Security incident rates around Afghanistan are skyrocketing and this year it appears that Jalalabad is, for the first time, going to get its fair share of attention. This unfortunate fact is forcing outside the wire implementers to spend an inordinate amount of time tea drinking and jaw jacking with various local officials and ISAF people in order to get a handle on just how safe we are. My assessment? We’re in for a bad summer, but not as bad a summer as the few internationals working outside the FOB’s in the south. There are two reasons for this; the first is most of us working outside the wire in the east have been here a long time and have developed networks to local people who provide both warning and protection. The second thing going in our favor is that the attacks are amateurish and stupid; even if we were being targeted, the chances of being caught in an effective attack are minimal. This is clearly not the case in the southern region of Afghanistan where al Qaeda operatives are lending technical expertise and the Quetta Shura is able to funnel in ample amounts of money and munitions.
The suicide VBIED attack outside Darlaman Palace in Kabul earlier in the month demonstrated how bad it can get when the Taliban score a semi professionally constructed vehicle borne IED and get it into the city of Kabul. Four Americans and one Canadian soldier were killed in that attack (along with scores of Afghan civilians which nobody seems to be too upset about), but the Taliban do not have the ability to build car bombs of that nature (reportedly 1600 pounds of military grade explosives) in large numbers.
Here is the story board of incidents from the last 10 days in Jalalabad – previously an island of calm and safety in Eastern Afghanistan:
Allow me to provide some expert analysis; here it is…..ready? I have no idea what the hell this is all about. Normally tanker attacks are conducted to cover up fuel thefts but all these tankers were full. Normally IED’s are directed at some sort of target but for the last three months the IED’s going off in Jalalabad (with two exceptions covered in previous posts) have been small scale nuisance attacks designed to limit damage and casualties. So I have no idea what to make of it. All the local officials we talk to are adamant that the internationals working reconstruction projects are as safe now as they have always been. They contend the failed anti tank mine attack on locals driving a clearly marked NGO vehicle (and it is stupid to be in a vehicle which is marked with international NGO logos and stickers of an AK47 with a read circle and line drawn through it showing the occupants are unarmed and proud of it) was a simple mistake.
Just last night I saw a report from Jalalabad (I am in Dubai on R&R) that two vehicles had a collision right outside the main gate to the Jalalabad Airfield; both drivers were brought in for questioning and one of the drivers went back outside the gate to get his paperwork and took off running into the night. Upon inspection his vehicle was full of military grade explosives.
There are two things in play which probably account for the disturbing spike in incidents around Jalalabad. The first is Kandahar. The Governor of Nanagarhar Province is the honorable Agha Gul Sherzzai who is the head of a powerful Kandahar family and who fought with the US back in 2001 to rid Kandahar of Taliban. He was moved to Nangarhar Province in 2005 by President Karzai who then moved his brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai (AWK) up to be the head of the provincial council in Kandahar. Those of you who have been paying any attention at all to Afghanistan can instantly read between the lines. For the rest of you read this in order to break the code.
The second factor in play is ISAF – despite all the talk of ‘focusing on the population” and “population centric warfare” ISAF in general and the American army specifically are doing nothing of the sort. The Americans have a unit on the border crossing at Torkham but those guys just sit on the road all day doing nothing and they go back to the FOB every evening. They inspect nothing, they mentor nobody, they serve little purpose outside of providing an armed American presence at that crossing. The Americans have “rule of law specialists” who are fobbits – they do sortie out to the Nangarhar ANP HQ about two to three times a month so they can drink tea and play grab ass with their ANP counterparts but what is the point? What the hell can you accomplish in a three hour visit?
Until our actions on the ground include teaming up with the ANP; embedding into their units and patrolling with them we will continue to see tons and tons of explosives rolling across the border daily and guess what happens next? This happens – Afghan insurgents learn to destroy key U.S. armored vehicle. I have written at least a dozen times on the folly of trying to answer tactical problems with technology. Now even the McClatchey news service has figured that out. Maybe given more time and unlimited amounts of OPM the brass will figure this out too. They need to relearn the timeless military lesson that you lose more troops trying to protect them with a passive operational posture and “advanced” technology then you do using aggressive offensive action. If we’re here to fight, lets fight – if not lets go home – its that simple.
A few days ago I was invited back to The Alyona Show to talk about tribal militias. You can see Alyona now during these interviews, but I still ended up looking all over the place like Stevie Wonder. No idea why I do that… Alyona and I ended up talking about two different aspects of the militia issue. She was more concerned about the abuse angle – that we may be creating armed groups who abuse the population and ignore the rule of law. I remain more concerned about the economy of force angle – using tribal militias to control key areas, thus sparing our limited manpower for heavily populated areas currently infested with Taliban.
