Petraeus Comes East

The coverage of the impending arrival of General Petraeus to take charge of the Afghan Campaign has been intense.  Pundits both big and small have been offering anaysis almost non-stop – I’m getting Petraeus fatigue reading all this junk.  But for those of you who haven’t reached that point yet here is my contribution on The Aloyna Show:

Apparently this move was greeted by the White House press corps as pure genius on the part of the President and on that I am not too sure.  Granted this is an inspired choice and a much better one than I feared would be made.  I still think General Mattis was the best choice for the job because there needs to be serious reform to how the ground troops are deployed, missioned, and supported with both air and surface delivered fires.  It will be difficult for Gen Petraeus to introduce changes in the ROE because McChrystal worked for him and the current operational constraints iritating the troops had to have been approved by Central Command.

We should start seeing more of this.  In most of the country it is possible, and culturally advisable to move outside the FOB's without the body armor or helmets like this soldier was dpoing last week in Bamiyan. Our Friegn Service Officers could and shold be doing the same in places like Mazar and Herat but instead surround themselves with hire gun guys who have no experience with the local culture and are thus of little use
We should start seeing more of this. In most of the country it is possible, and culturally advisable to move outside the FOB's without the body armor or helmets like this soldier was doing last week in Bamiyan. Our Foreign Service Officers could and should be doing the same in places like Mazar and Herat but instead surround themselves with hired gun guys who have no experience with the local culture and are thus of little use

Changing up the ground game is an urgent requirement but it won’t fix the inherent problem with our efforts in Afghanistan nor has President Obama created conditions he needs to get anything resembling an adequate outcome.  The Rolling Stone article showcased a  dysfunctional senior team which is not exactly news to anyone paying attention for the last 18 months.  The President had the opportunity to  clean house by bringing in a new ambassador, relieving Holbrooke of his Czar duties, because the position is confusing and Holbrooke annoying, and then focus the new team on defining an acceptable end-state and  getting the hell out of here.

The President made a choice which probably seemed to be wise under Chicago rules but was not too damn bright when viewed through the lens of Grand Strategy.  Petraeus made President Obama, his V.P. Joe Bidden and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton look bad.  Really bad.  When he appeared before the Senate before the Iraq surge those three senators made asses of themselves.   Now they give Petraeus a slight demotion (I guess because he still reports to CENTCOM) and an impossible task as a little payback for past slights and whatever hand Petraeus had in engineering the relief of McChrystal’s predecessor Gen McKiernan.  They sent Petraeus here to fail because even our President and the group of home town dim wits he surrounds himself with know that the military cannot win this thing alone.

Time for a little H.L. Menken; to wit:

“The older I grow the less I esteem mere ideas. In politics, particularly, they are transient and unimportant. …. There are only men who have character and men who lack it.”

Character – that is all that really matters now…does Gen Petraeus have character?  Pulling this goat rope together requires a dynamic leader who motivates the troops, both Afghan and ISAF, for the trials ahead.   I know Gen Mattis could do that because he’s done it, but Gen Petraeus?  We shall soon see.  I am not encouraged by this exchange in the oval office (hat tip to Herschel Smith at The Captains Journal:)

Inside the Oval Office, Obama asked Petraeus, David, tell me now. I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18 months?

Sir, I’m confident we can train and hand over to the ANA [Afghan National Army] in that time frame, Petraeus replied.

Good. No problem, the president said. If you can’t do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?

Yes, sir, in agreement, Petraeus said.

Yes, sir, Mullen said.

The president was crisp but informal. Bob, you have any problems? he asked Gates, who said he was fine with it.

The president then encapsulated the new policy: in quickly, out quickly, focus on Al Qaeda, and build the Afghan Army. I’m not asking you to change what you believe, but if you don’t agree with me that we can execute this, say so now, he said. No one said anything.

Tell me now, Obama repeated.

Fully support, sir, Mullen said.

Ditto, Petraeus said.

The Afghan Security Forces will not be ready in 18 months and everybody knows that.  But that was then and this is now.  Gen Petraeus brings with him great stature.  If he asks for more troops it is hard to see how he could be turned down?  If he reports that he will need more time what can Obama do but give him more time?  One of the most salient facts concerning the Iraq surge which has disappeared down the memory hole is that President Bush pushed that plan on the Pentagon – President Obama doesn’t have a plan to push which means the Pentagon will be dictating to him and not the other way around

In the vast majority of Afghanistan both the military and the Foriegn Service Officers could move like this, unarmored without the Ivanhow suit, and in vehicles which can handle to rural roads without breaking down.  But it takes local knowlege, self confidence, and a laser like focus on the mission to develop the situational awarness required to work like your average NGO guy or gal.  This is a Kiwi patrol in Bamiyan Province near the Bandamer Lakes
In the vast majority of Afghanistan both the military and the Foreign Service Officers (FSO's) could move like this, unarmored without the Ivanhoe suit, and in vehicles which can handle to rural roads without breaking down. But it takes local knowledge, self confidence, and a laser like focus on the mission to develop the situational awareness required to work like your average NGO guy or gal. This is a Kiwi patrol in Bamiyan Province near the Bandeamir Lakes

The military focus remains on Kandahar which has been a disaster to date.  We said we were coming and have been shaping the battle field with SF hits designed to take out Taliban leaders.  They have had some success but it is not working out like we hoped.  The purpose of removing battle leaders in violent night raids is to sow discontent between the troops in the field and their pay masters back in Quetta.  That did not seem to work out in Marjah and in Kandahar it is the bad guys who are running up the numbers from their own JPEL list.  This from Thomas Ruttig in Foreign Policy:

“Kandahar’s deputy mayor Azizullah Yarmal, Abdul Majid Babai the head of the province’s culture and information department, Abdul Jabbar the district governor of Arghandab and Haji Abdul Hai an Abdul Rahman Tokhi the tribal elders — all killed in the past few months. Not to talk about Matiullah Qate the provincial police chief killed by the thugs of a guy who calls himself the Nancy Pelosi of Kandahar’ and the uncounted other Afghans.”

