Sanctuary Denied?

Last week I received and heads up from Mullah John that General Allen and Ambassador Crocker were on 60 Minutes and was able to watch the show on AFN.  The one thing I noticed when watching General Allen was the emotion clearly evident as he discussed the truck bomb has had asked the Pakistani military to help stop.That bomb hit a US base in Wardak Province injuring over 8o soldiers. General Allen was told that one of the Pakistani politicians  remarked that if he knew about the truck bomb why did he not stop it?  He was clearly not amused by the question. I also saw something from Ambassador Crocker I really like.  When asked why he came out of retirement he said that when the President tells you he needs you do a job there is only one correct response. I respect that.

I make no claim to having a clue what or how General Allen is thinking as he approaches this war. I knew him 20 years ago when I was an instructor at the Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course where he was our group chief. I like General Allen and count him among the finest officers I served with during my time in the Corps.  I don’t know Ambassador Crocker at all – I just liked his response on 60 minutes and I am sure he is an exceptionally talented leader.

Having qualified my expertise on the matter  I’d like to make an educated guess, and that is General Allen is not the kind of commander who will grant enemy sanctuary indefinitely.  I doubt Ambassador Crocker is any different. General Allen is backed up by the Commander of CENTCOM, General Mattis who has a well earned reputation as an exceptionally aggressive and successful general. General Allen also spent three years as the Deputy Commander CENTCOM and the Marine Corps rarely leaves a three start general in one job for three years. During those years General Allen was General Petraeus’s right hand man and he did that while, for the most part, remaining off the main stream press radar. General Allen has juice – and it is not the kind of juice one normally associates with politically powerful people because it is not obvious main stream media juice. It is back channel juice and that is powerful stuff.

The topic is Pakistan and I thought it the perfect place to put in photos of my travels through the Khyber Pass. I’ve done the low budget Khyber Pass visit and the high budget (escorting a senior diplomat from Japan) tour too. The pictures calm me as I’m venting my spleen about the stupidity of our political class below – hopefully they do the same for you too.

Lunch at the best kabob stand in Landi Kotal - the last Pakistani town before the Torkham border with Afghanistan
Lunch at the best kabob stand in Landi Kotal – the last Pakistani town before the Torkham border with Afghanistan.  This is where low budget travelers eat.  It was good kabob too.  Honest.
Lunch when you go the VIP route is a lot better
Lunch when you go the VIP route is a lot better

Herschel Smith is unimpressed with the reported build up in the east of Afghanistan and I can’t remember a time he’s been wrong about anything. His assessment could prove to be spot on but this is one time I hope it isn’t. And for more bad news check this out: President Karzai has threatened to back Pakistan if the US conducts cross border operations. Secretary of State Clinton stopped by for a few words with President Karzai who immediately gave a TV interview telling the world he would side with Pakistan. I guess the SecState failed to get her message across. Big frigging surprise there.

The low rent way to visit the Khyber Pass; you need a permit and a tribal policeman and of course some Afridi's never hurt to have along too
The low rent way to visit the Khyber Pass; you need a permit and a tribal policeman and of course some Afridi’s never hurt to have along too
The VIP trip scores you a good 40 minute brief in a glass room in the Michni Post overlooking the eastern end of the Khyber
The VIP trip scores you a good 40 minute brief in a glass room of the Michni Post overlooking the western end of the Khyber
There was once a time when world leaders would travel into the Northwest Frontier because Pakistan was a trusted ally
There was once a time when world leaders would travel into the Northwest Frontier because Pakistan was a trusted ally
That time is well within living memory
That time is well within living memory
The story behind Michni Post so you can get an idea of how far into the NWF international leaders once traveled
The story behind Michni Post so you can get an idea of how far into the NWF international leaders once traveled

Suppose for a moment that the one glaring problem we face is no longer considered acceptable. That problem is that our enemies have sanctuary once they cross over the border to Pakistan. What if we have reached a point where we are no longer going to tolerate it?  The reason I ask is because what exactly are the Pakistani’s going to do about it?