It is hard to get into sync when doing such a short interview but I was able to address a common misconception and that is the use of tribal militia forces to spearhead Special Forces raids. I am no fan of some of the Special Forces work in Afghanistan because there is no need to hit local compounds with the full SF direct action package which includes the varsity Afghan Commandos (who are very very good) a half dozen or so helicopters, dedicated UAV platforms, dedicated attack jets and AC 130 gunships, etc… to pick up a few suspected Taliban. That is a ton of time and money to spend on trying to get villains who may or may not be in the targeted compound. It is easier and cheaper to drive up in the middle of the day with some ANA troops, knock on the door and ask your target if he wants to come now or does he want to fight? These guys are inside compounds with 9 foot high walls, it’s not like they can run away – there are four options when faced with deadly force confrontation; fight, flight, posture or submission. When trapped inside a compound those options are reduced to fight or submission. If the target wants to fight you can invite him to be a true Pashtun man of honor and let the women and kids out of the compound before you come in to get him. You can also move the neighbors out of their compounds, and then try to talk them out or bomb them or go in after them… whatever option you want. It is much easier and safer for everyone (except the targets because this is only going to end one way for them) if you would just think things through and take your time.
Watch the interview clip and then read on as I attempt to explain why this “arm the tribal militia” story is even more confusing and complex then you can imagine.
Last night I received a call from my good friend Chief Ajmal Khan Azizi who had just escaped a serious Taliban ambush. As I reported in this post last February Chief Azizi had returned to his tribal homelands to coordinate with The Boss on reconstruction projects and to renew his pleading with the American army stationed in his area for support in battling the Taliban. Ajmal is the chief of a large tribal federation as well as a Canadian citizen. He has gone hat in hand to London, Kabul and Washington DC to raise support for his beleaguered tribal area, and although he finds a sympathetic audience wherever he goes, what he never gets is a firm commitment to help. I am not the only one taking up his cause, The Boss has been working with the US Embassy in Kabul and Steven Pressfield published a multi part interview with Ajmal this year too.
Last night as Ajmal was moving through the town of Ali Khel near the Pakistan border, he was ambushed by a platoon of Pakistani Taliban (their accents give them away). The ambush was initiated with an IED explosion followed by small arms fire (SAF) and RPG’s. I talked with the chief of the Zazi Valley police, Amir Mohammad who said the Paki’s shot volley after volley from at least 6 RPG’s and they threw over 14 grenades during the fight. Ajmal called on the near by Afghan Border Police for help and they declined to intervene, so the ambush was not broken until Zazi Valley tribal police (or tribal militia- depends on who’s naming them) reinforcements showed up and drove the attackers back towards Pakistan. Ajmal lost a truck and had three men wounded. One of them was seriously wounded and was being transported to Kabul (a five hour drive) in order to get him proper medical care.
Forty five minutes of sustained RPK fire from multiple machineguns takes tens of thousands of rounds. Firing multiple rockets from up to six RPG launchers is also an extravagant use of ammo given the current rates of consumption by the Taliban. Somebody really wants to see a tribal leader, who is on our side in this fight, and who controls the critical border lands of the Parrot’s Beak; dead.
Ajmal has a problem as the chief of an eleven tribe federation; he’s not on good terms with the Karzai government in Kabul. The reason he is on the outs is his insistence that officials appointed by the Kabul government not abuse their powers or positions at the expense of the the local people living in the Zazi valley. He insists they not steal land, not steal aid money, not encourage the narcotics trade, and to not sell weapons and ammunition across the border to Pakistani Taliban. Not all the Kabul appointees were able to abide by these simple rules so they were run out of the valley. The Kabul officials went to the US army to complain and, as is typical in most of their country, they were not only believed by the Americans, but supported. The reason for this is the current ISAF mission statement is based on “supporting GIRoA” (Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.)
How many of you have read over and over and over that the biggest obstacle to progress is the thoroughly corrupt and abusive central government? Here is a recent story on the topic – just one of dozens that will be published this week just as they werre last week and will be the week after next. GIRoA is the problem – we know they are corrupt and operating on personal agendas that start with getting wealthy and end with getting wealthy. So when they come to the Americans saying they were run out of a valley by the tribal chiefs because those chiefs are bad, or Taliban or drug merchants (pick your story but those three are standard complaints from the Karazi regime) – when that happens why do we automatically side with Kabul. I was going to write ‘why would we believe them’ but I don’t think the senior people in the military and State are so stupid or lazy as to be fooled by this bullshit. I may be giving them too much credit.
When Alyona asked me about Tribal Militias my first thoughts were about men I know like Ajmal who are walking the fine line between a central government who abuses their positions of trust (I am referring to Kabul not Washington D.C. but it is true for DC too) and the American led ISAF. You would think that ISAF would be bending over backwards to help a tribal federation chief from Canada who is obviously all in with us in battling the Taliban. Ajmal and his association of border tribes are the perfect economy of force option. They want to drive the Taliban and assorted Pakistani enablers out of their valley. They have no desire to operate outside of their hereditary lands and inside those lands their is no police abuse because the police answer to the tribal elders. This isn’t a unique situation many areas (but not all) in Afghanistan have strong tribal federations. This is a viable solution only among the tribes bordering Pakistan in parts of the east and southeast and in remote interior sections of the country.
Attempts by ISAF to use the tribes as militia in other portions of the country have resulted in debacles. This article from Time is a good example and no doubt the kind of tribal militia related problems which has caught the attention of The Alyona Show and every other person paying attention to this conflict. This is a complex place requiring solutions tailored to the area, people and situation on the ground at the district level. Designing a campaign to do that requires decentralized decision making on the ground with small units of infantry who are empowered to provide support as they see fit in their area of operations. The advantage of operating this way is the ability of these infantry units to build good governance from the bottom up because they are in the position to know what is transpiring, 24/7, in the district administrative centers, which would serve as the area security forces TOC (tactical operations center) too.