Attempting to Decapitate the southern Taliban just is not working.  If somebody removed all the CEO’s from fortune 500 companies would that automatically mean the companies would fail?  If we lost all 100 of our current senators would our political system be worse or better off?  The enemy always has a vote in war and their vote regarding Kandahar was for us to bring it on.  Our response?  Wait a minute ….we need a do over.

Kandahar is a must win situation of our own making and moving Walid Wali Karzai out of the way so that the new Governor, Tooryali Wesa (a Canadian citizen)  can function with the required authority is a critical task which has fallen on Petraeus.  Marja, although called a “bleeding ulcer” in the Rolling Stone piece is not over and could end up an overall success.  C.J. Chivers from the New York Times has been filing a steady stream of excellent reports and assessments from his embed with the Marines.  His latest on Marja is a fair description of what is going right for the Marines as well as the cost.  The current rules of engagement are restricting the Marines use of fire and thus their ability to maneuver in contact.  The price for that is lost momentum which translate into slower operations.  Which means Marja is costing more time than we anticipated which happens in War and is not necessarily an indicator of failure.

Both Marja and Kandahar are shooting wars.  Groups of fighters who attack our forces in those areas need to be crushed decisively each and every-time they encounter us which we can do now and have done before.  I have been very critical of  the military over the needless deaths caused by dysfunctional procedures to “protect” convoys which have killed over 600 Afghans while not stopping one VBIED attack.  I have heaped scorn upon the military and intelligence systems which allow the senseless bombing of wedding parties and I  think the current application of Special Forces attempting to kill or capture high value targets is stupid.  But when our troops are in contact their priority is to maintain contact until their tormentors are destroyed.  If the bad guys go to ground in a local compound too bad so sad for the people caught in the middle which is exactly our response to non combatants who happen to be danger close during a Drone strike.    There is a word for situations like that “war.”  If local Afghans don’t like it when the effects of war are visited upon them they should make a greater effort to keep the villains away.  That may not be fair but there isn’t a damn thing fair happening in the life cycle of your average tenet farmer in Afghanistan.  And look at what popped up on the wire just now?  Petraeus to modify rules of engagement – well there you go.

outer works from the
The outer works from the Shahr-e Zohak (Red City) fortress in the mountains of Bamiyan Province at the convergence of the Bamiyan and the Kalu rivers. Unfortunately the defenders of this fortress killed the favorite grandson of Genghis Khan in the early 6th century which resulted in annihilation of everyone in the Bamiyan valley when the great Khan visited the area to avenge the death of one of his own. This fort was used during the fighting between the Taliban and local Hazara resistance fighters in the 1990's.

The Taliban ROE is unchanged despite proclamations to the contrary.  Yesterday ISAF found 10 beheaded bodies of local men in the south.  They don’t seem too concerned about generating scores of anti Taliban fighters as they knock off more and more of the tribal leadership.  A famous military quote, attributed to both Andrew and General Stonewall Jackson is to “never take counsel in your fears” which is a bit of wisdom the Taliban have taken to heart in their combat operations and one which we ignore at our own peril.

So now Petraeus comes east to take over the war while fine tuning the “Clear Hold, Build” tactical approach.  Let us hope he has some success but the fact is unless he changes his entire ground scheme his efforts will produce marginal results.  It is time to let the Big Dog have his say and so I leave you with a down and dirty assessment from my father MajGen J.D. Lynch USMC (Ret.)

The clear phase is a military responsibility. There is an impressive number of military personnel in Afghanistan today. I have not seen a breakdown of the ratio of infantry to support troops but suspect that the infantry number is, on a relative scale, low. There are two basic ways for the infantry units to operate in Afghanistan. One is to live and work with and among the people. The other is to live on and operate from, Forward Operating Bases (FOB’s). The former is the course of action more likely to bring positive results. The latter, appears designed with force protection as the dominant factor. I have often wondered if, somewhere, there is an analysis of the infantry strength living among the people and the infantry strength operating from FOB’s.

Despite probable inefficiencies in the use of available infantry units to clear areas as they operate from FOBs , the fact remains that the clear portion of the strategy could be executed with some degree of success.

The hold phase is where the strategy’s serious problems start. There are not enough infantry to clear an area, then hold it for reconstruction projects. Resultantly, the Afghan National Police (ANP) are the logical force to hold a cleared area. Despite the millions of dollars expended to train ANP, there appears to be a shortage. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that the bulk of the population, with ample reason, considers the ANP to be a corrupt, untrustworthy, and illegitimate organization. This problem is compounded by the fact that the bulk of the population also holds the same view of the Karzai government. They consider the central government to be a corrupt, irrelevant entity. The result is that large segments of the population want nothing to do with the ANP or other representatives of the Karzai government intruding on their lives.

The build phase is now largely a figment of the imagination. Neither the major companies operating from FOB’s nor the more agile, smaller companies who live and operate with the Afghan population can operate in the absence of a hold force.

In the final analysis, the three prong national strategy has two broken or missing prongs. It is a charade summing to the point that the problem and its cures are essentially in the political, vice military, realm. It becomes an even greater charade when the world, including our enemies, knows that the U.S. will start withdrawing forces from Afghanistan in July of 2011. The most disgusting reality of all is that the charade and its continuance mean that the lives of American military patriots are being squandered, ruined and/or wasted for no valid reason.

Unprecedented

General McChrystal is in hot water over this article in Rolling Stone magazine .  Last night news reports indicated remarks from “aides” to the reporter seem to be blunt, confidential assessments from the General about the  President, Vice President, NSC head Gen Jim Jones (USMC Ret) and the American ambassador among others.  Later in the evening stories of McChrystal being  summoned back to Washington for a Presidential ass chewing hit the wires and this morning there are dozens of pieces up on the impending relief for cause.  When I first heard about this my reaction was stunned disbelief. I can’t imagine how or why senior staffers to General McChrystal would talk to a Rolling Stone reporter about anything let alone confidential assessments of the National Command Authority by the boss himself.  It is inconceivable that senior staff of a four star general would reveal the personal confidences of their boss to anyone be they inside or outside media.  That kind of careless candor doesn’t happen with senior military staffs so my initial reaction was that the General was done in, Cesar style,  by cowardly forces from on high.

