavily armed attackers – one in a bomb-rigged ambulance killed three policemen and two civilians, one of them a child.   They failed to make it onto their objective retreating instead into the most popular market in downtown Kabul which they then destroyed.   That is a dismal performance by a raid force which had gained complete surprise when they unmasked themselves in Pashtunistan Square.   Dismal isn’t even strong enough to describe how poorly the Taliban executed the raid – how about “more stupid, incompetent and wasteful of personal time then a Nancy Pelosi press conference?”   That doesn’t really roll of the tongue but you get the idea inshallah.

Chim Chim sent this photo of the attack taken from the Presidential compound.  There was zero chance of the seven attackers getting anywhere near this copound yesterday
Chim Chim sent this photo of the attack, taken from the Presidential compound. There was zero chance of the seven attackers getting anywhere near this compound yesterday.

The best chronology of yesterday’s attack was filed by Dexter Filkins of the New York Times.   As an aside, he filed an excellent outside-the-wire style piece on his efforts to help the schoolgirls who were attacked by men on motorcycles throwing acid in their faces last year.   It is a long story with an ending so typical for Afghanistan, that it is iconic in my book.   I have mentioned Mr. Filkins once in a previous post where I took the piss out of him for reporting from inside the US Military security bubble.   After reading A School Bus for Shamsia, I take it all back.   He is developing a sense for this conflict which few dedicated reporters have developed.   He could develop into the main stream media’s Michael Yon if he invested the time required to develop his own situational awareness.

View from inside the Presidential Compound.  The mobile security team from the compound had joined the fight in the opening moments.
View from inside the Presidential Compound. The mobile security team from the compound had joined the fight in the opening moments.

In military tactical terms, yesterday’s attack is classified as a raid.   Raids are designed to attack soft targets which are not prepared for and do not expect direct attack.   Getting onto the objective without being discovered is the easy part of most raids.   The hard part is withdrawing your force back to friendly lines – a problem which was not relevant to the Taliban attackers who had no plan or intent to escape once they committed to the attack.    The execution of a successful raid  requires meticulous planning and preparation, including multiple, detailed rehearsals in order to condition men in contact to function with speed and purpose and ultimately, achieve the difficult task of  getting back across friendly lines.

The attackers had no supporting arms to coordinate, no aircraft, no inter-squad communication, no higher headquarters communication, and apparently, no real plan.   One of them gets shot trying to bum rush the guards outside the Central Bank and detonates himself; a cluster of 3 to 5 invade the Faroshga Market, tell the locals to leave and barricade themselves on the upper floors where they are eventually killed; and then an ambulance, which has slipped through the security cordon, detonates in Malik Asghar Square inflicting the only KIA’s during the entire event.   So the big raid ends up destroying the new market downtown, which the people of Kabul are proud of because it is resembles modern shopping stores like they see on TV.   The seven man Taliban raid force could have done dozens of walk through rehearsals on the very objective they were going to attack to tighten their assault plan time-line down to the second.   But they didn’t because when it comes to military tactical proficiency they suck which indicates that they do not have organizational strength expected from a third rate High School football program.   I’m talking about American football here folks – football which requires players to use their   opposing digits – and a third rate High School team would be expected to learn something about the game after 8 years of playing it.   The frigging Taliban are as stupid as the day is long.

The days attacks started in Jalalabad not Kabul with a single rocket launch towards the Jalalabad Airport.  I hit tree branches just after launch detonating next to a local famers house.
The day's attacks started in Jalalabad, not Kabul, with a single rocket launch towards the Jalalabad Airport. It hit tree branches just after launch, detonating next to a local farmer's house. This is the fuse and motor nozzle.
Damage caused by the air burst which occured due to gunner error - hitting trees - morons I swear...
Damage caused by the air burst, which was due to gunner error - hitting trees with a 107mm rocket - morons I swear...
The usual victims - a small farming family just trying to get by.  The Taliban ineptitude with modern weapons increases the risk for normal Afghans who normally would not be tartgeted or affected by the war.
The usual victims - a small farming family just trying to get by. The Taliban's ineptitude with modern weapons increases the risk for normal Afghans who normally would not be targeted or affected by the war.

Continuing with the day’s theme of “stupid Taliban attacks” we headed east to an ambush site near the Torkham border.   If this were in fact an insurgent attack it would be very bad news for us reconstruction types.   There are places known for Taliban attacks and places where we expect no Taliban activity due to the number of tribal inhabitants who will not allow fighting Taliban into their areas of influence.   We had several Reports that a fuel tanker had been hit in an ambush in an area where we expect zero Taliban activity so we needed to go talk with the locals around the ambush site to figure out what was up?