Afghanistan is going to hell in a hand basket. As I am sitting here these messages from multiple watch officers just popped up on the Afghanistan security chat room which was established some months back:
22 MAY 10 2012L: COMPLEX ATTACK: KAF: KANDAHAR PROVINCE; KAF subjected to 9 rounds of indirect fire accompanied by SAF. Will update as information becomes available.
2020L Our guys in KAF are reporting 3 rounds…1 near the hotel, 2 near the boardwalk…..no info on the reported other 6 rkts or the SA.
2027L Reports from RED HORSE that KAF north side is under ground attack, further report that one container (possibly but not confirmed) ECOLOG was hit by a rocket. All this is too preliminary to confirm at this time.
2034L I have unarmed guards on north side of KAF 100 meters from inside fence line reporting no small arms fire heard in their vicinity, but siren GROUND ATTACK is broad-casted. Number of rockets is between 4-8. Situation still developing.
SAF is the acronym for small arms fire which would indicate a ground attack. Maneuvering a Taliban assault team into small arms range of the gigantic ISAF Kandahar Air Field (KAF) is a tactical feat I do not believe the Taliban could plan and execute. As the watch officers above noted it cannot be confirmed that a ground assault is taking place. The ground attack earlier this week targeting the Bagram Airbase outside of Kabul was a joke – typical amateur hour execution of a poor plan which had zero chance of success. This is a serious attack. Normally the Taliban can’t hit anything with rockets but they are winging them inside the fence line now.
We announced to all who would listen that we were going to sort out Kandahar with a major military operation this summer. Now we have called it off and the locals in the city are questioning our resolve. The Taliban are testing our resolve as I write this post. This is not good, especially given the dog and pony show of President Karzai’s recent trip to Washington. It is going to be a very long summer – I hope we get our bearings soon or more and more of our citizens are going to start to ask why the hell we are here.
“The review is by Leonard Downie, Jr., who was the Post’s executive editor until 2008. Downie is obviously uneasy with Schoenfeld’s view that editors and reporters at the New York Times should be prosecuted and imprisoned for revealing two of the Bush administration’s antiterrorism programs – the warrantless intercept program for monitoring calls to the U.S. by foreign terrorists and the program though which the international financial transactions of terrorists were secretly tracked.”
The exposure of these programs by the fearless reporters and editors at the Times unquestionably contributed to the prolonged detention of David Rohde because we lost the tools for finding to a kidnap victim in the tribal areas of Pakistan. For that very reason the Times was forced to find “outside the box” options to try and gain Rohdes’ freedom and apparently one of those options involved hiring civilian contractors who had contacts and access into the denied areas of the North West Frontier. Here is a quote from the first story the Times published on the subject:
From December 2008 to mid-June 2009, both Mr. Taylor and Mr. Clarridge were hired to assist The New York Times in the case of David Rohde, the Times reporter who was kidnapped by militants in Afghanistan and held for seven months in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The reporter ultimately escaped on his own.
I doubt he escaped on his own. The Haqqanis do not seem the kind of villains who would let David walk freely around the compound to find enough rope laying right there to scale the compound walls. Nor do I think Americans can wander about the town of Miranshah for more than five minutes without being detected but miraculously there was a patrol of Khyber Rifles to take him into custody and see him safely to Peshawar. Sounds like somebody pulled off a wicked smart operation to me.
Many of you may not recall the kidnapping of the Times Pultzer Prize winning journalist because the Times used their considerable clout to put a complete media black out on the event. It is too bad that the Times is unable to muster a little empathy for the Americans fighting in Afghanistan or they would not have published a piece in the Sunday edition which, by their own admission, endangers them. “U.S. Is Still Using Private Spy Ring, Despite Doubts” is the headline but in the article the doubts are from the CIA and International man of action Robert Young Pelton about a program which is performing so well the Pentagon doesn’t want to shut it down. The CIA is supposed to run human intelligence and can’t, Mr. Pelton had a contract to do something similar and failed so what is the point of the story? Look at this quote:
“While the Pentagon declined to discuss the program, it appears that commanders in the field are in no rush to shut it down because some of the information has been highly valuable, particularly in protecting troops against enemy attacks.”
Is that not all you need to know about this program to understand that maybe there are better things to focus on in Afghanistan? This article, just like the first one, said that the military is investigating to make sure no policies or procedures were violated. So what is the point? Is the New York Times now the hall monitor of record? “Teacher, teacher those boys are still producing vital intelligence and we told them to stop!” “Teacher, teacher Mike Furlong just came out of the boys room and it smells like cigarette smoke!” Are you kidding me? Do these people think we are so stupid we cannot clearly see this hypocritical agenda driven attack journalism for what it is?
Blackfive came out today with yet another report on the detention of Mullah Omar by the Pakistan ISI. Uncle Jimbo is no amateur and has many more sources for this kind of news than I do. If this story is true it is an outrage. The President of the United States has the mandate to uphold the constitution. He has no right to spin and scheme and play games where matters of national security are in play. There is nothing for him to think about – the procedures for high value fugitives like Mullah Omar have been planned out in great detail by top legal talent like John Woo who crafted a constitutionally acceptable set of procedures so tight that even Jon Stewart could not find fault in them. Obama has been in office for over 18 months; if he has not written his own set of procedures he has to live with the old ones.