They can threaten to cut off our supply lines. We have alternative supply lines running out of Central Asia and seem to have stockpiled enough of the 4- B’s (beans bullets, bandages, and beer). Wait, that can’t be right as everyone in the military knows drinking beer is one step away from consorting with Satan (according to Armed Forces TV and radio and social media outlets). Drink just one beer and the next thing you know your thumping the wife and trying to sell the baby for poker money.  So we have stocked up the three B’s and we can hold out with our stash much longer than the Pakistani economy can withstand a sea and air blockade because that is the level of punishment you have to be ready to dish out if you plan to go into Waziristan and start taking scalps.

Part of the VIP brief at Michni Post is the use of large reference points marking their side of the international boarder
Part of the VIP brief at Michni Post is the use of large reference points marking their side of the international boarder

We have known since the very first days of this conflict that the Taliban use the border area for sanctuary.  We have been good about not going across in “hot pursuit” having limited incursions into Pakistan to one that I know of.

The Pakistani army has a big display of all the Soviet rockets shot at them back in the day. Of course if we wanted to get shitty with the Pakistanis instead of shooting some low rent rockets we could turn the whole Michni Post into a big smoking hole in the ground. Rockets my ass
The Pakistani army has a big display of all the Soviet rockets shot at them back in the day. Of course if we wanted to get it on with the Pakistanis instead of shooting some low rent rockets we could turn the whole Michni Post into a big smoking hole in the ground. Nothing gets your attention faster than watching a fort full of soldiers get blown sky high.  Remember the World Trade Center?  Did that get your attention?  I have no ill will for the Khyber Rifles who are a good group of guys with a formidable Polo team but we’re talking business here.

We have alternate supply lines, we have stocks of stuff on hand, we still need to move supplies through Pakistan so what to do?  How about this famous quote “Never take counsel in your fears”.  The Pakistani’s have been playing us for fools since about December of 2001 when we let them rescue Osama bin Laden. Before that they were all about cooperation, as was every other country in the world except the ones that don’t matter anyway. The reason they were so cooperative was they knew we were in the blind rage stage of being pissed off about 9/11. That is several steps up the pissed off ladder and nobody at that time was sure what we were going to do. All they knew was that we were capable of doing whatever the hell we wanted to do. We still are. In fact given the billions spent on high tech platforms we could destroy more, faster, and with greater efficiency than we could a decade ago.

Looking east at the Khyber Pass from the Michni Fort. The narrow pass has been militarily significant since the assent of man but it isn't now - we could roll through it, fly over it, or take it with infantry in a matter of hours.
Looking east at the Khyber Pass from the Michni Fort. The narrow pass has been militarily significant since the assent of man but it isn’t now – we could roll through it, fly over it, or take it with infantry in a matter of hours.

After watching the 60 minutes segment with General Allen I am certain of one thing.  He’s pissed.  And he’s pissed about how Pakistan has been playing us and he is not the kind of man you want pissed at you. Take it from me because I’ve been there with him and it’s not pleasant. Most of you do not know General Allen or anything about him.  What you need to know is he understands that unlimited sanctuary is no way to fight a war. And even though he doesn’t have the political capitol of General Petraeus he has his confidence.  As he does with General Mattis – another fighting general who is not too keen on granting anyone sanctuary.  I know calls like going across the border in hot pursuit are the Presidents to make but we all now know (thanks to Ron Suskind) that the White House is dysfunctional and getting the President to make a firm decision about anything almost impossible. National level leadership of that kind allows for subordinates to make “interpretations of intent”. A fancy way of saying they can make their own decisions and take the actions they think fit Obama’s intent.

At the moment nobody is too sure about Obama’s intent on anything let alone Pakistan. Pakistan has proved a most unworthy ally. They actively support cross border incursion and have done so with impunity.  What is to stop General Allen from coming across the border and reducing Miramshaw to a heap of smoking ashes?  Nothing.  And when Pakistan starts wailing and moaning about it do you know what we should tell them?  First word starts with an F  the second with a Y. What are they going to do about it?  Fight us?  That one would be over quick.

Free Ranging Balochistan

I’m back in my compound after attending a bunch of ceremonies in Zaranj marking the end of our efforts in Nimroz Province.  When we flew in last week the skies were dark and it rained that night.  The next morning was clear as a bell making for excellent photography and perfect weather for what turned out to be 15 hours of driving through the Dasht-e Margo (Desert of Death).  Our mission that day was the dedication ceremony for the Charborjak Irrigation system which we had built, mostly with shovels, wheelbarrows and lots of man power, over the previous 11 months.  We had originally scheduled the ceremony for the 5th of October but changed the date at the last minute.  On the 5th there was an ambush waiting for us; when we moved out last Thursday we were a mobile ambush looking for anyone who was looking for us.