This truck was hit by an RPG but only after it was drained of fuel.
This truck was hit by an RPG, but only after it was drained of fuel.
The RPG went straight through the empty tanker the warhead did not arm because the shooter was too close.  You can see the fuse imprint clearly where the rocket punched out of the tank
The RPG went straight through the empty tanker. The warhead did not arm because the shooter was too close. You can see the fuse imprint clearly where the rocket punched out of the tank.

Turns out one quick look at the truck and we did not need to talk to anybody.   As is the case in over 60% of fuel tanker attacks in Afghanistan this was a case of fuel theft.   We ran into some Pakistani’s who work for the trucking company and were also investigating the reported ambush.   They said they had not heard one word from or about their driver and his assistant.   Fuel thieves – they are as stupid as the Taliban completely unable to come up with a good plan and execute it.

The raid in Kabul yesterday was meaningless.   It will have minimal impact on the Kabul government and the internationals who work with them in the various ministries.   It was just one of the many security incidents which are a normal part of the daily landscape in the contested portions of the country.

The day which started with a poor rocket shot, followed by a key stone cops style raid, and a blatant fuel theft ended with the report of a large bomb located on private property just outside of Jalalabad:

More stupidity - a homemade bomb which failed to function
More stupidity - a homemade bomb which failed to function

It was HME (home made explosive) which was mixed so poorly it could not be detonated.   The blasting cap blew, but the bomb was a dud. ISAF tried to blow the bomb in place – but it still did not go – just a low order “poof.”   Amateurs.     It appeared to be directed at local people and no doubt, the latest shot in an ongoing land dispute.

The Taliban have been fighting us for over eight years and yesterday’s raid was the best they could do, given their vast combat experience?   That raid was a fiasco, which indicates to me we have time… a lot of time to get this thing right.   All we need is the will.

White Information

Friday started with a disturbing report – a fuel tanker attack on the Jalalabad side of the Duranta Dam tunnel.   Ambush teams operating less than a mile from the Taj!   Not good news, so after the incident scene cleared out we went for a look-see.

This turned out to be a traffic accident resulting in a large fire which is a routine event on Afghan roads.
This turned out to be a traffic accident, resulting in a large fire, which is a routine event on Afghan roads.

A trucker had hit an old leaky fuel truck and the resulting spill caught fire.   The various civilian security services had got the story right by late afternoon after issuing an alert for an armed attack inside the Jalalabad movement box just hours before.   The local military folks did not know  what had happened  until we gave them a heads up while clearing the scene.

The cause of the accident
The cause of the accident

If this had been an ambush of tankers with RPG’s, as initially reported, it would have had an immediate effect on the international reconstruction programs throughout Nangarhar Province.   It would not have impacted American or Afghan military convoys on the road, nor slowed the flow of commercial traffic, but it would have showed an alarming  amount of cooperation  between insurgents and local people.   That kind of cooperation, were it ever to occur, would lead to an exodus of most of the 50 or so  internationals that operate in and around Jalalabad.   The few who remained would have to harden – which costs money, lots of money.   That reported attack represented critical white information concerning local atmospherics in a  very key portion of the human terrain environment.

Here comes the local route clearence package.  Maybe they had no idea about a prior reported attack and spotted this to be a typical traffic accident  - who knows? but they were obvioulsy not curious about the burnref tanker or crowds of by standers.
Here comes a US MIL convoy. Maybe they had no idea about a prior reported attack and thought this was a typical traffic accident - who knows? They were obviously not curious about the burned tanker or crowds of by-standers. And I'll bet a month's pay they did not note or report on what should have been an urgent white information CCIR (Commanders Critical Information Requirement).
Fuel recovery
Fuel recovery - it takes a village to do anything in this country.

Today’s little drama illustrates in real time how our military is ignoring the effort to maintain situational awareness via the active collection of white information because of their focus on “red intelligence.”     Tracking and targeting active combatants is what the military is designed and trained to do.     It is also what they have been doing for the past 8 years.   Generals McChrystal and Flynn can write all the papers they want explaining why this approach is missing the point and counterproductive.   Historically, radical military change comes in the face of or after defeat.   That will not happen here – the Taliban could not in a thousand years engage in a set piece combined arms battle with any ISAF military.   They could not stand up to the Afghan Army either, with their tanks, artillery, gun ships, experienced leaders, and international mentors.

Focusing on the population – that takes getting out and living with the population.   There is no other way.   This is supposed to be what we are now doing with our military operations.

And there they go no doubt through the city instead of the truck by-pass but you get that from the Army in Jbad.
And there they go, no doubt straight through the city instead of on the truck by-pass, but what are you going to do? SOP's are SOP's.

You can see decentralized, white information-focused operations at work in the chaotic areas bordering the large military installations in the south.   All trucks entering any ISAF base have to sit in lots, known as “cool down” yards,  way off post for at least 24 hours.   The trucks bring with them butchers, bakers, tea houses, mechanics, and assorted other small shop keepers.   ISAF keeps a close eye on these areas where multiple base agencies have some jurisdiction.   The Marines have security, the Brits are the local law enforcement.   There is a constant stream of trucks, military convoys and civilian vehicles.   The Marines are from a dismounted tank company who left their big beasts back home to come out as part of the Brigade Support Unit (BSU.)   The BSU is built around an artillery battalion because the Marines do not really have Brigade Support Units, except for on paper, and when one mobilizes it is better to build it out of an existing battalion.