This Mullah Omar story is the most important story of the day. Our government is lying to us, they are taking liberties with the positions of power the people have granted them that are not constitutional nor remotely covered by executive privilege. I want to know if this is true but our “newspaper of record” is busy carrying water for a loser CIA station chief and a failed Canadian “adventure personality.” I’ll keep my eyes glued to the Times of London who will break this story light years ahead of our liberal, agenda driven, state run media.
OPM stands for “Other Peoples Money” and our politicians are getting so good at spending it they are currently spending OPM which OP have not even earned yet. Conventional wisdom is that having access to unlimited funds would be a good thing for a military engaged in extended combat operations, but the exact opposite is true. The abundance of money (in theory, mind you, America really doesn’t have any more to be spending now) is a curse to the military leader and our current military effort. It allows us to get away with things like procuring a million dollar ATV MRAP for every fireteam of every squad of every platoon deployed here, which for a Marine infantry battalion would equal somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 MRAPs for the entire battalion. If you think it is a good thing for a Marine infantry battalion to have 120 million in MRAP rolling stock, you’re wrong.
Before I get to that I need to send a hat tip out to Nathan Hodge and Noah Schactman at Wired’s Danger Room for putting up a post featuring a prominent photo of your humble correspondent. The Danger Room post got me invited to the Alyona Show – they emailed me a clip of Joshua Faust from Registan being interviewed by Alyona and I figured if Joshua is on board, so am I. I agreed to be taped late at night local time and, having read Joshua’s post on his segment tried to take off the tape of my glasses and glue them together. It didn’t work so I ditched the glasses and moved the laptop far enough away so I could see something and was all set to talk with Alyona. Only you don’t get to talk to Alyona; all you see is a skype screen with your video going and nothing else. I had no idea where to look because looking at me looking at me is weird, so in the video I look more like Stevie Wonder looking around all over the place than somebody having a conversation. It is not too bad to watch – clearly the “contractor” thing was what she wanted to talk about and like all Americans, when she thinks contractor she thinks Blackwater. When I think contractor I think of big large numbers of big guys (not fit guys) who are assigned to the FOBs and never leave. The number of contractors operating outside the wire is a minuscule percentage of the contractors working this campaign and most of them are implementers not security types.
To illustrate the curse of OPM on military operations I’ll use The Bot as an example. As I have mentioned, The Bot has been detailed to the south and is based out of Kandahar City now. He had to move around a lot and has dyed his hair and beard black making him look like some kind of pirate when he is wearing a turban. Being a vain man (and because he’s smart) he won’t let me post any pictures of him, but he has an interesting observation on what it’s like to be outside the wire and mixed in with the population of Kandahar.
Yesterday, The Bot almost ran afoul of Taliban checkpoints, twice in the middle of the day, and both checkpoints were within four miles of the massive Kandahar Airfield where something like 22,000 NATO military troops are stationed “protecting the Afghan people.” The MO for both illegal checkpoints was the same – the villains were wearing yellow reflective vests commonly used by Afghan cash for work crews and had placed their weapons in wheelbarrows hiding them with shovels and brooms. They rucked up to their selected positions which happened to be on the main ring road (Rte 4) about three miles to the Spin Boldak side (at around 0900 in the morning) and another group was on the main road into Kandahar City at about 1100 in the morning. They stopped cars, checked for anyone with a cell phone number of papers which would connect them to the government or the international military and executed at least one local man who failed to pass muster.
The Bot had no problems identifying these Taliban checkpoints for what they were and avoiding them. Even with his language skills and dyed hair he is not going to fool any Afghan into thinking he is a local if given more than a casual glance. Because The Bot and the rest of us do not have unlimited amounts of OPM we have to come up with ways to move around and work, making do with what we can afford on the local market. When faced with tactical problems, the outside the wire contractor has to develop a tactical solution, or move their operations onto military bases from which they can accomplish very little aside from billing hours to their contracts and collecting massive paychecks. There are lots of tactical options, the most common being the use of outriders on motorcycles who communicate with hand and arm signals because hand held radios are illegal here. Unless you are a licensed security company in which case they are legal but still subject to confiscation by the ANP (especially in Kabul.)
The American military was once famous for its ability to organize complex endeavors with limited resources. Now it is famous for organizing unnecessarily complex schemes using unlimited resources. The price you pay when given unlimited resources is the current inability to solve the most fundamental tactical problems using the initiative and creativity of your troops at the pointy end of the spear. We encase our troops in heavy body armor which limits their mobility, quickly saps their endurance, and renders them almost immobile, making them much easier to hit. That so many survive being shot is great but I’m solidly in the “I’d rather not be shot, or go down with heat stroke, or sustain serious chronic injury to my ankles, knees or hips” camp. We then provide multi million dollar “mine resistant” vehicles which protect against most improvised explosives, but cannot protect our troops from standard military anti tank mines, a munition found in abundance throughout Afghanistan.