The Provincial Governor of Nimroz Province is Al Haji Karim Barahwi and those of you who have read this blog know I’m a big fan of his.  He’s a graduate of the Kabul Military Academy and served in the Afghan Army as an officer until the Soviets invaded.  Governor Barahwi then became a Muj commander who fought the entire war without any help from the United States.  He was working out of Iran and obviously had a little help from them despite the fact that he is not too happy with Iran at the moment.  The trip he took us on was remarkable because we did not go the way we have always gone to Cahrborjak; we jumped the Helmand and moved deep into the desert where the Governor wanted to show us something.  This story is best told through pictures and I have around 1800 from that one drive alone.  So stand by for a story told the Marine way – lots of pictures, no big words, and no cussing.  I was an officer in the Marines and know that cussing is good for morale, but only enlisted men rate morale, so, only they can cuss with impunity.  Officers are supposed to find more appropriate language to record observations, write reports, etc…  My Dad reminded me of this fact due to my proclivity for inserting colorful language in my posts – which, for the record, I think is (word deleted)  but I’m trying to talk him into writing for the blog and therefore am compelled to entertain him.

We drove to the Governors compound where a large escort of various Afghan Security Forces and a dozen or so Baloch fighters who did not wear uniforms.  All of the Afghans escorting us on that day were Baloch men from Nimroz Province
We drove to the Governors compound where a large escort of various Afghan Security Forces and a dozen or so Baloch fighters who did not wear uniforms waiting to escort us to Charborjak.  All of the Afghans escorting us on that day were Baloch men from Nimroz Province
We exited Zaranj and headed towards Charborjak on the Lashkary Canal road
We exited Zaranj and headed towards Charborjak on the Lashkary Canal road
I note the Lashkary Canal was dry - we just finished that project last year and I ask Bashir why the canal is dry - he claims to have no idea
I note the Lashkary Canal was dry – we just finished that project last year and I ask Bashir why the canal is dry – he claimed to have no idea
We entered the choke point of ambush ally spread put and moving fast
We entered the choke point of ambush ally spread out and moving fast
Moving out of ambush ally we passed the spot where the Highway Patrol Commander's truck was torched after the ambush last week
Coming out of ambush ally we passed the spot where the Highway Patrol Commander’s truck was torched after the ambush last week
And stopped on a plateau for what turned out to be a brief on the days route
And stopped on a plateau for what turned out to be a brief on the days route
Governor Barahwi walking along with the Provincial Chief of Police and Haji    the Chief of the Highway Police and the man who fought his way out of the ambush last week is directly on the Governor's left
Governor Barahwi walking along with the Provincial Chief of Police and Haji Nematullah, the Chief of the Highway Police and the man who fought his way out of the ambush last week.  Haji Nematullah is directly to the Governor’s left
The ANSF convoy team - most of them are from the Zaranj QRF - gets the word from Gov Barahwi and that word is we are sending a small force up the regular route while the rest of us ford the Helmand and head out into the desert.  We will ultimately arrive at the Charborjak site from the opposite direction and on the other side of the Helmand River then originally planned
The ANSF convoy team – most of them are from the Zaranj QRF – gets the word from Gov Barahwi and that word is we are sending a small force up the regular route while the rest of us ford the Helmand and head out into the desert. We will ultimately arrive at the Charborjak site from the opposite direction and on the other side of the Helmand River then originally planned
Our escorts head back to their trucks for the next stage of the trip
Our escorts head back to their trucks for the next stage of the trip
Once we crossed the Helmand we were in the bad lands of the Dasht-e Margo.  There is nothing out there is this triangle of land that borders both Iran and Pakistan.  The Taliban (and smugglers) move through this area regularly
After crossing the Helmand we were in the bad lands of the Dasht-e Margo. There is nothing out there in this triangle of land that borders Iran. The Taliban (and smugglers) move through the area regularly
Once on the other side of the Helmand we passed no less than 25 old forts and walled cities - they were literally dotting the horizon for miles and miles in this empty desert
On the other side of the Helmand we passed no less than 25 old forts and walled cities – they were literally dotting the horizon for miles and miles in this empty desert
About 90 minutes into the desert we stopped so Governor Barahwi could explain in great detail why this area was not under his control and what he needs to seal the area.  Michael Yon video tapped the entire discussion and it is interesting.  What the Governor needs is helicopters and a flying squad with soime Americans in it so they can fly around and pounce on anything moving through the desert.  That's apparently what the Soviets did to him back in the day and he admitted that tactic had cost him a ton in weapons, vehicles and manpower
About 90 minutes into the desert we stopped so Governor Barahwi could explain in great detail why this area was not under his control and what he needs to fix that. Michael Yon video tapped the entire discussion and it is interesting. The Governor needs helicopters and a flying squad with some Americans in it so they can fly around and pounce on anything moving through the desert. That’s apparently what the Soviets did to him back in the day and he admitted that tactic had cost him a ton in weapons, vehicles and manpower