Brit MP's out in the shanty town which has sprung up outside a main base they appeared to be looking for somebody
Brit MP's in the shanty town which has sprung up outside a main base; they appeared to be looking for somebody.
The Marines out organing the local merchants for an impending move.  They have learned quickly how to get these things accomp[lished by getting Provincial government buy in and support for their base expansion efforts
The Marines out organizing the local merchants for an impending move. They have learned quickly how to get these things accomplished by getting Provincial government buy-in and support for their base expansion efforts.

The Marines who keep an eye on this lot have a remarkably deep understanding of who the regular shop keepers are, where they came from, and in some cases, what they were doing before.   That is because they are bored being assigned to a base defense role and spend a lot of time out there because they can.   This will pay big dividends in a few months when all these people will be forced to move across the highway when the base expands.

The Brit MP's were on the trail of something moving rapidly through the local shanty town of butchers, bakers, PCO shops and tea tents
The Brit MP's were on the trail of something moving rapidly through the butchers, bakers, PCO shops and tea tents.
Strykers heading out to the highway
Strykers heading out to the highway
105 cannon mounted on a Stryker - that is a pretty cool looking piece of gear.
105 cannon mounted on a Stryker - that is a pretty cool looking piece of gear.
On the hunt - the Brits are off to another part of boarder area to continue their mission
On the hunt - the Brits are off to another part of border area to continue their mission.

If a young sergeant and a squad of dismounted tankers can master the civil terrain nuances of this sprawling, unregulated township outside one of their bases, do you think they could accomplish the same in a village cluster a little further to the south?   When we are able to deploy like that, we will be able to obtain the white information  needed to conduct a counterinsurgency. At that point we will have started down the track to winning in Afghanistan.   Until then, we our wasting time, money and people.

The local butcher, propane, tire repair store
The local butcher, propane, tire repair store.

There is a fad in the first world called “low impact environmental living.”   Afghans are masters at real low impact environmental living: no refrigerators, no electricity, no cardboard packages or fast food bags, and if you’re lucky, a trucker will have a large bag of   dried buffalo dung for sale to cook your food over.   If somebody could just get these people access to the internet they could make a fortune selling carbon credits to Algore and friends.

Adapt, Decentralize, and Harden.

The string of failures starting with the Jihadi attack on Fort Hood by an American Army Major, followed by the fiasco of incompetence demonstrated by multiple agencies in the Christmas Day undie bomber attempt, followed by the CIA FOB Chapman attack were huge strikes.   Three strikes, but nobody is out because that is the nature of bureaucracies.   The only time large bureaucracies hold individuals accountable for major failures is when they can pin the blame squarely on a junior member – that is the way it is.

Major General Michael T. Flynn, USA has followed up his blunt criticism of the intelligence portion of our Afghan operations with a solid paper, co authored by Captain Matt Pottinger, USMC, and Paul Batchelor of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), on making   intelligence relevant in Afghanistan.   These men are at the forefront of the counterbureaucracy battle fighting against the tide of mediocrity that has defined our military efforts to date.   I am compelled to point out that the picture on the cover of an Army general officer who is engaging some key elders while wearing body armor, helmet, SUNGLASSES, and with a rifle strapped to his chest is illustrative of exactly how not to conduct COIN.   I don’t know if that was done  on purpose or not, but the last thing a general officer should be doing is showing up in his Ivanhoe armor and a rifle strapped to his chest to talk with local leaders.   No body armor, no helmet, no  rifle, and certainly no sunglasses is how a senior leader demonstrates calm, trust in his men, and physical courage in this environment.   My kids who have spent months at a time here could tell you that.

Adapt.  Riding around in large armored SUV's is not adapting.  People who dwell behind the wire think bullet proof vehicles are safer but in a country where the villians plant IED's large enought to flip an LAV and open ambushed with a volley of RPG's these vehicles are nothing but targets and vulnerable ones at that.  Adapting means low profile so that you blend in with the ground clutter making it difficult to be recognized or targeted.
Adapt: Riding around in large armored SUV's is not adapting. Bullet proof vehicles seem safer, but in a country where the villains plant IED's large enough to flip a LAV or open ambushes with RPG's these vehicles are targets. Adapting means low profile so that you blend in with the ground clutter making it difficult to be recognized or targeted.

