Big Army Tribal Engagement

Last month Chief Ajmal Khan Zazai returned to the Zazi valley. As I wrote about here his first attempt to return home had to be postponed after the local American army commander declared him an AOG (Armed Opposition Group) leader. The reason for this label is that Ajmal and his tribal police ran off the representatives of the Kabul government, sent to the valley a few years back, after those representatives tried to steal tribal lands and in one case, raped a male child.

Chief Ajmal Khan Azizi, with Shah Mohammad and his Tribal Police chief Amir Mohammad moments after he landed in Gardez last month.
From right to left Chief Ajmal Khan Zazai, Shah Mohammad and his Tribal Police chief Amir Mohammad moments after they landed in Gardez last month.

The mission of ISAF includes the following:”supporting the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan”. That sounds great on paper but is not always a good idea in practice. The representatives of the Kabul government have a spotty record. Some are good men who want to help establish a functioning state.  Others are interested exclusively in lining their pockets and the pockets of their family with as much money as they can get; whether it be through bribes, pay for play schemes or outright theft. The initial political appointees to the Zazai Valley were sent packing back to Kabul shortly after they arrived. So now, in the eyes of the FOB bound American military, the Zazai Valley tribal police and their leadership are considered AOG  (just like the Taliban they are constantly fighting).  Check out this correspondence between The Boss and the young commander of the closest Combat Outpost (COP) to the valley:


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.

I’ve CC’d my higher HQ, as well as representation to Department of  State and the PRT, to ensure that they are tied in to your work.  Again, I would love to see development here, but I want you to have  the facts and go through the proper channels before beginning work.  Thank you for your time.


The Zazai Valley is in the southeastern corner of the Tora Bora Mountains; it was known as “The Gateway to Afghanistan” during the Soviet-Afghan war. The valley is key terrain which is currently under friendly control thanks to the efforts of Ajmal and his tribal police force. Steven Pressfield has an 11 part interview with Ajmal which you can find here. It’s interesting reading. Ajmal is a Canadian citizen, a fluent English speake who can describe the enemy situation in his tribal area in clear, concise terms. He clearly is on our side in this conflict and wants some American grunts to move into his area to lend a hand.

The Tribal Police from Zazai Valley in dismounted to clear a known ambush site on  foot before allowing the convoy through. They are funded by Ajmal who provides weapons, uniforms, and vehicles. They have no belt fed machineguns, RPG’s or mortars. The Taliban have plenty of each.

The Boss sent a Ghost Team operative named Crazy Horse with the Chief to do the advance work for a USAID funded cash for work programs targeting the Zazi Valley.  The Horse is a South African giant (6’5″ 230lbs) who serves in the British Army reserve and is now a resident of Scotland. Like many British soldiers he goes to great lengths to protect his identity. Crazy Horse (his call sign from back in the day) asked that I not ID him by name so from now on he’s The Horse.

As the convoy ferrying Ajmal and company into the Zazi Valley left the Gardez area the Chief met with local delegations at every small village along the route. Not all of them were thrilled to see a 6'5" Scotsman tagging along
As the convoy ferrying Ajmal and company into the Zazi Valley left the Gardez area the Chief met with local delegations at every small village along the route. Not all of them were thrilled to see a 6’5″ Scotsman tagging along.   These elders had high hopes nine years ago when we ejected the Taliban.   Now they face significant danger from those same dirt bags and have been fighting them without any help or assistance from ISAF or Kabul.   How long would it take you if you face similar circumstances to start wondering if you are backing the wrong side in this fight?   5 years, 10, 20? Leaving these guys out in the cold to fend for themselves as they guard critical terrain is nothing short of a national disgrace in my humble opinion.

Prior to his arrival we had asked for a meeting with the US Army battle space owner at the big base in Gardez – that request was denied. But the army figured out that something unique was happening when they noticed large crowds gathering along the route into the Zazi Valley with their UAV surveillance platforms.  Once Ajmal arrived at his family compound he stayed up most of the night with the senior members of the 11 tribe shura. The next three days were identical from dawn until well past dusk. He held multiple meetings with 30 to 40 elders from each tribal grouping which lasted around 50 minutes each. Ajmal displayed more stamina, leadership and drive than any one human should be expected to posses. These meetings are not something which you can just head fake your way through – they are deadly serious business concerning the future of the entire border region; and many of his followers are not impressed by the American military or Kabul government. Nobody in the border region of Paktia Province is mistaking ISAF for the strongest tribe.