This morning I was able to read the article  and was struck by two things:  The first is Gen McChrystal, for reasons which cannot be explained because they are inexplicable,  granted the Rolling Stone reporter, Michael Hastings, a long duration embed with himself and his staff.  The second is that most of the comments attributed to McChrystal and his staffers aren’t that inflammatory at all.  Adrian Michaels writing in the Telegraph UK blog said it best:

“There was a copy of the article available online until recently, which I’ve read, ….  Basically, the general or THE RUNAWAY GENERAL as he is hysterically referred to has been the victim of journalist hype. It is the magazine’s editors that call the White House wimps, and it is the author that uses almost every f-word in the piece, gratuitously, gratingly, and not while quoting anyone. The only f-word used by someone else is a Brit saying how much some people love McChrystal’s habit of showing up on patrol.”

From what I am reading on the net this morning Mr. Michaels well reasoned take is not the dominant narrative.  The guys at  Danger Room think that this faux pas has put the Afghanistan campaign in jepordy.    The main stream media are framing the issue as one of adequate civilian control over the military as opposed to the dominate narrative from the Bush years which was “listen to the generals.”    Matt over at Feral Jundi provides his usual expert analysis as he parses the article and I’m not even going to check on what Herschel Smith has to say at the Captains Journal because I agree with everything he writes and he writes what I agree with better than I do.   If I read his take on the article I’ll be hard pressed to come up with something original on my own.

This is the first Army foot patrol I have ever seen in Jalalabad. In and of itself it is too little too late.  Protecting the people means hanging around to provide security all the time, night and day, which would make the local people veryhappy and provide enough experience for the troops to allow them to calm down and interact with the people.
This is the first Army foot patrol I have ever seen in Jalalabad. In and of itself it is too little too late. Protecting the people means hanging around to provide security all the time, night and day, which would make the local people happy and provide enough experience for the troops to allow them to calm down and interact with the people.

Once I got past how bizarre (and I mean totally, completely, unbelievably bizarre) it was for the General and his key staffers to get drunk in a French bar with a Rolling Stone reporter sitting there I started doing a little parsing of my own.  McChrystal apparently voted for Obama – that factoid is strange as men like McChrystal spend their entire adult lives preparing for the rigors of leadership and are naturally reluctant to confer the position of chief executive  of the United States on an individual with zero training or experience in executive  leadership.  It is also a bit strange for an active duty general to discuss who he voted for at all – many of my former colleagues who remain on active duty do not participate in presidential elections because of professional sensibilities.  But McChrystal voted for Obama and he apparently allowed the Rolling Stone magazine unprecedented access to his inner circle so he deserves what he is going to get.

This quote from the article instantly caught my eye:

“COIN calls for sending huge numbers of ground troops to not only destroy the enemy, but to live among the civilian population and slowly rebuild, or build from scratch, another nation’s government a process that even its staunchest advocates admit requires years, if not decades, to achieve. The theory essentially rebrands the military, expanding its authority (and its funding) to encompass the diplomatic and political sides of warfare: Think the Green Berets as an armed Peace Corps.”

Live among the population?  How do you do that when your forces are restricted to FOB’s and can only venture off them in four MRAP convoys (minimum) with 16 designated shooters (minimum?)  Who, besides myself, The Shem Bot, the group formally known as Team Canada (we have not had our summer piss-up to generate a new name now that The Boss has added guys from the U.S. and Europe.) and those like us is doing COIN?  The only contribution McChrystal has made during his tenure is the emphasis on stopping civilian casualties which has translated into the denial of critical fire support to units in contact.

George Will published a piece on this subject a few days back and is always the case one need not look further than Herschel Smith for expert analysis …  from the Captain’s Journal:

“This report from Afghanistan is dreary and depressing for its reiteration of all of the problems we have rehearsed here, including the  unreliability of the ANA.   But the contribution is serious and unmistakable.   We cannot achieve sustained tactical success with the current rules of engagement.   They simply aren’t rules suited to win a counterinsurgency campaign.   But the report is more stark for the sad and anecdotal report of the state of the population.   The villagers are laughing at U.S. troops.   So much for winning their hearts and minds by avoiding collateral damage.   When the population is laughing at your weakness, the campaign won’t last much longer.   It will soon be over, one way or the other.”

In  Vietnam my Uncle Chad was a rifle company commander working the area southwest of DaNang.  He started his tour patrolling in the day and digging in at night but was not getting any contacts.  Back then a rifle company commander could make his own tactical deployment decisions so Uncle Chad decided to start sleeping during the day and patrolling at night.  He got lots of contact for a while but then the contacts dropped off so he switched back to daytime patrols and started getting  the contacts he was looking for.  A rifle company is a large fighting formation with organic adult supervision and more than capable of figuring out how to keep the villains at bay while bringing security to the people in their AO (area of operations.)  Our ability to micromanage rifle companies with blue force trackers, drones and satellites has reduced their effectiveness while concurrently providing the allusion of control to staff officers manning the plethora of COC’s (combat operations centers) which grow like weeds on the big box FOB’s.  If we can’t get back to independent operations focused on the people while putting the hurt on every Taliban group who tries to hit us we’re through.

The key to effective patrolliing in a permissive environment is to spread out and practive the most valuable skill a foriegner can have here which is smiling at people and giving them a few words of greeting in Pashto.  Walking around bunched up like this makes everyone nervous and is not too productive.
The key to effective patrolling in a permissive environment is to spread out and practice the most valuable skill a foreigner can have here which is smiling at people and giving them a few words of greeting in Pashto. Walking around bunched up like this makes everyone nervous and is not too productive.