The Flynn paper defines the problems plaguing our efforts with insight and clarity.   The authors describe the efforts of several battalions who have gotten it right.   They focus on the 1st Battalion 5th Marines, who after clearing   Nawa of Taliban focused on identifying local centers of gravity which they could influence to improve the security situation on the ground for the local Afghans.   This is an important distinction – they focused on making the environment safe for the people, not for them, which in the context of Afghanistan military operations is not the norm.   ISAF forces focus their effort on “red” incidents not “white” information.   Red incidents mean IED strikes, which is to say the entire effort of most units is to find and kill IED syndicates, so they can drive around in their MRAPS without losing people.   White information is all about the human terrain on the ground, i.e. who is in charge of what, what are the major concerns of the people, what factors are degrading security for the average Afghan etc…     White information can only be gained by sustained contact with the local population which is exactly what 1/5 did when they settled into Nawa after clearing out the Taliban.

Decentralize - Afghans operate commericaly that way nation wide.  In secure areas where there is a sustained ISAF prescence the markets thrive.  This is not a point which is lost on many Afghans.
Decentralize - Afghans operate commercially that way nation wide. In secure areas where there is a sustained ISAF presence the markets thrive. This is not a point which is lost on many Afghans.

Faced with rifle companies spread thinly on the ground and without access to buildings, computers, internet, or even reliable electricity, the Marines adapted by spreading their intelligence thinly and tasking the rifle companies to provide the atmospherics needed to gain an understanding of exactly what was impacting the local population so they could deliver security customized to the needs of the Afghan villagers.   In a summer which saw a dramatic increase in casualties from IED’s countrywide, the Marines of 1/5 drove down the IED incident rate to zero.   The local people actually chased off Taliban IED teams themselves.   That is nothing less than astounding.   There were similar successes posted by American Army battalions which are highlighted in the paper too.   But I have to add that kind of success cannot last forever in an active insurgency – there were loses in Nawa this week to IED’s.

Harden.  Living outside the wire in the south forces one to adapt to the situation as it is.  Adding three feet to the exterior walls and topping them with concertina is not pratical for outfits like ours because it costs money we do not have and draws too much attention which we do not need need nor want.  So we harden and this is just phase one - when we are done anyone coming over the walls will face a nightmare of razor wire, tangle foot and aggresive dogs.  Then they will face us and we know how to fight.  Repelling borders is in the DNA of the Brits, Canadians and Americans working out of this compound which is deep inside the Indian Country of Helmand Province.
Harden: Living outside the wire in the south forces one to adapt to the situation as it is. Adding three feet to the exterior walls and topping them with concertina is not practical for outfits like ours because it costs money we do not have and draws too much attention. So we harden and this is just phase one - when we are done anyone coming over the walls will face a nightmare of razor wire, tangle foot and aggressive dogs.

This white paper is full of good things but all good things must come to an end and at the end of this paper there are no good things which I can detect.   As the new Obama surge comes into the theater it  will bring with it massive new headquarters – a MEF forward for the Marines and an airborne divisional headquarters for the Army.   Of the 30,000 additional troops thrown into this fight, at least 5,000 of them will be found in these two headquarters units alone.   Adding layers of additional bureaucracy to the already bloated, essentially useless staffs here now will render the immanently reasonable suggestions contained in Gen Flynn’s paper moot.   Which brings us back to the consistent pattern of failure which defines the Central Intelligence Agency, The Department of Homeland Security, and the National Security Council.   Eric Raymond at the Armed and Dangerous blog defines the problem succinctly:

“When I look at the pattern of failures, I am reminded of something I learned from software engineering: planning fails when the complexity of the problem exceeds the capacity of the planners to reason about it. And the complexity of real-world planning problems almost never rises linearly; it tends to go up at least quadratically in the number of independent variables or problem elements.

I think the complexifying financial and political environment of the last few decades has simply outstripped the capacity of our educated classes, our cognitive elite, to cope with it. The wizards in our financial system couldn’t reason effectively about derivatives risk and oversimplified their way into meltdown; regulators failed to foresee the consequences of requiring a quota of mortgage loans to insolvent minority customers; and politico-military strategists weaned on the relative simplicity of confronting nation-state adversaries thrashed pitifully when required to game against fuzzy coalitions of state and non-state actors.”

There are few things in the world more complex than the  web of Islamic extremist organizations currently at war with the governments and peoples of the west.   One of those things  that is more complex is the situation we now face in Afghanistan.   We are supporting Afghan government officials who may or may not be more of a problem then the Taliban, we are trying to engage the population based on tribal affiliations which are not always clear or relevant, and we are identifying, targeting and killing “commanders” who have proven to be easily replaced.   William McCallister, in an interview by Stephen Pressfield does the best job of defining the complexities of the Afghan human terrain:

“Tribal identities exist in Afghanistan, but local communities and interest groups may not necessarily organize themselves based on these identities. Individuals tend to define themselves in terms of a group identity. A qawm, or solidarity group, is a collection of people that act as a single unit, which  is organized on the basis of some shared identity, system of values, beliefs and or interests. It can describe a family group or reflect a geographical area. It can specify a group of people united by a common political or military goal under one jang salar or martial leader. Members of a village; the inhabitants of a valley; a warlord and his retainers; a strongman and his followers; a bandit and his forty thieves, or the local chapter of the Taliban are all aqwam (plural).”