For three days all day this was the scene at Ajmals family compound. There were thousands of people camped outside waiting for their turn to meet or waiting for their elders to finish and so they could head home. The American military noted this assembely when they saw it with their UAV's and, as is most often the case, had no idea what was happening just a few miles from their closest outpost.
For three days all day this was the scene at Ajmals family compound. There were thousands of people camped outside waiting for their turn to meet or waiting for their elders to finish so they could head home. The American military noted this assembly when they saw it with their UAV’s and, as is most often the case, had no idea what was happening just a few miles from their closest outpost.

The visit concluded with an election of a new Chief for the Zazi tribal counsel. The tribal counsel includes Commander Aziz Ola’ from Jaji Midan, the Chamkani tribal elders, the Dinda Paton Tribal elders and the District sub governor who is from the area and not an appointee from Kabul. They elected a retired Sharia Judge from the Taliban days by the name of Kazi.

The new
The new chief of the Zazi Valley tribal counsel Judge Kazi – the headdress is his badge of office

The border area of Loya Paktia which includes Paktia, Khost and Paktikia Provinces is a region where the tribes have relevance.  It is also one of the places where a platoon of American troops could make a huge impact on the flow of Taliban fighters and material into Afghanistan. There are 35 Haqqani affiliated fighters and four known Pakistani ISI affiliated organizers in the Zaizi lands which the Tribal Police would be more than happy to run off of if they received a little help. This could be a text book economy of force operation but it would take sending in a platoon (or an A team, or some other similar outfit) and leaving them there with the Afghans to provide actual security as opposed to leaving them locked inside a COP isolated from and of little use to the local tribes.

Ajmal stopped in for a late dinner after driving to Jalalabad from his valley - a dangerous 14 hour trip - he may not look it but he was exhausted
Ajmal stopped in for a late dinner after driving to Jalalabad from his valley, a dangerous 14 hour trip. He may not look it but he was exhausted

Yesterday I talked with a Washington attorney who had taken a leave of absence from his law firm to spend seven months in the Helmand Province as part of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade. He had been an infantry officer while on active duty years ago but functioned as a civil affairs officer during his latest deployment. He told me that in 7 months he had spent a total of maybe 10 hours inside a vehicle and wore out two pairs of boots walking all day every day to the villages around Naw Zad. By the end of his deployment he and his Marines knew every village elder, every family, every child, and most of the goats and sheep who lived in the area. They knew them on sight, interacted with them daily and when a military aged male showed up in his area who was not a resident they rounded him up immediately to determine who he was, why he was there, who could vouch for him as a legitimate visitor, where was coming from and who he had been with. That is counterinsurgency 101  and you cannot do it any other way then to be out with the people all day and all night and operating on foot. You cannot do COIN by patrolling in MRAP convoys a few hours a day before heading back to the FOB for ice cream, pecan pie and a mandatory head count by the First Sergeant.

The battalion at the Gardez FOB called The Horse to ask if he knew why thousands of people had migrated towards “some compound in the Zazai Valley.” When he told them what was up they asked to meet with him and Ajmal when they headed back to Kabul. The meeting turned out to be a joke. A visibly upset major demanded to know why, if the Zazai Valley tribal police were on their side, had they not reported to the Americans the location of IED’s? Ajmal, by this time exhausted and barely able to talk, explained that they are not in the “sell IED’s to the Americans” business. Reporting an IED for the cash reward is a common money scam in those parts and increases the number of IED’s being made. The only IED’s the tribal police have seen were aimed at them and all those had gone off. He added that if they do gain knowledge of an IED cell on their lands they will bring both the IED’s and the heads of the IED makers to Gardez.

The Americans remain skeptical, Ajmal remains frustrated, Crazy Horse who, like myself, has spent his adult life as an infantry officer is heart sick and I am so fucking pissed off I can’t see straight. It is impossible to be optimistic about the future of Afghanistan unless the military USAID, State Department and all the other organizations with unlimited funding and influence get out of the FOB’s and to live with the people.

The Battle for Marjah

Operation Moshtarak, the assault on the Marjah District in the Helmand Province started today. The press has been looking at it for months from various angles with stories stressing that secrecy has been lost or that civilians will be killed or with speculation on why the military is publicizing Operation Moshtarak in the first place. These stories all contain grains of truth but none of them are close to telling the real story. Here it is: when the Marines crossed the line of departure today,the battle for Marjah had already been won.