We, the United States are the ones who said Kandahar was the key and our next big push. Just like we did in the Helmand Province we broadcast our plans in the media – we told the Taliban we were coming after them. We unleashed the varsity SF and focused the JPEL on Kandahar, we talked and talked and talked until just hours before D-day and then we put the whole thing on hold because “the Afghans aren’t ready.” Were the Afghans ready when the Marine Brigade started their operations in the Helmand Province last summer? No, they weren’t. And they are not ready now to take over for the Marines, which is a huge problem currently not being addressed with anything resembling a workable solution because the Department of State and USAID are involved and they have collectively learned not one damn thing from their nine year record of mission failure in Afghanistan.
So we broadcast our next “big push” into Kandahar, the villains respond with their own shaping operation attacking international aid workers (which I predicted they would based on the irresponsible crap published by the NYT,) killing security officials and tribal elders in broad daylight and they are now setting up road blocks and executing Afghans who they think are linked to the government or international forces in the middle of the day within line of sight of the massive ISAF air base. This is not good. It should not be tolerated nor does it have to be if we unleash the creative ingenuity of American infantry who love to develop techniques and tactics tailored to specific situations which allow them to get the drop on scumbags and kill them. If we were not burdened with the unlimited resources and forced to make do with what we can find on hand, do you think American infantry guys could not figure out a way to combat the Taliban in Kandahar?
Here is the real crime; if you deployed your infantry with simple open ended mission type orders, it would take much less of them than we currently use in offensive operations. An infantry company can call upon and control more fire power, with pin point accuracy, than was available to an infantry division in World War II. You could take a Marine rifle company, tell the young captain to spread his platoons into four strong points around Kandahar City, augment them with a platoon of ANA, and tell them to figure out a way to stop the damn Taliban check points. If they were allowed to war game up a solution and implement it, you would end up with all sorts of local vehicles which are carrying uniformed troops working with outriders on motorcycles to try and detect these checkpoints, roll up on them, and then jump them the Marine Corps way, using point blank automatic weapons fire. How many counter-checkpoint hits do you think it would take before the checkpoints disappeared? Plus it pumps up the troops to be on the offensive whacking cretins who need to be whacked.
Here is the point; protecting the population means being out with the population. Every evening the sound of rifle fire erupts all around the Taj. We are a mere 5 miles away from districts which are dominated by the Taliban. Soon Jalalabad, one of the safest cities in the country will become like Kandahar. What if we decided to get off the massive Jalalabad FOB and actually embed with the people of Jalalabad? How would that be different from what we are doing now?
If we gave Jalalabad a rifle company and told them to embed with the local security forces, become visible to the people while ensuring the security forces do their job, we would see ANP and ANA trucks with Americans in them, we would see the incidence of police shaking down local businessmen evaporate overnight. The businessmen would be used to seeing the same Americans and confident that if they told them about getting the shakedown something would be done about it. Take this one step further – the rifle company commander starts to know the city as well as I do and, at no additional cost of OPM does things which make life in the city better for all residents. Here is just two; kill all the stray, feral dogs which run amok in the city inflicting on average seven to eight serious bites on the children nightly, and take the “vector control truck” off the FOB and into the refugee camps to spray these camps and eradicate the vermin (and most importantly the scorpions) which plague those poor people. Better yet take two of the vector control trucks and start working on mosquito eradication because in Jalalabad malaria is endemic. Before long the rifle company commander would know Jalalabad as I know it and the people would know him like they do the many international reconstruction types who have been here for years. When he has proved that you can operate outside the wire in the same vehicles used by Afghan security forces, that you can bring out vector control trucks and other support vehicles to help the people through a long hot summer (and Ramadan will occur during the summer too which is going to really suck) then you could get even more aggressive. What do you think the impact of operating in such an open manner would be on the average Afghan from the region? I think it would be a game changer.
There has been much in the press concerning our intelligence agencies and their inability to produce meaningful products. ISAF is starting to listen to guys like me and recently I had the distinct pleasure taking a very senior American and three of his guys from Gen Flynn’s J2 office on the road with me between Jalalabad and Kabul. They understood immediately the value of moving around like a regular citizen when it comes to basic situational awareness – everybody already understands that it is obvious. They sent me an unclassified assessment of Jalalabad City and Beshud district which surrounds most of the city. Sixty three pages of stuff and guess what? It was excellent; a commander could pick that up, read it in an afternoon, and have a very good understanding of the city and the prominent players. What is missing is personal familiarity with the key power players and intimate knowledge of the terrain and the situation for the average Afghan businessman. Information which a smart guy could pick up inside of two weeks on the street.
There is nothing hard about getting out and aggressively operating in most of the contested regions. It seems pretty straightforward to me. Which brings me to my final topic and it is not something Americans should be happy about. I have been hearing for weeks rumors about the detention of this guy:
I have heard about this from both prominent Afghans and from a source from the USG who has impeccable credentials and has never been wrong in the past. The media story is here and that story is that the Pakistan ISI has Mullah Omar under house arrest, that our government knows this but for some reason wants to keep it a secret. I need to stress that not everyone I have contacted about this story has heard these rumors and a few important, well informed milbloggers flat out do not believe them. Regardless this story has legs and if it is true there is a huge huge problem. That problem is very simple – there should be no doubt about what happens when an allied intelligence service gets their hands on Mullah Omar. There is nothing to discuss, nothing to think through, nothing to spin, there only this; give him to us. Immediately. End of negotiation. There should be no question on the part of the USG about what to do with this dirtbag either. He is an unlawful enemy combatant and needs to be detained and held for trial by military tribunal. There is no other conceivable option. If this story proves true, and I think it is, what the hell is going on back in DC? This isn’t a game, dammit, it’s war and needs to be treated as such.