Which brings us to the million dollar question….who will replace McChrystal?  Michael Yon, your humble correspondent and now Tom Ricks are on record as endorsing Gen Mattis (USMC.) I asked my favorite source on from the retired General Officer circuit what he thinks and the response was unequivocal.  There is no way they’ll tap Mattis for the job because he is too strong and too competent which will make those above him look bad in comparison.  This snippet form the “This Ain’t Hell (but you can see it from here“) blog explains the “too strong” part:

“When the first battle of Fallujah in April 2004 reached its climax and it appeared that the Marines and soldiers assaulting the city were close to securing the insurgent stronghold, General John Abizaid travelled to Anbar to order General James Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine Division, to stop the assault. Disingenuous news reports from Arab media outlets which painted the assault as a massacre of innocent civilians had caused an outcry in the international community and as a result the Bush administration and its Iraqi allies waivered in its support for the operation. Abizaid met Mattis in his command post outside the city, where he had been leading the battle from the front for weeks. Over three dozen soldiers, sailors, and Marines had died in the assault. Mattis’s own command element had been attacked multiple times by this point and had suffered casualities. His uniform was soiled and dirty from the weeks of constant combat. When Abizaid (a four-star general in charge of CENTCOM) told Mattis (a two-star divisional commander) to stop the assault Mattis looked Abizaid in the eye and growled  IF YOU ARE GOING TO TAKE VIENNA TAKE FUCKING VIENNA.

Abizaid just nodded and Mattis stormed out of the room.”

God I love that kind of talk.  And I love Gen Mattis too – big man crush love but back to my insiders take on will get the nod to run the war.  His prediction was they would find a General Officer in the mold of the current CJCS Adm Mullin who can be counted on for sycophantic devotion to the administrations agenda no matter how stupid it is.  Depressing huh?  But wait there’s more:

He went on to say that he had always hoped his generation was the last group of Marine officers who had to lead men in combat fighting a war they knew they would not win.  He said the agony of balancing mission against potential loss of life meant that often they did not make moves which were tactically profitable for fear of losing too many men.  That is a very risky way to fight because missing moves which are to your tactical advantage can come back to bite you hard further down the road.

Is it me or is that not the most depressing damn thing you have heard today?  Things here are getting worse by the day and the Gen McChrystal drama portends further bad tidings.   The only hope I have is that my source is wrong and that General Mattis is retained on active duty and given the job.  If that doesn’t happen it is very hard to see a way forward which justifies the time, money, and blood being spent on Afghanistan.

A Trillion Dollars

Yesterday the New York Times reported a stunner which was that the United States has discovered 1 Trillion dollars in untapped mineral wealth in Afghanistan. That news would seem to be a potential game changer and I went out this afternoon to downtown Jalalabad to conduct a couple man on the street interviews with local Afghans. What a shocker – not one guy I asked had any idea about the story which took up some much of the press cycle yesterday.  Not one guy I asked had any idea what the number “trillion” represents.  Yet all understood that there is mineral wealth in the country.  What they don’t understand is how so much wealth could directly benefit them and their fellow citizens.  The concept that a Saudi style money spigot could be turned on and spent on a nation wide program of modernization which would benefit them without their having to pay a penny is impossible for your average Afghan to contemplate.

As expected the Danger Room blog brought some perspective to the story.  Katie Drummond added this post to the debate which jived with what Afghans told me today and that is the potential for mineral development is well known. What is not well known is what it takes to convert mineral potential into wealth.  Educating the Afghan  public about the requirement for all fighting to stop so that the infrastructure can be developed to not only mine but refine these minerals could be a game changer if done correctly. Imagine if every shura in every part of the country with ISAF stressed a sense of urgency about stopping all armed opposition so that the country can get the international investors in so they can start developing the resources which should make every man, woman and child in Afghanistan richer than a Saudi national.  I wonder how much pressure from below that would generate?

This is the land title storage room of the Nangarhar Provincial Agriculture Department. Some of these papers date back a hundred years and fall apart if you touch them. They are not cateloged or organized
This is the land title storage room of the Nangarhar Provincial Agriculture Department. Some of these papers date back a hundred years and fall apart if you touch them. They are not cataloged or organized

Generating popular opinion from below to pressure the various factions from on high who could pocket vast fortunes from Afghanistan’s mineral wealth may be one of the most important things we could do for the people of Afghanistan. It seems that we are getting  asses kicked by the Taliban (actually we are kicking our own asses) despite winning every firefight and there is little doubt that our feckless President will start pulling out next summer.  How fast the military can do that and what will we consider an acceptable end-state remain the Trillion Dollar Question.  The only man who can answer it is our Commander in Chief but he seems has absolutely no clue about anything is general and the art of leadership specifically.   The military/State Department will have to muddle through for lord knows how long and it will not be long before a majority of our fellow Americans ask just what the hell is the point of being there for so long while accomplishing so little at such great cost.

Back to the Trillion dollars – how do you think this mineral wealth is going to play out for the average Afghan citizen?  That may well depend on us and the rest of the international community who remain engaged with Afghanistan.  The worst case example is happening right now with the recent announcement that Afghanistan would “delay” the award of iron ore and natural gas contracts in an effort to stamp out corruption.  This “delay” sounds suspiciously like the last major award to two Chinese firms for the largest known copper deposits in the world.  Firms from American, Canada and Europe were all finalists in that bid until there was a “delay” and the Chinese came out of nowhere to win the bid.  Here is the money quote from the WSJ article liked above:

“Mining could be a major economic contributor. But the Mines Ministry has long been considered among Afghanistan’s most corrupt government departments, and Western officials have repeatedly expressed reservations about the Afghan government awarding concessions for the country’s major mineral deposits, fearful that corrupt officials would hand contracts to bidders who pay the biggest bribes — not who are best suited to actually do the work.”