We headed back towards the Helmand - the old truck on the right was the Chicken Truck and carried all the food and drinks for our lunch
We headed back towards the Helmand – the old truck on the right was the Chicken Truck and carried all the food and drinks for our lunch
This is the first of about 15 times that the Chicken Truck got stuck in the sand
This is the first of about 15 times that the Chicken Truck got stuck in the sand
We had one armored HUMVEE with us and it didn't handle the sand any better than the Chicken Truck.  The Toyota and Ford light pickups had no problems
We had one armored HUMVEE with us and it didn’t handle the sand any better than the Chicken Truck. The Toyota and Ford light pickups had no problems
We arrive at the ceremony site - you can see dust trails from the escorts who have been working the flanks and are just now crossing the Helmand.  Which is dry downstream.  Because we built a check dam that is apparently checking the entire river at the moment.  I ask Bashir if maybe this dam had something to do with the Lashkary being dry and he said "maybe".
We arrive at the ceremony site – you can see dust trails from the escorts who have been working the flanks and are just now coming towards the Helmand.  Which is dry downstream. Because we built a check dam that is apparently checking the entire river at the moment. I asked Bashir if maybe this dam had something to do with the Lashkary being dry and he said “maybe”.  Five minutes after sending this picture in with my official report my email lit up like a Christmas tree.  Did you know that at Camp Leatherneck there is a PhD Hydrologist who is in charge of the lower Helmand water basin?  Me either, and she was pretty upset to see this dam, that she had no idea existed, plugging up the Helmand.  What could I say? It was in the proposal although to be honest this damn dam is much bigger than I thought it would be.  The Iranians are pretty upset about the water too and will make their ire known to all by launching missiles into a hamlet  just outside Zaranj later that evening.  That act caused the Governor to miss the morning ceremony the next day which is why I was sitting the following morning frozen in place as my bladder remorsefully filled from all the coffee I drank before I arrived.  
And here it is - the Charborjak canal intake.  Not bad for a cash for work program is it?  Know how much water it takes in when running at full capacity?  Six cubic meters per second. I had to find that and a lot more out about the project after receiving so many emails from agitated Americans who were trying to determine exactly what the hell was going on in Nimroz Province.
And here it is – the Charborjak canal intake our signature project for this year. Not bad for a cash for work program is it? Know how much water it takes in when running at full capacity? Six cubic meters per second. I had to find that and a lot more out about the project after receiving so many emails from agitated Americans who were trying to determine exactly what the hell was going on in Nimroz Province.
Governor Barahawi addressing the local folks who had made it out for the opening ceremony and the free chow which followed.  This is a sparsely populated area which I bet you can figure out from the photo
Governor Barahawi addressing the local folks who had made it out for the opening ceremony and the free chow which followed. This is a sparsely populated area which I bet you can figure out from the photo
Some of the QRF troops hanging out while the Governor talks
Some of the QRF troops hanging out while the Governor talks
After speeches by the local politicians, a prayer by the senior mullah followed by our ops manager Zabi (his dad is the senior Mulllah in the province) singing an Islamic hymn which I didn't understand but Zabi can sing - I mean he is really really good and I've since found out quite well know for his voice.
After speeches by the local politicians, a prayer by the senior mullah followed by our ops manager Zabi (his dad is the senior Mulllah in the province) singing an Islamic hymn which I didn’t understand but Zabi can sing – we cut the ribbon and opened the gates.  As the senior American present I had to relinquish my camera so I asked Mike if I could use some of his pictures for the post.  
After the ribbon cutting the Chicken Truck swung into action and we sat down on the VIP rug for an hour or so to eat lunch and drink warm soda.  I haven't been this sunburned in a long time but it was still an enjoyable afternoon
After the ribbon cutting the Chicken Truck swung into action and we sat down on the VIP rug for an hour or so to eat lunch and drink warm soda. I haven’t been this sunburned in a long time; note how I’m trying to keep the scarf up over my beet red ears, but it was still an enjoyable afternoon.  
After lunch we headed back across the Helmand towards the desert
After lunch we headed back across the Helmand towards the desert
But we didn't go into the desert hugging the bank of the Helmand instead which is why the Chicken Truck and Hummer got stuck so many times.  There really isn't a road here at all - just sand and every few miles a dirt poor small village
But we didn’t go into the desert hugging the bank of the Helmand instead which is why the Chicken Truck and Hummer got stuck so many times. There really isn’t a road here at all – just sand and every few miles a dirt poor small village
We crisscrossed the Helmand about 5 or 6 times
We crossed the Helmand about 5 or 6 times
We ran into these boys at one of the fords.  They are miles from anywhere and as I look at this pic I wonder what people back home will make of it.  Kids alone in a desert riding donkey's and without safety helmets!!!!!
We ran into these boys at one of the fords. They are miles from anywhere and as I look at this pic I wonder what people back home will make of it. Kids alone in a desert riding donkey’s and without safety helmets!!!!!
On this side of the river the villages are small and dirt poor
On this side of the river the villages are small and dirt poor