Lash the protector dog; fast, smart, mean as a snake and like most Afghan dogs friendly only to us foriegners.  He is pretty big now but still less then a year old and already the king of the compound.
More Harden : Lash the protector dog: fast, smart, mean as a snake, and like most Afghan dogs, friendly only to foreigners. He is less then a year old, and already the king of the compound. We have decentralized an important part of the compound defense plan - the running fast as a horse and biting the shit out of you part - to Lash

Afghanistan is a complex place where the situation on the ground can range from actively hostile to completely benign depending on the district, valley, town our isolated village.   An intelligence system designed to collect against a peer level threat with its associated defense, intelligence and political structures is not the optimal organization to employ in the counterinsurgency environment.   Add to that system layers and layers of additional bureaucracy and the results are a system designed to fail.   This comment from FRI regular E2 paints a bleak picture for the intelligence specialists assigned to the FOB’s.

“I read MG Flynn’s paper as well, and while he makes some excellent points, he failed to mention that part of the reason our intelligence sucks is that all our collectors are mostly stuck on the FOB.   That’s why we’ve become so hooked on technical intelligence. The kind of relevant intelligence that Flynn yearns for comes from meaningful interaction with the populace, period.   In my experience with Afghans, especially Pashtuns, if you suddenly roll up into their village with your MRAPs, Star Ship Trooper suits, and “foreign” interpreters (even if your terp is from Afghanistan, if he’s not from the neighborhood, he’s “foreign”), they will tell you two things: jack and sh*t.   We are reminded constantly that Afghanistan is a country broken by decades of war; no one trusts one another.   But trust is only obtained by building meaningful relationships with people, and our current force protection policies make the process of building rapport impossible.   As I sit here at my desk, on an unnamed FOB in Regional Command East, I would dearly love to grab a few of my soldiers and head out to the local market to see what’s going on in town today.   Perhaps I could report back to my leadership that local farmers are concerned about a drought next year because of the light snowfall this winter, or that the mullah down the street is preaching anti-coalition/government propaganda.   I’d get this information from shop keepers and kids that I’ve built a relationship with over the past few months.   But I cannot just walk off the FOB because that would be the end of my career. Instead, I’m going to check out BBC.com, call a couple guys I know like Tim, and continue to be disgruntled that I have NO idea what’s going on outside my FOB.”

Now here is the thing – as poor an effort as we seem to be making there are more then a few places where district level governance is developing into an effective effort.   I am almost certain that back in late 1986 the Soviets had won the Afghan War.   They were already committed to pulling out by then and nobody was really assessing the situation on the ground with an eye towards staying.   But as often happens in a counterinsurgency war, they had won, but did not know it.   I mention that only because it is impossible to say with certainty just how good or how bad we are doing in Helmand or Kunar or Paktia.   The only meaningful measurements are found at the district level which means sustained engagement.   If we can get off the FOB’s and do that….who knows?   I bet that when the tipping point comes we will not see it.   If ISAF can adapt by decentralizing their forces off the FOB’s and hardening in every district center it will change the trajectory of this war.

Stop Making Sense

It is proving impossible to get a read on “the Afghan street” since our Commander in Chief articulated the new set of tactics for Afghanistan at his speech at West Point.   It is clear the dynamics on the ground have changed and that this change is being driven by the fact that our great communicator placed an arbitrary date on when we will be done and start going home.   Of course nobody in Afghanistan or any place else on planet earth believes we will start to pull out in 18 months but that is not the point.   Afghans currently populating positions of power have paid hefty sums to be appointed to those positions and are insisting on getting a good return on their investments before the gravy train leaves the station.   My military friends have seen the same thing as they fight endless battles on the Niper net to get the food allowances and other petty cash paid to their Afghan Army soldiers without getting the Afghan senior officers they mentor fired for bringing the problem up in the first place.   It is most depressing and leaves little for me to write about as I cannot blog on specifics which were told to me in confidence.

It is good to see the Army out and about in places like Kunar Province but this is not COIN because COIN takes living with and protecting the local population.  Driving around glad handing the locals is a good thing but accomplishes nothing except adding stats to the unit ops board
It is good to see the Army out and about in places like Kunar Province but this is not COIN because COIN takes living with and protecting the local population. Driving around glad handing the locals is OK but accomplishes nothing except adding stats to the unit ops board.