The Afghans working in this office have to reputation for scrupulos honesty which is no doubt required if they want to avoid being collateral damage in a land dispute - but you see what they are working with - digitizing these form into a searchable data base should be a priority nation wide
The Afghans working in this office have to reputation for scrupulous honesty which is no doubt required if they want to avoid being collateral damage in a land dispute – but you see what they are working with – digitizing these form into a search-able data base should be a priority nation wide

Land disputes generate more killings around Nangarhar Province than Taliban attacks do.  That’s because families who are fighting over land go at it toe to toe where you can’t miss with an AK rifle.  Ten, twelve, fifteen people killed in one of these fights is rather routine.  What if these people thought the land they owned had the potential to earn them riches beyond their wildest dreams?  What if every-time any international talked to any group of Afghans The Message came out over and over and over – that message being “you have to stop the fighting and support development or your leaders will sell the future of your country away to the Chinese for pocket change and you’ll leave nothing for your children but death, disease, and a denuded country where no sane person would want to live.

These titles have the potential to verify land claims which would make families rich beyond their wildest dreams. How important do you think it is that we rapidly preserve these important documents in a tamper proof format to prevent the disinfranchisment of ordinary Afghans?
These titles have the potential to verify land claims which would make families rich beyond their wildest dreams. How important do you think it is that we rapidly preserve these important documents in a tamper proof format to prevent the disenfranchisement of ordinary Afghans?

Land disputes are a problem because  the central government is not perceived as being honest in its dealings with ownership claims.  There are many places in the country where people are squatting on land which is not theirs.  The default position of the government seems to be that if  you cannot prove ownership the land belongs to the Government.  When the government moves to exert eminent domain over land it claims the results are always bloody.

The township of Amanullah Khan in Rodat district where the squatters are being burned out. The ANP has moved down in there in reposnse to sniping from the hills to the right
The township of Amanullah Khan in Rodat district where the squatters are being burned out in an effort to clear the land so it can be sold by the Provincial government. The ANP has moved down in there in response to sniping from the hills to the left.
A member of the Provincial Counsil and ANP escort work the crowd to try and prevent rioting. As this picture was taken heavy firing broke out in the valley below
A member of the Provincial Counsil and ANP escort work the crowd to try and prevent rioting. As this picture was taken heavy firing broke out in the valley below
The crowd turned hostile as the shooting started and the local pol and his escort beat a hasty retreat
The crowd turned hostile as the shooting started and the local pol and his escort beat a hasty retreat so the crowd started firing on us
The ANP established a road block on the main Jalalabad - Torkham border road about 100 meters west of the rioting
The ANP established a road block on the main Jalalabad – Torkham border road about 100 meters west of the rioting
Rioting here can get out of hand quickly
Rioting here can get out of hand quickly – there is now a lot of gunfire coming from the crowd and a fair bit of it had been directed our way until we quit the hillside and got in our car to head home.
Locals massing behind the police lines tell us their take on what is going on.
Locals massing behind the police lines tell us their take on what is going on.  They are furious at what they perceive as the powerful taking advantage of their positions to rob them of their lands and livelihoods.  

When I talked with average Afghans about this supposed 1 Trillion dollars of mineral wealth I rapidly discovered that not one them could imagine how all that money could possibly benefit them. The thought that they had rights to minerals in land they owned or that the government would negotiate for tons of cash which would be dispersed  to Afghans just like Saudis do with their oil wealth is beyond their comprehension.

This is an opportunity for us to attack a problem asymmetrically.  Our problem is that we do not have a viable partner in Afghanistan, we do not have a competent Commander in Chief, we do not have  military leadership which has the temperament or confidence required to unleash the superior problem solving and fighting skills of the junior leaders on the ground and we do not have anything remotely resembling professional or competent diplomats. What we do have is a compelling story line which would resonate with the Afghan people if it were messaged correctly. That story line is simple – if you do not force an end to the fighting, if you do not force accountability in your leaders, if you do not stand up for your rights and human dignity then a Trillion Dollars, which should belong to you  is going to flow directly into the banks of Dubai and the coffers of the Peoples Republic of China.

Dahla Dam

A few days ago an excellent investigative report by Mitch Potter of the Toronto Star was published informing the citizens of Canada that their signature project in Afghanistan, the Dahla  Dam irrigation project, appears to be failing.  It is a story well told and yet another example of  the insanity of doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. Both the Big Army and the “Big Aid Agencies insist on working large projects as if they have all the time in the world to design and implement the perfect plan.  Having spent years developing the perfect plan,  the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and their implementing partner find themselves locked down inside their compounds unable to accomplish anything.  Developing a perfect plan is meaningless if you can’t implement it.    At exactly the same time and in exactly the same place (plus lots of other worse places) outside the wire legends, Tim of Panjwayi,  Mullah John and their motley crew of internationals from CADG have implemented US AID projects which have constructed over  1000 kilometers of irrigation canal in the southern, eastern, and western regions of the country.

In the face of high risk and uncertainty; small agile mission focused organizations will function where large bureaucratic organizations fail.  How much longer will it take before somebody at the top of our government figures this out?  We are swamped with hundreds of FOB bond bureaucrats who have all the good intentions in the world and can explain in excruciating detail exactly why they can’t translate their good intentions and piles of OPM (other peoples money) into effective projects. Good losers lose and I am sick and tired of being on the side that is losing due to self imposed constraints.

Digging irrigation ditches is hard work but a simple thing to plan
Digging irrigation ditches is hard work but a simple thing to plan.

There are two components to this story which bear scrutiny – the first is the security company hired by the Canadians to protect their project and workers.  Check out these paragraphs from the linked article:

“Foremost among the setbacks, insiders say, was a dramatic confrontation on Feb. 20, when rising tensions between Canadian security officials hired to oversee the project and members of Watan Risk Management, a group of Afghan mercenaries with close ties to the Karzai family, culminated in a Mexican standoff — the guns hired to protect the project actually turned on each other in a hair-trigger confrontation.”