The battle has started and despite the fact that there is still hard fighting ahead it is already over
The battle has started and despite the fact that there is still hard fighting ahead it is, for all intents and purposes, already over. Photo by David Guttenfelder*

That is not to say there will be no fighting – there will be – pockets of Taliban will need to be cleared out along with a ton of IED’s. Just as they did last summer in Nowzad the Marines spent months talking about what they were going do while focusing their efforts at shaping the fight behind the scene. Like a master magician General Nicholson mesmerized the press with flashy hand movements to draw attention away from what was important. The press then focused on the less important aspects of the coming fight. Just like a magic show the action occurred right in front of the press in plain view yet remained out of sight.

The magic show analogy is most appropriate for the 2nd  Marine Expeditionary Brigade  (2nd  MEB) because they have many balls up in the air which have to be managed. They are working under a NATO chain of command with allies who add very little to the fight. Managing these relationships is a distraction and tedious but is still important. The Marines success so far in the Helmand has won them the dubious honor of hosting multiple junkets from our political masters, which is also a distraction and tedious but important. On top of that they have the various other US Gov agencies to work coordinate with and that too takes time, personnel and attention from senior commanders- commodities that are always in short supply.

The current Marjah operation is a replay of the Nowzad operation last summer. Back then the Marines were in the news, constantly saying they did not have enough Afghan security forces (Karzai sent a battalion the day he read that story despite virulent protests from RC South) and that they didn’t have enough aid money (the embassy responded by sending more money and FSO’s).  Those complaints were faints; the Marines welcomed the Afghans, ignored most of the FSO’s and because they have their own tac air, artillery, and rocket systems they were able to cut out both the big army command and control apparatus in Bagram and the Brits who head RC South at the Kandahar Airfield.

Tough fights call for tough men; another interesting photo from David Guttenfelder
Tough fights call for tough men; another interesting photo from David Guttenfelder

Last summer Gen Nicholson talked often about how hard it will be to dislodge the Taliban from places like Nawzad stating repeatedly that the battle would be tough and cost a ton in the only currency important to him; the blood of his Marines. Yet when the Marines moved into Nawzad they had little fighting to do. The Taliban (according to the MSM) had fled in advance of the Marines and nobody really knew where they ran off too because they are tricky bastards who look like local farmers when they move about the AO.

General Nicholson knew where they were and so did his Marines; they were dead. I guess they all migrated to paradise if there is a paradise for defeated armies who were stripped of their civilian cover, tricked by multiple feints into revealing their locations and plans, and then whittled down by small teams of reconnaissance Marines with attached snipers who don’t mind living in the rough forgoing pecan pie, A/C, and internet access while staying deep behind enemy lines for weeks at a time. One feint, two feint, three feint, four; call in an air strike and the Taliban are no more.  I just made that up but it should be a run jody for the 2nd  Recon battalion; that is exactly what they did then and are doing now.

While the Marines handled the close fight around Marjah they used the varsity Special Operations assets to go deep. Getting those organizations to work for you in a subordinate role is not just hard; it is one of the most impressive accomplishments of the Marine deployment to date. I’ve known General Nicholson and the senior members of his operations staff all my adult life and this last accomplishment impresses me more than anything else they have done since arriving in Afghanistan. That’s how hard it is to get the big boys to play nice. One of the consistent complaints concerning the Joint Special Operations forces in Afghanistan is their penchant for running operations without informing or coordinating or even talking to the battle space commander responsible for the area they were working. Tim of Panjwai once got a call from the Canadian HQ in Kandahar back in the day when he was on active duty and in command of a company deployed deep inside the Panjwai district:

Why are you currently fighting in the town of XXXX? he was asked.

Sir, I’m on my COP and were I not here and engaged in some sort of fight I assure you sir, that you would be the first to know.

Then who the hell is in XXXX wearing Canadian uniforms shooting the place up?

It was the varsity SF guys running their own mission with their own assets for reasons known only to them. Tim and his troops had to deal with the mess they created after they were long gone. To this day they have no idea what went on or if the mission’ which cost them in lost credibility, lost cooperation and the loss of hard earned good will was worth it.