Editors Note: A hat tip with many many thanks goes out to Tim of Panjwayi, the country manager of Team Canada for providing the detailed report and pictures from the 5 May attack in Zaranj.
The fighting season is rapidly ramping up to make this the bloodiest yet, which makes it the perfect time for President Karzai to go to Washington for a little face time with the Commander in Chief. What is to be accomplished during this meeting is easy to predict: Not one damn thing. This article in the Washington Post explains why – here is a quote from it: “‘We don’t have a plan yet,’ worries the senior military official.” With the operation to clear Kandahar on hold, that’s a huge problem. I’m worried too.
As often happens when the good President leaves to conduct important affairs of state the Taliban have declared that they will ramp up a major offensive targeting ISAF, the Afghan government and all internationals. This offensive even has a name; al Faath (victory) and it is scheduled to start tomorrow. Threats of this nature have come often in the past but this one is being taken more seriously by Afghan security forces and internationals working outside the wire. The military, as far as we can tell, ignores these kinds of things completely which is a shame because they could mount a one day surge which would impress the hell out of everybody earning them huge social capital. They could do that, but can’t. Let me explain why using the recent Taliban attack in the previously peaceful city of Zaranj, which is the Capital of Nimroz Province. Then describe how easy it could be to preempt this kind of activity using aggressive patrolling tactics.
On the 5th of May at approximately 0930 a squad of nine Taliban fighters in two Toyota Corollas attacked the Nimroz Provincial Council office and the Governors compound. They attacked sequentially in what appear to be a well planned raid. All nine attackers were dressed in ANA uniforms with AK47 assault rifles and at least one grenade. All nine were wearing suicide vests.
The raid force had failed to recently confirm their target reconnaissance because they were forced to stop and dismount well short of their breach points due to roads into the objective being cut for the installation of drainage pipes to the north and a counter-mobility barrier blocking their ingress from the south.
Five attackers from this first vehicle moved past this gate and stopped outside the entrance gate of the Provincial Council office where they engaged ANP (Afghan National Police) troops who were responding from the Governors compound to the south. There were also ANP units arriving to the north of the attackers on the street pictured above.
A second attacker detonated his suicide vest to breach the door into the Provincial Council’s office complex. The remaining three attackers rushed inside to fire into the council offices from the outer windows.
The attackers started running around the building firing at the Provincial Council members through the outside windows. The members were running around inside the building looking for a place to hide. At least one ANP guard was inside the building returning fire and many of the council members also started to return fire with their sidearms. One of the attackers was killed during this portion of the attack. The attackers then threw in a hand grenade (which detonated under a stairwell sending the frag back at the attackers) and turned their attention to the Governors compound.
Now things start to get really crazy. If you look at the google map above, you can see where the second corolla pulled up and emptied out four more fighters. This car was not found after the fight so the driver probably chickened out – it is unusual for the Taliban to use a driver for transport only in these assaults. The second vehicle was stopped well short of the Governors compound by a recently installed road block. By the time both assault teams had linked up there was organized effective fire coming at them from the Governors compound to the south and ANP troops arriving north of the attackers.
Their second vehicle – which was probably rigged as a vehicle born IED was unable to make it into the fight and retreated, so the raiding party was stuck and had to come up with a way to close the final 300 meters. So they did what all suicide vest wearing raiding parties do – they started breaching the walls of compounds adjacent to the Governors place by throwing themselves against the wall and detonating.
As the raid force breached each wall they moved into the compounds looking for a way to the Governors office. They did not fire at the compound owners or their families. Having breached their way into the compound above they then used another attacker to blow himself up at the doorway of an adjacent compound.
At this point the assault squad is down to four men and they had a mighty big wall to get through. Obviously these guys were not disposed to alternative courses of action – I guess when you strap on a suicide vest everything around you looks like a target. So hey diddle diddle straight up the middle they went.
The attackers never made it into the governors compound and the fighting ended with the suicide of the last surviving attacker. This attack was typical for Taliban operations. The planning seemed to be good as was the reconnaissance but the failure to confirm that reconnaissance after the raid was green lighted meant this mission was compromised from the start. The execution of the plan was typically amateurish with poor gun handling, poor grenade handling, poor marksmanship and no branch or squeal planning being the defining characteristics. As soon as the attackers found themselves cornered or stymied by an unanticipated obstacle they blew themselves up.
The attackers were reported to be younger males, not Afghan in appearance, with red faces and Pakistani-style shoes. Some witnesses believed them to be Pakistani, others Iranian. Everyone we talked to agreed that they weren’t locals. They were all wearing ANA uniforms and all nine had Suicide -IED vests, AK47s and at least one had a grenade.
There are several theories amongst the more credible local nationals (LNs) who are familiar with all the facts of the attack. One theory is that this was an attack staged by Quetta Shura Taliban. In 2008 and early 2009, there had been frequent S-IED attacks in Zaranj, approx one per month according to residents, until NDS conducted two big raids in March 2009, after which these attacks dropped to zero. The Nimroz Governor had been recently reporting the Zaranj City had been free from AGE/INS attacks for over one year. Some of the LNs who believe that this was a QST attack also believe that it was very ineffective on purpose. They believe that this wasn’t a poorly planned and executed attack, but simply a message sent to citizens and officials of Nimroz that they can attack whenever and wherever they please and they got off lucky this time.