Along the way back to Zaranj we stopped at the village where Governor Barahwi was born and raised.  It was slightly bigger than this one.  We also stopped at the village of the ANP soldier who was killed in the ambush last week.  We did not take pictures in either place and we hung out in the village of the ANP soldier for a good hour or so too, paying respects as it were.  It was a great day and my camera battery died after I took this picture so it is time for analysis and commentary.

The kerfuffle over the dam being built is an interesting contrast between two styles of doing the “build” part of the current Afghanistan plan.  There are direct implementors like us who take USAID money and use it according to the priorities of the Provincial and District governments.  We did not build anything new – we restored a check dam and a major irrigation intake that had been destroyed back in the 80’s. We used the same plans and the same engineers who built those irrigation systems back before the Soviets arrived and depopulated the rural areas of southwestern Afghanistan.  The provincial irrigation department coordinated with their national level counterparts in Kabul on every step of this project and sent in regular progress reports.  We also employed every man who could handle a shovel in the district for almost a year which is the whole point to cash for work programs.

The dozens of very senior, highly credentialed people who reacted with great emotion boarding on distress when they found out about this project are the other side of the coin.  These are people who have been given a great deal of authority yet have no responsibility for tangible on the ground results.  They never leave the FOB’s and never see anything of the country except what they can see while flying over it. There is a PhD hydrologist working for the USG and also coordinating with a British subject matter expert to come up with the Helmand Water Shed Master Plan.  I am sure they are professionals who take their work seriously and spend 12 hours a day on the computers doing I have no idea what.  But, good intentions are meaningless and the hundreds of millions of dollars being spent to bring people like that to Afghanistan and keeping them here for a year might as well be thrown into a rubbish bin.  Do they honestly think that when we leave here their “master plan” will be worth more than a cup of warm of spit?  How can smart people be so stupid?

The Helmand River Valley will never reach its full potential unless every farmers field is dug up, the clay removed, and proper drainage put in its place.  We discovered that back in the 1960’s when Lashkar Gha was called “Little America” and the State Department was trying to salvage the disaster that was the original Hellmand River Valley project run by the engineering firm Morrison Knudsen.  Since the completion of that project local farmers have irrigated their fields by flooding them. The NGO I work for tried to introduce drip irrigation to the local farmers years ago but they pulled the hoses out of the ground and started using them to tether sheep and goats.  The only way to water a field is to flood it; everybody knows that, and that is exactly what the farmers told the men who showed them how to use drip irrigation 8 years ago.  You cannot force change on Afghan farmers any easier than you can force change in Americas’ two-party political system.  Proving that drip irrigation is efficient and works better turned out to be completely irrelevant; if proving yourself right mattered the entire Helmand River Valley would be using drip irrigation and about 1/3 of the water they are currently using to water their crops.