I am at the moment inside both the loop and the wire.   There is a huge problem which we are trying to help fix and that is the “hold and build” portion of the “clear, hold and build” tactic which is our current strategy (even though it is not a strategy but I have been over that and will leave it for now.)     Here is the interesting thing – as we talk with the Marines (the only outfit on the ground who has successfully done the clear part of the mission and have an institutional legacy of innovation and thinking outside the box) – I am recognizing a concept which is at the heart of the Tea Party movement as well as the current alarm in American at our elected representatives shoving massive government take overs of our economy down our throats.   And here it is:   our government is not capable of developing or executing innovative, cost effective solutions to unique problems.   They are only capable of knee jerk reactions to events which have already happened all the while treating us citizens as if we are stupid, incapable of recognizing hypocrisy and too lazy to do anything about it.   The American ruling class may be proved correct in their assessment of a lethargic, uneducated, disconnected population and if so then my fellow Americans deserve what they will get which is a nanny state from hell coupled with generations of debt.

Downtown Jalalabad, busy, noisy, crowded, and relativly safe
Downtown Jalalabad, busy, noisy, crowded, and relatively safe. Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar Province is in the east which despite the degree of insurgent activity remains clam enough to allow everyone (except the US Government agencies and the US military who remain locked down behind the wire in their various FOB's) to get projects and commerce flowing.

Case in point – the suicide bomber who killed seven CIA agents/contractors in Khost.   There appears to be much confusion as to how this happened.   At first we were told the bomber was a known asset who could freely come and go as he pleased.       Now it is being reported that this cat had never been to FOB Chapman before but had provided “actionable intelligence”   in the past and had some really hot scoop which drew down the senior guys from Kabul.   Which is it?   I don’t know or care because it doesn’t matter.   The bad guys have smart bombs too and one of them found its way onto FOB Chapman. As I have repeatedly pointed out in past posts it is always easier and much cheaper to defeat a technology than it is to field it. How much does it cost us to keep the drones flying so that we can hit “high value target?”   We don’t know because those budgets are classified but it took less than 100 dollars worth of explosives for the bad guys smart bomb to score a big hit against us on multiple high value targets.

Here is the question – how many years have they (the CIA) been doing the exact same procedure in the exact same place? Does not field craft 101 state that you cannot run a static agent operation from the same base for almost a decade? Especially when that operation is designed to target bad guys for termination – would you not think that maybe running off the same base with the same security procedures for year after year is a bit unreasonable?

Downtown Lashka Gar - the capitol of Helmand province which is in the south.  Not too crowded not
Downtown Lashkar Gah - the capitol of Helmand province which is in the south. Not crowded, not noisy, not too busy, not that safe. The Taliban are costing the people of this region their shot at getting back to where they were in the early 1970's. Do you think they do not realize this?

Our vaunted CIA never leaves the wire under any circumstances even in tame places like Jalalabad so all their intel comes from people who walk into the FOB’s.   How good is the product they are producing using these risk averse intelligence gathering techniques and procedures?   It is worthless – or as the general in charge of military intelligence put it “marginally relevant.”   Maj Gen Michael Flynn is one of those general officers I would really like to know – a man who clearly is fighting the Counterbureaucracy battle with skill, insight and passion like a true patriot. The wires are currently humming with this report on the state of our intelligence efforts.   It seems that after all the time, money, and blood we spent in Afghanistan we are unable to provide the war-fighter or decision-maker with any useful intelligence products.

This picture was taken today outside on of our secure bases in the Helmand - that is a local Afghan guard doing the searching.  I asked the ISAF guys at the gate who that guard was and how long he had been working for them.  They had no idea.
This picture was taken today outside one of our secure bases in Helmand Province - that is a local Afghan guard doing the searching. I asked the ISAF guys at the gate who that guard was and how long he had been working for them. They had no idea. We have all the money in the world for MRAP's, bat wing stealth fighter jets and aircraft carriers but no money for a simple bomb dog contract which would substantially increase the personal safety of the 1000 or so servicemen on this base. That is your Big Government at work - lots of smart people acting stupidly as a matter of routine. If you are a British citizen don't laugh - this is one of your bases.

It appears the only “actionable intelligence” being generated on the ground is being generated by infantrymen on the ground which is to say generated by the Marines in the south (the only armed force consistently outside the wire and “on the ground” in theater.)   My father, a retired Marine Corps general officer often told me the only intel he ever received in 35 years of active service worth more than a warm cup of spit was intel he generated himself with his Marines.   My Dad hated the CIA, hated Special Forces – pretty much had no use for any “special” organization to include the Marines’ own Force Recon.   All they had ever done for him was to get his Marines killed in stupid rescue missions which he was forced to launch in response to urgent requests from some “snake eaters” who had discovered that they could not, in fact, just melt away into the jungle when the NVA were in the area and on their ass.