Another theory held by many LNs, including most of the Provincial Council members and perhaps even the NDS, was that this attack was perpetrated by Iranian elements trying to destabilize the area and pass the blame on to the Taliban. There has been much recent confrontation along the Iranian/Afghan border in the vicinity of Zaranj, including Iranian border guards shooting Afghan civilians along the border at the rate of one per day, which goes unreported by GOA or media according to the LNs. Also, there is a war of words underway regarding water rights and a hydro-electric project. Several prominent LNs report that Iranian Border Guards didn’t let any traffic pass from Iran into Zaranj the day of the attack and the day before, which is highly suspicious to them. Also, it is believed that the Iranians have operatives inside Zaranj, working under the guise of the local Red Crescent and Khomeini Foundation organizations. The Governor of Nimroz has recently changed his public rhetoric from pro-Iranian to anti-Iranian. Also, approximately 2 weeks before the attack, members of the Provincial Council took local media to disputed areas of the border which have been occupied by Iran, where they are said to be stealing Afghan water. The Iranian Border Police sent a squad to dispel the group of politicians and media so the Nimroz Governor sent a platoon of ANA to intervene.
One thing is certain and that is it is easy – really easy to preempt these kinds of attacks with the proper deployment of ISAF troops. Everyone of these attacks occurs during the morning hours. Everyone of them involve bad guys wearing ANA or ANP uniforms and suicide vests being delivered to the objective by small private cars. All it would take to stop these kinds of attacks would be deploying joint military/ANP patrols in the neighborhoods but here is the catch – MRAPS won’t work. They are too big, the people inside cannot see, smell, hear, or feel anything outside of the massive iron MRAP. Plus the damn things would tear out the electrical wires in 97% of the suburban streets in Afghanistan. Preempting Taliban attacks in the cities and larger towns means Americans and Afghans riding around in the LTV’s (light tactical vehicle to the military; pick up truck to the rest of us) where they can see, hear and observe the local environment while applying the rule of opposites. This they can do in theory but not in practice because of “force protection” rules laid out from on high.
Zaranj is an important city which currently has no ISAF or Afghan Army units stationed near the city. One rifle company of American infantry could instantly make this city and its people safe and secure. All they need do is partner up with the local ANP and ride around the town looking for something or someone out of place. The Taliban are not tactically proficient at anything they try to do. Their target surveillance methods are about as effective as their small unit raids – which is to say not effective and therefore easy to spot. Their raid forces always look the same, men in uniforms with AK’s and bulky suicide vests packed into small passenger cars. How hard would it be to spot that? Five guys crammed into a Toyota are nothing more than helpless targets unless they have the time to deploy from their vehicles. Given two marine riflemen, four ANP troopers and a half dozen pissed off but disciplined oysters on the half shell you could whack groups like this day in and day out for the next nine years.
So tomorrow is al Faath day which may or may not bring some more of these attacks. The local people in the east do not seem worried nor are we, but you know what would really make an impression? To see the US Army out in force tomorrow morning manning checkpoints with the ANP and driving around the neighborhoods looking for things which are exactly opposite to what they expect to see. If we are supposedly focused on the population then the population should actually see us being focused on them and being proactive during times when the villains are up to mischief. Flooding Jalalabad with a few hundred of the 7 to 8 thousand troops in residence outside the city would do wonders for the morale of the locals and the morale of our troops. But the chances of that happening are zero. You can talk “COIN” and “population centric” all you want and it will make no difference to anyone here. Actions always speak louder than words.
It has been a long time since we have seen a crazy contractor story from Afghanistan. This story, about reckless security contractors, popped up in the news yesterday, saying “...Private Afghan security guards protecting NATO supply convoys in southern Kandahar province regularly fire wildly into villages they pass, hindering coalition efforts to build local support ahead of this summer’s planned offensive in the area, U.S. and Afghan officials say.”
Well now, I have gone on record as saying security contractors don’t do those sorts of things only to find that maybe they do. Look at this quote from the linked article, “Especially as they go through the populated areas, they tend to squeeze the trigger first and ask questions later,” said Capt. Matt Quiggle, a member of the U.S. Army‘s 5th Stryker brigade tasked with patrolling Highway One, which connects Afghanistan’s major cities.” The 5th Stryker Brigade has had some problems with “escalation of force” issues recently so I thought this was an attempt at a little deflection. I gave The Bot a bell to see what he had heard; The Bot is spending this fighting season in the south and is pretty clued in. It turns out he has heard the same thing; this story turns out to be true.
The military personnel quoted in the linked article correctly point out that the shooting of innocent civilians makes their job harder. That cuts both ways; most of us working outside the wire have learned to deal with blowback when ISAF inflicts collateral damage during kinetic operations or in escalation of force shootings. I am with the military guys on the consequences of allowing people to shoot indiscriminately at unarmed civilians. The key word in that last sentence is “allowing.” These contractors are protecting NATO supply convoys. NATO is the customer who wrote the contract and hired the guards. They fund these people and can instantly de-fund them, eliminating the whole problem. The customer is responsible for what these guards are doing and they are obligated to put a stop to this behavior.