The Marines made a deal last summer which went something like this: “we want you guys operating in our AO and we will give you priority on our rotary wing, intelligence and fire support assets but you have work with us integrating everything you do with our campaign plan.” It was not an easy sell and at first there was reluctance from the varsity to cooperate. But they gave it a shot and they started chalking up success after success and nothing attracts more talent into the game like success. While the Marine snipers and their recon brothers have been bleeding the Taliban around Marjah the varsity has been going deep and going deep often. All the big boys have joined the game now, the SAS, the SEAL’s, The Unit and other organizations who you have never heard of and never will hear about. It is true that killing lots of fighters is not that relevant in the COIN battle. Yet you still need to target and kill competent leaders along with any proficient logistic coordinators who pop up on the radar screen. The varsity SOF guys have been doing that for months. Soon we will know how effective their efforts have been.

According to this recent article; Gen McChrystal is seeing progress in Afghanistan. A close reading reveals that the signs of progress he mentions are all located in the AO of the 2nd  MEB. No mention of the Army Stryker brigade who patrols highways 4 and 1 at 15 miles per hour to detect IED’s. No mention of the other army brigades in the east, the southeast or any of the other NATO forces that operate in the rest of the country. This leads me to believe that the units in the rest of the country have yet to change their operational focus and are continuing to do what they’ve been doing for the past 7 years.

There is nothing easy about opoerating on foot outside the wire when you have to carry everything on your back - especially if you are from the 81mm mortar platoon. Photo by David Guttenfelder
There is nothing easy about operating on foot outside the wire when you have to carry everything on your back – especially if you are from the 81mm mortar platoon. Photo by David Guttenfelder

It would appear that the fate of the military and developmental effort has been placed onto the shoulders of a Brigadier General and his small band of Marines. Every US government agency that is supposed to be supporting him in this fight has failed to deliver. The Department of State and USAID are supposed to take on the hold and build portion of the operations in the south but when it came time to actually put district stabilization teams into the districts last summer they balked.

The few competent outside the wire contractors who are currently supporting the Marine efforts with USAID funded projects have to fight USAID FSO’s in order to do so. Many (not all) of the FSO’s are more concerned about procedure than results. They get pissed when small contractors working directly with the Marines cut them out of the loop.

A few hours ago the Marines crossed the line of departure and the battle has been joined by one of the biggest assault forces yet assembled in Afghanistan. If my read on this fight is correct then it will be over very quickly and the butchers bill will be small. The Marines will win, there is no question about that but that is the easy part. Somebody has to do the hold and build and it is not fair or smart to put that burden on the 2nd  MEB. Say a prayer for the fighting men from multiple nations who crossed the line of departure today. Then say another prayer seeking divine intervention with our political leaders so they get a clue and start demanding that the organizations who are supposed to be winning the peace do what they have been sent to do. It would be a crime to see all the sacrifices made by our military squandered due to apathy, risk aversion, lack of innovation and the parochial guarding of rice bowls.

Render who runs the Last Stand blog points out that my good friend Michael Yon sneaked into Afghanistan without stopping by the Taj (that’s twice now Michael which you know is a violation of combat correspondent Bushido code) so you will want to check his site often once he gets embedded. Until then the best source to check with daily is Bill Roggio’s Long War Journal.  Hat tip to Render… thanks brother, you rock.

* David Guttenfelder is an exceptionally talented professional photographer.   You can find a collection of his work at on this website.

The Jalalabad Fab Fi Network Continues to Grow With a Little Help from Their Friends

Editors Note:   In this post Keith Berkoben and Amy Sun from the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT report   on the Fab Fi network in Jalalabad. These are cross posted on the Jalalabad Fab Lab blog. Keith is first up with great news on the continued growth of the fab fi mesh around Jalalabad City. Twenty five nodes up and running simultaneously – pretty impressive. Amy Sun follows with a solid demonstration of using keen insight, humor and classic leadership skills while working through language and cultural difficulties to do a little problem solving.


When we first brought FabFi to Afghanistan we brought our own idea of the best solution. It looked something like the photo below. With a little training, our afghan friends figured out how to copy reflectors like the one in the photo and make links. That’s super cool and all, but you can’t always get nice plywood and wire mesh and acrylic and Shop Bot time when you want to make a link. Maybe it’s the middle of the night and the lab is closed. Maybe you spent all your money on a router and all you have left for a reflector is the junk in your back yard. That, dear world, is when you IMPROVISE:

Original FabFi solution for Jalalabad designed and built by the Fab Folks at MIT
Original FabFi solution for Jalalabad designed and built by the Fab Folks at MIT


Pictured below is a makeshift reflector constructed from pieces of board, wire, a plastic tub and, ironically enough, a couple of USAID vegetable oil cans that was made today by Hameed, Rahmat and their friend “Mr. Willy”. It is TOTALLY AWESOME, and EXACTLY what Fab is all about.