…”Ever since, the project has been basically held hostage by the Karzai mafia, who are using security concerns’ to stall the work. They are able to put fear in the heart of the Canadian contractors, telling them There is evil outside the gates that will eat you.’ The longer they delay, the more money the Afghan security teams make. The Canadians have good intentions but that is the reality.

This is what you get when government officials focus on bureaucratic procedure at the expense of mission accomplishment. This is what happens when governmental funding agencies  insist on taking the lowest bidder for all contracts.  This is the price for elevating the  mission to support  GoIRA  (Government of the Islamic Republic  of Afghanistan) above all other missions despite knowing that often  GoIRA is a bigger problem for local people then the Taliban.  CIDA could be directly hiring former Canadian soldiers who have served in the Arghandab Valley, paying them a thousand bucks a day, arming them to the teeth and letting them work with  the locals, functioning as both implementation managers and security.  Why do you think Tim of Panjwayi and  Mullah John (both former Canadian infantrymen) are so effective at what they do?  Security is their number one collateral duty, implementing projects is their mission.  They don’t hire security firms because no other expats in the country have a better handle on their security needs than they do.

Inspecting what you expect is important - nothing replaces being there
Inspecting what you expect is important - nothing replaces being there

Here is a tip you will never hear from an international security company: When working in an area with an active insurgency, smart guys arm their compound guards with double barrel shotguns.  The expats inside the compound carry a sidearm at all times, have a battle rifle and crash bag in their room.  Staging modern battle rifles which can be used against you inside the compound walls is stupid.  The interior guard force mission is to detect intruders, discharge both barrels and fall back behind the expats before the dogs are turned lose. Gunfighting is serious business best left to professionals who have the proper background, training and experience.  Guess what?  Local Afghan guards like that plan, they don’t mind falling behind guys who have the training and temperament for close quarter battle.  Here is another tip, if the local people cannot organize security to protect reconstruction projects which directly aid them, then you move into districts that can.  Pashtunwali works both ways; if internationals are invited in to do aid projects, then there are obligations incurred by both parties when it comes to security.

There are no Private Security Companies (PSC’s) in Afghanistan, with the exception of those on high priced (and FOB bound) U.S. Government contracts, who conduct anything remotely resembling proper training.  They can’t afford to compete with Afghan firms who have driven prices so low that it is impossible to incorporate a proper training regime into a competitive bid. PSC’s have had their share of problems, mostly in Iraq but a few here too.  However the business model used by firms like Triple Canopy or Blackwater are sound and capable of rapidly fielding highly trained teams who can conduct independent operations. They can conduct high end training on modern ranges, process clearances and issue combined access credentials for hundreds of guys per cycle.  The only viable way to employ that capability is through special DoD contracts which protects the contractor from operational and administrative interference by the authorities in Kabul, while also placing the responsibility for employment and supervision directly on the battle-space owner.

America and Canada are pouring millions and millions of dollars into this country in an attempt to ease the burdens of a poor, uneducated, abused population.  They should be dictating the circumstances of the security plan for their aid projects.  The Americans have a treaty dating back to 1954 which allows them to bring in all the support and equipment they need without going through customs.  The Canadians and other sponsoring nations should have one in place too.  That is called “diplomacy” which is something we were once  pretty good at.

All the politics, problems, and misconduct associated with the private security companies are the chickens coming home to roost.  The international community represented through the good offices of the UN wanted the PSC’s regulated insisting the industry was full of irresponsible gun goons.  The UN aided the Kabul government in designing PSC regulation with the active cooperation of the international PSC companies who operate in Afghanistan.  Hundreds of man hours were spent crafting a law, which would require minimal levels of training, certification, and accountability, and the end it all went out the window.  The laws currently in place are designed to extract ever increasing fees from the companies headquartered in Kabul and do little else.   The laws are ignored by the ANP and NDS around Kabul who periodically throw up roadblocks and confiscate armored vehicles, weapons and radios from licensed expats.  They even confiscated an armored SUV from the American army last February – it was stripped by the time the Americans went to the NDS lot to recover it. Laws which are not consistently and fairly applied are not legitimate tools of public policy; they are the tools of tyranny.  And that tyranny has bit CIDA right in the ass on their largest, most ambitious reconstruction project.

Iirrigation systems do not require too much technical work - the Dams do of course but the majority of any system can be easily built using CFW money
Irrigation systems do not require too much technical work, the Dams do, of course, but the majority of any system can be easily built using CFW money

Here is the other part of the story which reflects a lack of focus on the mission while optimizing the planning cycle:

“Vandehei makes no apologies for the agonizing two-year buildup to January’s groundbreaking, saying the complexity of the system and the fact that it directly affected the lives of more than one million Kandaharis required that Canada measure twice and cut once to get it right.”

Nonsense.  When problem solving you can optimize or “satisfice” solutions.  Optimization takes lots of time and lots of detailed planning; “satisficing” emphasizes speed and action to get solutions in place while meeting a less than optimal “good enough” technical solution criteria.  Vandehei went on to give her completion stats to date:

“Work to date amounts to this: CIDA estimates it has removed the first 90,000 cubic metres of estimated 500,0000 cubic metres of silt blockages. Additionally, the first eight sub-canals — there are 54 in all, some as much as 10 kms long — have been dug out.”

If the mission is to get people working while repairing miles and miles of irrigation canal then they should have started two years ago.  Digging canals and building intakes takes little technical expertise but lots of manpower.  Let me paste in a quote from Mullah John on the topic:

“Two years for engineering studies! It’s a dirt dam with a gate! We’ve dug 500 km of canals in Nimroz by hand since December after 2 weeks of study. CIDA was supposed to hire 10,000 CFW workers for other jobs in the area. After year one they had hired 129.”