Let me try a little application of common sense starting with the   attempt on Christmas day to blow up an American airliner which was handled so amateurishly by the current administration.   Mark Levin and the rest of the freedom media has that aspect of the story covered so I’ll take another angle.   The underpant bomber (I know I should say suspect) who I shall now call Mr. Bacon-strip was in the tropical paradise of Yemen for demolition training.   He was issued a pair of underwear with det cord sewn into it and a chemical ignition system and told to fly into Chicago and blow up the plane just before it lands.   His detonator failed which allowed a journalist from Europe (of all places) to jump the little turd, give him some chin music (good thing he is not a SEAL or he’d be in legal trouble) and stop him from trying to ignite the explosives which apparently had caught fire and burned off a good portion of his Johnson.   In response the “experts” at Homeland security issued a dictate that no passenger can have anything in his/her/their/its lap or watch the entertainment system or read a book for the final hour of international flights.

Two questions; was this a good operation from the oppositions point of view? (The attack in Khost sure was and I hear they even filmed it.) And what the hell is the purpose behind taking away everything from passengers on the final leg of an international flight? Conventional wisdom seems to be of the opinion that the operation was well planned and executed minus the faulty detonator and the response by American Homeland Security is stupid and pointless.   Conventional wisdom is wrong.

I have taken more than my share of demolition classes over the years – the longest being a ten day assault breacher course (back in the 90’s that course was classified available only to us “special” folk – assault breaching is now a common infantry technique.)   After that training I was very proficient with demolitions and would have had no problem figuring out a how to set off det cord with or without a proper detonator.   My initial demolition training with the Marine Corps at The Basic School was just four hours after which my classmates and I blew up an old tractor – there was nothing left of it but a smoking hole in the ground.   When you are working with educated, bright, motivated people like Mr Bacon-strip mastering demolitions takes little time or practice.   So how long was he in training?   Weeks? Days? Hours?   Get the point?

Why is this Kuchi family camped out at the base of the Spin Ghar mountains with all those donkey's?  Let me guess "engaging in appropriate international trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan?"  You think? Of course not and the shame here is all you need to do is go talk to these people slip them a modest amount of money and some antibiotics and they' ll be on their way without any dramas.  If you are really smart you would slip some transponders on the damn donkey's but that is spy shit best left to the CIA if and when they ever get off their FOB's.
Why is this Kuchi family camped out at the base of the Spin Ghar mountains with all those donkey's at this time of the year? Let me guess; "engaging in appropriate, legal, and necessary international trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan?" You think? Of course not and the shame here is all you need to do is go talk to these people, slip them a modest amount of money and some antibiotics for the animals, and they' ll be on their way without any dramas and without hauling tons of ammunition over the border for the bad guys who have taken the time to talk with them and slip them a little money.

Then the jerk goes to Europe, buys a one-way ticket to America with cash, doesn’t check in any luggage…..is that state of the art field craft for al Qaeda?   Of course not; that little shit (…sorry I mean man caused disaster suspect)   did everything he could to get caught by behaving in a manner which shouted to anyone paying attention “I am a terrorist.”   This attempt was amateur hour and you know why I think it was?   Because the guys pulling this little jerks strings had no intention of blowing up a plane.   They wanted what they got – a failed attempt which embarrasses the U.S. (as if the current administration needs help in that area,) costs us tons of money to re-mediate and leads to what they really want which is the harassment and stigmatization of Islamic people flying into western nations.   Remember the various organizations flying the al Qaeda flag are at war with us and they need to keep their base motivated just like we do.   What better way then to finally force the United States to treat all Muslims as suspects with our heavy handed TSA?   It will piss them off …. just ask Michael Yon who was recently detained at the SeaTac airport for exercising his constitutional right to call bullshit on a petty agent of the state who demanded to know his level of income.

What about the Homeland Security response to Bacon-strip?   Why force people to remain in their seats for the final hour of a flight?   I have heard pundits saying that the terrorist would just blow the plane up two hours before hitting the United States so the rule is pointless.   I agree the rule is pointless as is much of crap we must put up with to fly around the United States but there is a certain logic to it.   Terrorists are not going to blow up a plane two hours out because the plane then falls out of the sky into the ocean and nobody knows what happened nor do they really care.   Remember the Air France plane which plunged into the Atlantic en route from Brazil last year?   Not many people do and nobody knows why that plane went down.   It could have been the first Mr. Bacon-strip for all we know but we don’t know and never will because the ocean is a big, deep, cold, dark place which knows how to keep a secret.   Janet Nepolitano isn’t really a brain dead bureaucrat incapable of saying anything other than focus group pablum.   She knows we can’t really protect our selves from terrorist aboard international airlines and has therefore put in rules that will hopefully get them to act outside the United States.   If a plane full of mostly Americans gets blown up outside the US that is not her problem and if she is really lucky it will go down in the ocean and be nobody’s problem.