The boys at the Jalalabad Fab Lab came up with their own design to meet the growing demand created by the International Fab surge last September. As usual all surge participants who came from the US, South Africa, Iceland and Englad paid their own way. Somebody needs to sponsor these people.
The boys at the Jalalabad Fab Lab came up with their own design to meet the growing demand created by the International Fab surge last September. As usual all surge participants who came from the US, South Africa, Iceland and Englad paid their own way. Somebody needs to sponsor these people.

For those of you who are suckers for numbers, the reflector links up just shy of -71dBm at about 1km, giving it a gain of somewhere between 5 and 6dBi. With a little tweaking and a true parabolic shape, it could easily be as powerful as the small FabFi pictured above (which is roughly 8-10dBi depending on materials)

25 simultaneous live nodes in Jalalabad. That's a new high. The map can't even keep up!
25 simultaneous live nodes in Jalalabad. That’s a new high. The map can’t even keep up!

For me, the irony of the graphic above is particularly acute when one considers that an 18-month World Bank funded infrastructure project to bring internet connectivity to Afghanistan began more than SEVEN YEARS ago and only made its first international link this June. That project, despite hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, is still far from being complete while FabLabbers are building useful infrastructure for pennies on the dollar out of their garbage.

Keith working on the first install on the water tower September 2009
Keith working on the first install on the water tower September 2009


I haven’t been in Afghanistan since September, missing my January window of opportunity this year. Fortunately, our Afghans have discovered Skype and the FabFi-GATR-internet has been sufficiently stable that I haven’t missed much.

Having Afghans with high speed internet and skype is pretty much like having TV (something else we don’t have by choice, like heat).   The intrepid FabFi team in Afghanistan (now exclusively Afghans) have been expanding at a quick pace and everyone wants to gab.   As long as the connection is up it seems at least one is online and wants to chat. Some of it is utterly content-less and we patiently plod through with the idea that it’s good English practice. Keith is fantastic at half-rolling out of bed in the morning for a couple hours of conversing – I’m just not socially presentable until there’s at least a couple cups of coffee in me.

Cool pic of the day from Jbad 4 Feb 10. Local Kuchi women in a IDP camp making cow paddies. They sell the dried paddies by the sack load and it is normally used to cook nan (bread) because it burns hot and adds flavor. Sounds gross but hot out of the oven nan is delicious
Cool pic of the day from Jbad 4 Feb 2010. Local Kuchi women in a IDP camp making cow paddies. They sell the dried paddies by the sack load and it is normally used to cook nan (bread) because it burns hot and adds flavor. Sounds gross but hot out of the oven nan is delicious.

Previously on That Afghan Show,

One night around 2300 Afghan time, our friends Hameed and Rahmat wanted to video skype with us but the city power isn’t on then. So in the darkness they went to the hospital water tower and climbed the 5 stories to the tippy top and chatted with us from the windy roof of Jalalabad in the middle of the night. We couldn’t see them so well since they were only lit by the light of their own laptop but they could see and hear us which made them silly happy. I hope that gives readers a decent impression of the security situation – it’s not a war zone everywhere.  In some places, it’s like any other city with people that just wanna reach out and chat with their friends.

Logistically the FabFi mesh network is hampered by difficulties in obtaining routers in country. This is completely my fault though I thought that I had verified that you could get these routers on my first trip. But progress is occurring even though sometimes it’s hard to see.   We’ve discovered that the Afghan fab folk can get joint personal bank accounts at the Jbad branch of Kabul Bank which is backed by some German bank. We’re able to wire transfer funds to and from each other.   Now, Afghans can wire us money to purchase routers which we ship to them. In theory, anyway, next week we’re going to try to transfer a small sum to see how it goes. It’s a sore point in our project because it takes local shopkeepers out of the loop and creates a large reliance on order it from America.

Amy Sun working out with the pig snout M4 last fall. With a little funding Amy and crew could make huge contributions helping Afghans coonect to the modern world.
Amy Sun working out with the pig snout M4 last fall. With a little funding Amy and crew could make huge contributions helping Afghans connect to the modern world.

The drama these days is a brewing conflict over the key to the water tower at the public health hospital (PHH). Edited to fit your screen and time limits:

HAMEED:   Problem: Someone broke the old lock and installed another lock. We (Rahmat and Hameed) have no key to the water tower now. We are about to start working on another connection and may need to get to the tower. Please tell Talwar or someone at the Fablab to give us a key to it. I can get to the top of the tower from another way without opening the lock. But it’d be handy for Rahmat.