I asked Tim of Panjwayi, who has small teams of expats working every dangerous Province from Kunar to Nimroz, what his stats look like.  Here they are for last quarter; 77 projects in 14 Provinces employing 1,703,829 man-days of labor which paid out $7,860,939 directly into the hands of the poorest of the poor.   That’s how you do cash for work, and regardless of how one feels about the effectiveness of using cash for work as counterinsurgency tool, Tim and his boys are accomplishing their assigned mission by satisfing the technical requirements.  Their mission is getting more and more dangerous by the day.  They have not lost any expats, but they have taken some casualties to their work force.

Clearly the current methods of operation in use by donor governments are not producing acceptable results.  It is time to start trying radically different approaches to both the military and reconstruction aspects of the campaign.  It is time to reduce the number of people here, but increase the mobility and ability of those who choose to take on the reconstruction battle to get the job done.  That means hiring high end, experienced operatives and allowing them to function as implementation managers while being armed and part of the project security detail. Even better would be to marry these teams up with small detachments of infantry of Special Forces types, enabling them to get in, do the work we said we would do, and then get out leaving behind a credible local security force and a functional district government –  Inshallah.

If the money is right we could flood the country with teams of contractors who have  years of experience operating in austere hostile environments.  It is not a perfect solution, but it is one which is working right now while the large bureaucratic efforts flounder.  We need to recognize and reinforce success – good intentions mean nothing anymore in this country.

The Heat Is On

It is 95 degrees Fahrenheit during the day in Jalalabad making this the coolest start to summer in memory.  Unfortunately the number of security incidents in Jalalabad and around the country have started climbing  like the temperature normally does.  Yesterday, for the first time since a one-off attack in 2008 the villains struck at the U.S. army inside Jalalabad City.  A VBIED (vehicle borne improvise explosive device) attacked an RG-31 MRAP killing both the VBIED driver and the turret gunner and also causing injuries of various severity to 11 local people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.  I have been waiting in vain for the Afghan president or media to pile on the Taliban decrying in strong language the deliberate targeting of innocent Afghan civilians.

The VBIED blast ignited a large fire and reportedly killed the turret gunner who was ejected from the truck and thrown into the river. The ANP troops on the north side of the bridge reportedly reached the gunner mere moments after he hit the water rapidly getting him to shore where the medics could start working on him. I am glad the vehicle protected the rest of the crew but remain no fan of the MRAP. The 101st lost five men in one earlier today; for their size they offer state of the art protection which is meaningless when one of them hits a mine designed to kill a main battle tank. The fire department and police have pulled back from the MRAP as the ammo on board starts to cook off.
The VBIED blast ignited a large fire and reportedly killed the turret gunner who was ejected from the truck and thrown into the river.  The ANP troops on the north side of the bridge reportedly reached the gunner mere moments after he hit the water rapidly getting him to shore where the medics could start working on him.  I am glad the vehicle protected the rest of the crew but remain no fan of the MRAP.  The 101st lost five men in one earlier today; for their size they offer state of the art protection which is meaningless when one of them hits a mine designed to kill a main battle tank.  The fire department and police have pulled back from the MRAP as the ammo on board starts to cook off.

It is not just the Taliban and other insurgent groups turning on the heat – GIRoA (Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) is putting the heat on the reconstruction battle too.  Yesterday President Karzai removed the head of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) Amrullah Saleh,  and the Interior Minister Hanif Atmar.  After firing his two top security officials he announced this:

“Karzai made his first official response to the jirga Sunday by ordering a review of all cases of Taliban suspects in Afghan jails and the release of those detained on doubtful evidence.”

This order does not apply to militants in American custody but it is not like the Afghans have a solid record of keeping insurgents in jail in the first place.  Then a memo from the new Minister of the Interior appeared which looks like it is going to make getting a work visa (they are damn hard to get now) almost impossible.  The Afghan security chat room buzzed for hours about this as we tried to decipher the new rules.  The consensus is that the rules are targeting third country nationals (TCN’s,) both Nepalese who are the bulk of  TCN armed security and Filipino’s; who make up the bulk of the finance and admin officers in companies who use TCN’s  for those important roles.  Just like the review of Taliban prisoners these new visa requirements will not impact the contractors working on military bases which are the majority of contractors working in country.  Contractors working the FOB’s enter and exit the country aboard mil air or contractor aircraft flying directly to the major military airfields from Dubai; they don’t have visas or work permits.  The new rules are specifically targeting security companies who use internationals and the reconstruction implementers who are doing all the reconstruction work outside of the military bases.

The fire damaged the road bed of the bridge which will be difficult to fix but it did not close the bridge.
The fire damaged the road bed of the bridge which will be difficult to fix, but it did not close the bridge.

At exactly the time when Afghanistan is going to need more international security operatives to harden existing reconstruction efforts and provide (now needed) professional security to internationals operating outside the wire, the central government continues to squeeze them out of the business.  On top of that there are on-going problems with Afghan only security operations.  Dexter Filkins posted an excellent story on this topic today which can be found here.  He points out that both Watan and Compass security were not closed down after being banned by the Kabul government but instead “worked out” their differences and remain in operation.  I see reports of convoys from Compass security about their guys being ambushed almost daily on the security face chat room.  Normally the reports look like this:

“08 JUNE 10: DRIVE BY SHOOTING: at 1025 hrs Compass escorted convoy subjected to PKM and AK-47 fire delivered from two passing motorcycles at Grid 41R PR 91285 02241, 3 km Northwest of Keshnakod. No damages, convoy continued movement.”

If these convoys are taking fire they are no doubt returning it too, which may account for reports of indiscriminate shooting.  I find it hard to believe that security contractors are shooting up the countryside if, for no other reason, then ammo is so expensive and a pain to obtain. 7.62 x 39mm rounds (AK 47 ammo) sells for 50 cents a round at normal market rates with no discount on bulk purchases.   I don’t really know what these contractors are doing but Dexter seems to have a good handle on the topic.  What I do know is that if ISAF wants the contractors they are hiring as convoy escort to perform at international standards they need to hire internationals. That is becoming increasingly harder to do and clearly not something the Afghans want to see happen as they drive the security dollars to their companies by driving out international competition.