Turning our attention back to Afghanistan we see nothing but doom and gloom.   This article, featuring expert analysis by retired Army General Barry McCaffrey says we should expect 500 casualties per month this summer.   If you did not have a reason to ignore talking head generals before you have one now because McCaffrey’s opinion, shaped by unlimited access inside the US military security bubble, is about as stupid as anything else emanating from the Temple of Doom (a.k.a. White House.)     Barry McCaffrey is one of those generals I have no desire to ever meet.

Armed AID workers?  This is the model the boss and I have pushed for the past year and one we proved can work in the most heavily contested regions of the country.  We are at it still but find it hard to generate more than passing interest from the various US government agencies in Kabul who are busy gurading their rice bowls as the coutry continues to slide into anarchy.  Amy Sun is responsible for bringing real hope and change  - in the form of a Fab Lab and high speed internet to the kids of Nangarhar Province and it has cost the American taxpayer not one red cent.  Do you think that US AID of the Department of State want to reinfoce her success by funding more Fab Labs?  Nope.  What they care about is their rice bowls and nobody is going to upset their apple carts by bringing in technology and program which actually work.
Armed AID workers? This is the model the boss and I have pushed for the past year and one we proved can work in the most heavily contested regions of the country. We are at it still but find it hard to generate more than passing interest from the various US government agencies in Kabul who are busy gurading their rice bowls as the coutry continues to slide into anarchy. Amy Sun is responsible for bringing real hope and change - in the form of a Fab Lab and high speed internet to the kids of Nangarhar Province and it has cost the American taxpayer not one red cent. Do you think that US AID of the Department of State want to reinforce her success by funding more Fab Labs? Nope. What they care about is their rice bowls and nobody is going to upset their apple carts by bringing in technology and programs which actually work.

McCaffrey sites the Army debacles at Wanat and FOB Keating as examples of very clever fighters with ferocious combat capabilities who I guess are going to pick up their game this summer and put the whoop ass on us.   The Taliban affiliates and their foreigner mercenaries can be cleaver and have demonstrated the will (occasionally) to advance under fire.   But Ferocious combat capabilities?   Like what?   They throw everything they have after planning for weeks at isolated American troops and accomplish what?   They can’t even inflict double digit casualties.   When they mass like they did at both Wanat and Keating the American military (after the attack never before) lifts all its restrictions on artillery and air delivered ordinance, puts its SF teams and their Afghan Commando counterparts into the field, and proceeds to run down any group larger than two people who seem to be heading towards the Pakistan border.   The SF guys I talked with who responded to the attack on FOB Keating are certain that they bagged every dirt bag involved in that attack.   Even the Iraqis who, also suck at fighting, could do better than that.   There are brave Taliban fighters and even a few who can hit what they are shooting at but small groups of brave fighters are no match for the American, British, French or even the German military because we know the two C’s; combined arms and cohesion.

The Bot - who paid cash money for this pic to get inserted into the blog so he can show his mates on leave - tooling around Kunar Province. Why is operating this way too hard for the military and the "other govermental organizations?"  Most (not all) senior officers think we are crazy to operate like we do.  Most (not all) of the junior ranks think they should be operating in a similar manner.  What the junior folks know is that guys like the Bot are almost impossible to target because you can't pick them out of the normal clutter in time to react - sort of like an airplane bomber I guess.
The Bot (who gave me a case of beer to put this pic in the post) tooling around Kunar Province. Why is operating this way too hard for the military and the "other governmental organizations?" Most (not all) senior officers think we are crazy to operate like we do. Most (not all) of the junior ranks think they should be operating in a similar manner. What the junior folks know is that guys like the Bot are almost impossible to target because you can't pick them out of the normal clutter in time to react.

We have been at this going on nine years.   The security situation has steadily deteriorated in that time.   We are fighting (for the most part) Pashtoon peoples who have some sort of Taliban affiliation.   We are not fighting the Tajiks, Uzbecks, Hazara, or Turkimen peoples who populate the northern portions of the country.   In this respect our current operations are not anywhere near as difficult or comprehensive as those mounted by the old Soviet Union.   We spend billions to be here and most of that money is ending up in the pockets of Afghan elites and war lords or the corporate coffers of various European and American companies.   It seems to me that if we had small teams of guys going about the countryside telling all who care to listen that we’ll pay 1 million dollars to anyone who produces a live Taliban and 2 million to anyone who produces a live al Qaeda foreigner that we would not only save billions but we would have finished this adventure a long time ago.   That is just one hair brained idea – I have hundreds more.   How about dropping plastic bags containing   porno magazines, a loaded syringe full of heroin, 3 little bottles of good scotch and a cell phone which only dials 900 numbers into areas along the border which are known routes of infiltration.   I know ….what am I thinking…plastic bags?   Bad for the environment and they’ll produce greenhouse gases when burned so the program would need to purchase carbon credits from AlGore……

Yes that is a seriously stupid plan which would never really work….well it would work but the fallout would be intense and rightfully so.     But I tell you one thing – at least it is a plan which is more than most the military outfits operating in this theater have.