RAHMAT: yes that is what we want. there are many people asking us for net connection. but we say them that you need routers and they just find it hard to find routers in Afghanistan or Pakistan

TALWAR (to Amy): Dear Amy sun I did not broken the lock Mr Dr. Shakoor change the lock he toled me Mr Talwar every one in every time going up to the tower we dont know these poeple if some one do something wrong in the tower are you resposible of that i toled him no i am resposible of myself therefor he changed the lock

AMY: I am not your mother (all of you), do not come crying to me when you can’t get along. Afghanistan has many difficulties in her future and you must become brothers and work together to build a working city and country you are proud of. This starts with communicating with each other especially for something so simple as a shared key to a shared resource. I can think of many possible solutions to the who has a key problem, can you? Talwar, Hameed, Rahmat – you are all intelligent grown men capable of figuring out what is the right thing to do. Do it.

TALWAR: Thanks Miss Amy sun form your direction that you gave to Mr Rahmat and Hameed your right your not our mother to solve our all problem we should tray to solve our problem by ourslefe and work friendly. bu i dont know why mr Hameed asked you for the Key he didnot asked me yet for the key, he did not asked in the hospital for the key. is the key is with you they are asking you for the key?

M: Just talked with Talwar and he told me he would leave the key with Dr. Shakoor, head doc, at hospital.

HAMEED: Regarding Talwar, we’ll try to work something out with him.

RAHMAT (to Amy): Yes you said very good things and I agree with.

RAHMAT (to Keith): but we have a small problem that is the key of water tower to which we have no access. the one we have put here has been broken by someone

KEITH: I understand that Talwar has a key.  Has Hameed gone to ask him for it?

RAHMAT: Not yet nowadays Hameed is busy with his exams and we will going to activate another new connection these days. We are not fighting we just want the fablab to be extended in Jalalabad

KEITH: Talwar is probably worried that he is losing control of something by giving you access. You must make him see how all of you will be better off by working together.

B: I called Dr. S. He is not budging on having a gate on the tower. He says the key is with him and not with Talwar. I told him that he has to make sure that Hameed can have access to this key when ever he needs it. If there is ever a problem he should call Dr. S. If that doesnt work, he should call me and I will call Dr. S. This is far from an optimal solution, but as Dr. S is unwilling to make copies of keys this seems to be the only option.

I explicitly told Dr.S that Talwar cannot be part of the key handout process. He agreed to this and said that anytime H or R call him he will give it to them directly.

RAHMAT: I , Hameed and one of fabfi users went to Dr.S directly and asked him to give us the key he told us that there are many security reasons that they don’t want to give the key to everyone and also told us that only Talwar will fix everything and also he was telling us that instead of internet the water tower and its water is very important.

TALWAR: i am not the director of hospital to be responsible of the hole hospital that every one coming to me and say give me the key of water tower. dear, hospital has there own director the key is with him every one can get from him not from me than why every make me blame.

We’re now entering the third week of this plot arc. It’s funny, but it’s not. This set of guys are our friends and some of the best hope we’ve seen. They’re intelligent, dedicated, trustworthy, and diligent. They know each other and have worked together to make and assemble reflectors and grow the project, and yet they’re stumbling here where there needs compromise and communication. <sigh> But of course, when and how would they have had opportunity to see this behavior in action?

Baba Tim: Anyone who has spent time working with Afghans has a story similar to Amy’s tale above.   The take away point to these two posts is that there is nothing hard about doing COIN. You just have to get out and do it… is that easy. Once again I feel compelled to point out that all the good work being done by the Fab Folk is self funded.   They have reached the end of their resources and could use a little help. Please take the time to stop by Amy Sun’s blog to donate what you can in support of   the Jalalabad Fab Lab. The smoking fast internet we have all enjoyed for the past two years is about to go away forcing Team MIT to come up with a replacement. Without some sort of funding their two years of work will go down the memory hole taking all the hope, dreams, and potential of the local children with it.

Lara Does the Special Forces

My morning email contained a heads up from Mullah John who is home on R&R. 60 Minutes had broadcast a show on the American Special Forces last night and the segment was “disheartening” to quote the good Mullah. After watching it I was left speechless – it was worse then “disheartening,” it was awful. It is hard to know what to say when you see stuff like this but not knowing what to say has never stopped me before so here it goes….