Most of the big reconstruction outfits use TCN’s in the finance officer positions because they have to handle and disperse large amounts of cash. Eliminating them from the work force is short sighted and dumb.  The central government is reducing the ability of the international aid agencies to rapidly develop Afghan human capital via daily mentor-ship by TCN professionals who have the requisite training and certification to pass muster with agencies like US AID.  Project management, project engineers and finance officers, as a rule of thumb, have to be approved by funding agencies which is a proven method for controlling fraud and theft.

Recovery team
Part of the army recovery team on the Behsud bridge

It took the army about four hours to recover their damaged MRAP and the soldiers let me and one of our engineers look over the bridge so we could check the structural integrity.  The roadbed will need to be replaced which will require a few days (probably longer here) but the good news is the damage was superficial.

Talking with the American soldiers is always a treat.  Paratroopers from the  101st  are now in charge of RC East and they seem to be a confident, cocky bunch which is exactly the right attitude. One of the sergeants told me they get out all the time doing COIN which he describes as talking to and being friendly with the people instead of hunting down and killing bad guys.  He said their pre-deployment training stressed that the Afghan people generally remain friendly towards Americans which he said he didn’t really believe until he saw us pop out of the crowd wearing casual western clothes; smiling at and  joking with the men around us as we passed through.  I told him to always smile warmly when greeting Afghans and to learn four cuss words and two mullah jokes in Pashto.  Those modest skills will make him a hero  wherever he goes as long as he stays out of the Korengal and Pech valleys in Kunar Province.  He thought that was a great heads up and laughed and laughed as he passed on this sage advice to his buddies.  I love being around good infantry and these guys have the look of world class fighters.

Here is the thing; the soldiers, through no fault of their own, really aren’t doing COIN.  The MRAP vehicles, which protected them this time, are a physical barrier between the people and the soldiers.  The body armor, helmets and mandatory sun glasses are both a physical and psychological barrier between the soldiers and the people they are trying to protect.  I know the MRAPs and body armor will never go away – they are self imposed constraints the commander has to deal with to accomplish his mission.  But no commander can accomplish the mission of protecting the local population if they are forced to deploy from and live on FOB’s.  They can’t protect families living 100 meters outside the wire of the bases from the Taliban, which even the illiterate peasant fighters in the south  have figured out as they reverse the gains made by the Marines last winter in the Helmand  River Valley.  The only way to combat small teams of Taliban enforcers roaming the countryside at night is to roam the countryside at night in small teams yourself; preferably without the helmets and body armor so you too can be fast and sneaky.

Paratroopers from the 101st mounting up to head back into the FOB. These are great troops who are capable of independent COIN style operations but are unable to do so due to constraints imposed from on high
Paratroopers from the 101st mounting up to head back into the FOB. These are great troops who are capable of independent COIN style operations but are unable to do so due to constraints imposed from on high.

Yesterday an article popped up from  ABC news saying this is the longest war in American history.  As is typical with the dying, brain dead, liberal media that is completely wrong; the longest war in American history was the Pig War in the San Juan islands between the British and us.  Afghanistan has three more years to go before it really becomes our longest war. Reading the main stream media gives me a headache…. I know that liberalism is a disease with the complete ignorance of your countries history being a major symptom but you would think that by now the dinosaur media would at least have heard of wikipedia. What a bunch of dummies.  They continue to think my fellow Americans are stupid enough to believe the partisan spin they publish is really news.  How many days did it take those jackasses to realize that we were not going to ignore the virulent racism of Helen Thomas?  She has finally exited the stage just like Dan Rather did; in complete and total disgrace.  Not that you would know that if you depended on the New York Slimes or Washington Compost for your news; they don’t seem to think that some guy taking out one of the more infamous media names in history with the video camera in his cell phone is an important story.   Whoops I was about to launch into another rant …sorry  about that.

The new fire apparatus remains a big deal in Jalalabad
The new fire apparatus remains a big deal in Jalalabad.  Trucks like this are a sign of hope that international aid effort will ultimately result in long term change but in and of themselves they are too little and too late.  

The question the MSM should be asking, if they were capable of independent thought or even thinking clearly about the important issues of the day, is will Afghanistan become our longest war, and if so, why?  President Karzai went to Washington last month for a round of meaningless photo ops and stupid proclamations because the current administration also thinks the American people are stupid enough to be fooled by such nonsense.  Karzai obviously has concluded the Commander in Chief will continue to “vote present” for the foreseeable future and is tightening the screws on the few internationals who continue to work outside the wire in attempt to divert more money to Afghan businesses, many of which have proven to be unreliable.  Those of us who remain in the reconstruction fight are busy adapting, hardening our compounds, changing up our routines, spending inordinate amounts of time and effort trying to get a handle on how bad the current security situation is and how much worse it will get.

Yesterday NATO lost ten men in battle; five American to an anti tank mine  in Nangarhar Province, and another five to different incidents in both the southern and central regions.  At least one of the KIA’s was a French Foreign Legion sergeant and the rest could well be Americans.  There is no way we will stay engaged here if the Taliban can inflict 10 KIA’s a day on us for any length of time.  Imagine that… the NATO military which is designed and deployed to fight a battle of attrition, cannot for a variety of reasons fight a battle of attrition; loses because it cannot accept the casualties which come from fighting a battle of attrition. It doesn’t have to be this way.  There is plenty  of world class infantry from both America and NATO in theater and now that the villains are offering battle they could be let lose to react with speed, daring, and accurate, overwhelming firepower.  To do that the leadership would have to accept risk, it would  have to embrace uncertainty and deploy smaller, mobile combat formations.  That kind of change in the campaign plan can only come from decisions made at the U.S. Commander in Chief level.  Those changes would require a president who is engaged, decisive, resolute and able to exert sustained expert, confident leadership.  We don’t have one of those.

Afghanistan is going down the tubes fast my friends and there are no signs; not one, to  indicate things are going to start going our way any time soon.