The Bot told me the company responsible for this conduct is an old one which I thought had long ago gone out of business. The founders are awaiting trial in the United States and their offices in Kabul were once raided by the FBI who carted off their records and computers. It appears this company is now an Afghan owned and operated business. How can a company like that get a NATO supply escort contract? I’m not too sure, but will say that the pressure on contracting officers to accept the lowest bidder, while favoring Afghan companies ahead of international companies when at all possible, is a big part of the problem. The bigger problem is the contracting process. The contracting officers supporting the military come from their own command and have no relationship with their “customers” (the supported military units) other than that established after they arrive in country. They have no ability to monitor performance, are overworked, under-staffed and afraid for their very lives least they do something wrong, or be accused of improper conduct. There are many stories of contracting officers committing suicide after it was discovered they took a bribe. Infantry officers can deploy here and become legends doing feats of combat daring-do. The best thing that can happen to a contracting officer is that he leaves here with everything he had before he came. Being a contracting officer is a crap job and crap jobs in the military are supposed to be assigned to competent junior officers as a collateral duty to teach them humility and grace under pressure. The way the American military does contracting is perfect for building large bases and expensive airplanes in the United States but it is not working here…. not even close.
Post-World War II discussions with German officers revealed that, so far as their WWII predecessors were concerned, one of the major strengths of the American military was the ability to adapt to complex, dynamic combat situations by making bold and necessary changes. We are trying to make some bold course corrections here but the fundamental weakness of clear, hold and build strategy lies in the fact that the military commander responsible for the clearing and holding phases of the combat operation in a given district lacks the assets essential to accomplishment of the fundamental operational objective, the build phase.
I don’t believe the military wants this responsibility and I don’t blame them. The problem is the military and the governmental agencies tasked with post-conflict development in Afghanistan stand on the brink of failure. Something has got to change and the only agency who has demonstrated the ability to handle post-conflict development is the Department of Defense. Every other US government (USG) agency assigned to help in this task is failing. The military needs to do here what it did in Iraq, which is take over the damn thing and get us back on track. However it is clear that the Pentagon has not realized this, and is not adopting to this fact.
The recently concluded 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), is the legislatively mandated review by the Department of Defense of the country’s longer-term defense requirements. The QDR is supposed to couple strategy to military capabilities for not only current conflicts but to also develop force structure tailored to future threats. The problem is that to the Pentagon, future threats always look like the threats of the past because the QDR’s always recommend that the force structure be cut evenly across the board. The Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps end up with about the same percentage of the defense dollar that they had when QDR’s started some 20 odd years ago. So we end up with a force structure designed to fight a peer level threat. Thus, the force designed to fight the Cold War has become the template for American military force structure, regardless of the fact that a peer level threat is the least likely problem we will face over the next several decades.
General McChrystal has shut all the fast food joints down at the Kandahar Airfield in preparation for the coming offensive, because he needs the room to bring in more forces. There are currently over 20,000 military and contractor personnel there supporting units in the field, which number around maybe 2000 troops on a busy day. I guess that number is to increase significantly, but bringing in more fobbits at this stage of the game is pointless. Somebody needs to stop worrying about how much beer the Germans drink, how many fast food concessions are on the super big box FOB’s, who is walking around the FOB’s without wearing eye protection and which soldiers are out on operations without wearing all their Land Warrior experimental bullshit, and start focusing on the Taliban, the Afghan people, and how to separate one from the other. The future of war for the rest of our lifetimes will feature very little peer to peer wars, pitting one state against another, and a lot of what we see in Afghanistan, which is battle in the daily context of everything else. The United States needs to develop the force structure to function in this kind of an environment and the proven solution would be to grow the Marine Corps (who has the mission of expeditionary warfare) and couple to them a contractor-based organization which would be just like the old East India Company, but different. Different in the sense that it works directly for the Marine Corps as armed reconstruction implementers and project managers. The natural choice for the management side would be guys like me, retired Marines who are well known to the commanders and have to answer to those commanders for everything they do and fail to do, just like they did on active duty. Project management of that nature coupled with implementers who work just like Team Canada is working now would make lines of authority and accountability clean, simple and efficient.
There is a group of rogue contractors working the border from Spin Boldak to Kandahar who are apparently shooting small arms indiscriminately. They are an all Afghan crew, off duty ANP soldiers are working with them, and they are on an ISAF contract. It is up to ISAF to put a stop to this and to do so immediately. But they can’t because nobody seems to know who these clowns work for and how to apply the pain of liquidated damages or a CURE notice while finding one of the 33 registered security companies that have the ability to deploy armed internationals who can run the job correctly. It is not that hard to find a model which can allow us to start gaining ground in Afghanistan, but it will require enormous amounts of intra-agency warfare to come up with a radical template tailored to address what to do when you have war occurring in the midst of everyday life inside an alien culture and far away from home. This is a very complex problem with many variables which we do not know or understand. Simplicity is the weapon to use in the face of uncertainty, which is why we have simple military principals, which should never be ignored or violated. Unity of command is one of those principals and once we understand this and use it to our advantage, we will make faster progress. The commander who is responsible for the Hold and Clear has to have the authority and ability to do the Build too – there is no other way.