The segment was called “The Quiet Professionals” which of course is a great name for an organization that invites 60 Minutes for a two month embed. Hit the link above to see the piece, because I doubt anyone reading this blog caught it when it aired last night on CBS. It appears to be a 13 minutes of Lara flirting with SF dudes or as a commenter on the CBS website noted about Lara’s narration “It’s like listening to a child explain black holes.”

Lara Logan CBS news chief foreign correspondant
Lara Logan CBS news chief foreign affairs correspondent

Of course the segment has all the annoying crap one associates with Special Forces – only use first names, wearing sunglasses to “protect their identity” and digitized faces for all the Americans not wearing sunglasses. Does anyone believe that the Taliban is going come to America and hunt these guys down some day? Of course not but the Taliban routinely hunt down ANA Commandos in their home villages but none of them have their faces digitized or identities hidden. Why?

The 60 Minutes crew caught three shootings on film which are all in the segment. The first victim was one of the SF team leaders who was shot during a raid by one of the Afghan soldiers they are training. The second shooting was an Afghan Commando who shot himself in the foot during another raid. The final shooting was committed by a member of the SF team who shot two children who were sitting in the back of a vehicle that was approaching a village where the rest of the team was “catching an important Taliban commander.” He was shooting at an approaching vehicle with a suppressed weapon to warn it to stop… great thinking, but we’ll get to that and a recent shooting of an imam in Kabul last week later.

Everything the “Quiet Professionals” did in this story was (to me) suspect, from shooting at targets down range while Afghans are standing right next to the targets, to screaming obscenities at them, calling them “fucktards” and inflicting group punishment because they couldn’t master the “load, unload” drill, which I know from experience your average 11 year old can master in little under an hour of professional instruction.

Want to know something our ‘elite’ SF guys don’t seem to know? Afghans don’t cuss. To call an Afghan a motherfucker (a word used frequently in every conversation in the American military) is a grave insult that would, in the local context, need to be atoned by blood. I cannot stress this point enough and if, during my frequent forays into the tribal bad lands, I used that word even in jest I would have been killed long ago. One of the secrets that I and my fellow outside the wire expats use in the contested areas is respect for local culture coupled with big confident smiles;  that’s why we are able to do what every USG expert contends cannot be done.

I could go through this piece point by point, harping on quotes like wearing beards is “a mark of respect among the locals”  which nonsense but why bother? The piece speaks for itself so let’s get back to this shooting business.

Let me set this up; one of the SF team along with an ANA soldier is pulling security on the road leading into a village where the rest of the team is looking for a ‘high value target’ (HVT in mil speak). When an old truck rumbles down the road towards him the SF guy fires ‘warning shots’ from his rifle which has a suppressor on it. When he runs up to the truck he discovers there were two young boys in the back and he had shot them both.

What should the guy have done when a truck load of males is approaching at “high speed” on the rutted bumpy dirt road leading into the village? He should have done what we do – walk out to the road with a big friendly smile, hold up your hand, have them stop and then tell them to sit tight until the Americans are done. It is that simple – the biggest weapon us Americans have in Afghanistan is a warm smile and the ability to at least say “Tsenga Ye?” (“How are you?” in Pashto). I have been in this exact situation about 100 times over the years and so viewed this incident with no small amount of disgust.

What if the truck is full of Taliban? That’s what binoculars are for. A truck full of bad guys is a target easily defeated by two riflemen who are weapons free and waiting for them within hand grenade range. Their in a truck and can’t use their weapons effectively until they are out of the truck. In other words they would be sitting ducks. That is not true if they stop at some distance away and deploy from the truck which as I understand is the Taliban MO. But the truck in this instance didn’t do that – it just drove down the dirt road as fast as the dirt road allowed until the kids in the back started screaming and a crazy American popped out of a treeline and started running towards them. The driver is not going to hear shots fired from a suppressed weapon so until he sees something to make him stop the whole shooting at them tactic is pointless.

There is one more aspect to this story which I find deeply disturbing as a military professional. The SF guy whacks a 14 year old kid dead center in the chest with his main battle rifle from less than 50 yards away and when he runs up to the vehicle the kid pops up and starts giving him shit about it? What the hell kind of main battle rifle are we using these days? Don’t get me wrong; I was pleased to see the child survived as was the guy who shot him and everyone else involved. But when you shoot someone in the chest with a military grade rifle then that someone is supposed to go down and stay down. Whatever cartridge, barrel length, and suppressor combination that team is using is obviously less than adequate. They should be carrying 7.62×51 mm rifles. If they can all press twice their body weight then they can handle a few extra pounds of proper battle rifle and ammo. They also can probably handle the strain of carrying binoculars too – killing children is bad on morale especially when you could avoid shooting them using standard infantry techniques like making friend or foe determinations with said binoculars.

Better yet they may want to consider slowing down enough to issue a proper raid order with brief backs and inspections. You have to be a 10th degree ninja master to pull a two man covering element job by standing in the middle of the road day dreaming which is apparently how this unfortunate incident started.

Developing unconventional military tactical skills takes years of dedicated training coupled with mission focused outside the box thinking.

Which brings us to the latest bad news from Kabul; the shooting of an important imam who was in his car with a bunch of his children when a convoy driving down Jalalabad road shot him dead. He reportedly failed to slow down when approaching the convoy which is the standard story you hear from ISAF every time they shoot up a car load of  civilians. I think the body count is well over 600 at this point and not one of these unfortunates did anything unusual by Afghan driving standards. You can read about that here although that news story claimed the imam was parked and stationary. That is just too hard to believe and the local Afghan military has been frantically trying to get their story out since this incident occurred and their facts sound much more plausible than the WaPo story.

Here is the thing – I can’t think of any incidence in which a suicide bomber blew himself up in Afghanistan with passengers in the vehicle. I also can’t think of a single incident in Afghanistan in which a military gunner successfully stopped a suicide bomber from driving into his convoy. This escalation of force was senseless. I can recall examples when gunners have been killed leaning out of their cupolas exposed while trying to engage suicide VBIED drivers while the rest of their crew survived the explosion. They would not have been killed had they ducked down inside their armored vehicle. I am as fond of brave fighting men as the next guy and admire the courage those kids showed trying to protect their fellow soldiers. But the escalation of force tactics currently being used are stupid and should be changed immediately. What happened in Kabul is murder – you can not justify shooting a driver who has a car load of children under any circumstance. We have too much history here and should know what a VBIED looks like – this shooting is just as stupid as the shootings involving Italians in Herat last summer, or the Blackwater guys in Kabul last spring.

You know what the difference is between the Blackwater contractors and the various army folks who have shot unarmed people over the years? The Balckwater guys are facing 2 murder raps each – which they should – the Army people answer to their chain of command – which they should too – because that is the way military operations are supposed to work. When the army screws up and kills innocents they investigate but do not prosecute. When contractors screw up we answer to the host nation which makes us not only slow on the trigger but much more sensitive to our surroundings.

Every time you read a story in the press about contractors the “fact” that, ‘they run around above the law and do not have to conform to rules like the military’ is a central theme. In Afghanistan that bit of conventional wisdom is 180 degrees out from current ground truth. I am licensed to carry guns in Afghanistan by the Afghan government and am accountable to them anytime I use one of my weapons. Had I shot people like the SF guy on 60 minutes or the army gunner in Kabul last week; I would spend the rest of my days in the Pul-e-Charki prison. That is how these things work here on planet earth despite what you might hear in the international press about armed contractors.

When you live behind walls everything on the other side of those walls is a threat. When you isolate your forces from the population you are supposed to “protect,” then your forces have no ability to distinguish friend from foe; threat from normal routine or the good from the bad. Gen McChrystal can gob on all he wants about the importance of “COIN” and, “getting to know the people” blah blah blah…. it doesn’t matter because he sets the operational rules here and under his rules no conventional American troops can leave a FOB unless they have at least four MRAPS and 16 riflemen. How are you supposed to, “protect the people” if you can only roll around in large road-bound convoys? How can you, “protect the people” if every night all your people have to be back on the big box FOB’s eating ice cream and pecan pie?

These SF guys are supposed to be the ones who know how to operate outside the big bases with the local population but did you notice where they are living? On a big box FOB; isolated and removed from their Afghan charges – which was obvious because none of them spoke a word of Dari or Pashto. My children can get through formal greetings in both Pashto and Dari and they were here for just a few months – it’s just not that hard to learn these things when you live in the local environment. Those SF teams should be out here free ranging with guys like The Bot, Mullah John, Panjiwai Tim and myself. They are good troops being poorly served by commanders who keep them isolated and removed from the people they are supposed to be protecting. They will never be able to gain the situational awareness required to do real COIN if they remain confined to the Big Box FOBs. That is the real story and as usual CBS missed it.