Not that using less water is a big deal because, as any Afghan sod buster will tell you, that just means more water for the Iranians.  Water is a zero sum game for Helmand Valley farmers; changing that mind set is not going to happen in my life time….or yours.

Last year Michael Yon visited our Nimroz projects and put up an interesting post called Please don’t forget us.  He was writing about a massive women’s training program we ran that year because Zaranj has a more Persian culture, woman can drive in Zaranj, work outside the home and attend training courses without any problems.  We tried to do an even bigger woman’s training program this year but we’re rejected.  The woman had already been forgotten and this year’s crew in Kabul wanted “capacity building” which is the new buzzword on the FOB’s.  For 1/10th of the cost of keeping just one hydrologist in this country for a year, and I’m talking the million bucks of life support and security costs, not the salary or cost of mobilization which would easily add another million to the sum, for 1/10th of that we could have trained 300 woman and sent them on their way with the tools they needed (Sewing Machines, beauty salon equipment, wool and weaving boards etc..) to start their own business.

I know I sound like a broken record.  It just seems like it is always one step forward and two steps back around here.  My PM Bashir is now gone having moved on to bigger and better things.  I’m right behind him as my time living here is rapidly coming to an end.  The people of Zaranj have already been forgotten and are now on their own.

It doesn’t have to be this way and probably will never be this way again because we can’t afford to spend  2 billion dollars per week (according to last nights 60 minutes segment) to field an army of fobbits.  We have no business foisting a “watershed master plan” on the Afghans – it’s their country, their river, and their breadbasket and when allowed to do so they will build things back to the way they were.  It may not be optimal, there may be inefficiencies in the system that a PhD hydrologist could fix (if she had freedom of movement and actually spent time on the river) but who cares? What is going to remain when we leave is an Afghan system, built by and for Afghans and to be honest, I have no idea why we think we should be bringing all these “subject matter experts” over here in the first place.  Who are we to dictate to them how to manage their own natural resources?  We should send all the hydrologists back to America to aid in a gigantic shovel ready program I’d like to see started called “Get all our oil from Alaska and the Western States Project”.  There is where we should be spending 2 billion a week and we’d even see a return on our investment.  How strange would that be?

Diplomacy 101

I am in the middle of an interesting few days as we finish up our larger projectsvwith official ceremonies.  Those of you who follow Michael Yon on facebook know where I am and what we have been up to.  What is interesting to watch is Michael, myself and our friend (and co-worker) Chadd Nyerges, trying to process the thousands of pictures and a dozen hours of video we collectively shot over the past 48 hours.  We are all writing reports, posting on the internet, trying to figure out what we have with all these photos and waiting for the plane to come back and get us.

One person can generate a amazing amount of digital imagery in a day. This is the rig Michael Yon used to record day one of our stay in Nimroz
One person can generate an amazing amount of digital imagery in a day. This is the rig Michael Yon used to record day one of our stay in Nimroz.

The place for me to start my narrative of the trip is right in the middle.  Yesterday morning we found out none of the State Department folks or Marines from Leatherneck would attend the ceremonies. This made me the senior American present a fact which I failed to think through before walking into the reception hall for the morning program of recognition for the US AID in general and my company specifically. As I entered the hall my Afghan provincial manager, Bashir greeted me with most unwelcome news.  “You are the senior man, Tim; you have to sit next to the Governor.” I said that would be fine, but I needed to find the men’s room first. Bashir said that was not possible, and I had to go to my seat “right now.”

Almost an hour after Bashir said I had to be in my seat I remain frozen in place waiting for the program to start. At this point I figure I can make it an hour maybe even 90 minutes before I fold and make a break for the men's room - which is a mark of weakness and lack of self control in this part of the world
Almost an hour after Bashir said I had to be in my seat, I remain frozen in place waiting for the program to start. At this point, I figure I can make it an hour, maybe even 90 minutes, before I fold and make a break for the men’s room ; a mark of weakness and lack of self-control in this part of the world.

So I’m stuck in place, and I know that if I get up and the Governor shows up and I amble on over to sit next to him after he has sat down…that would just not do, so I wait.

And wait - at this point I'm making up an elaborate fictional story about the last two days in order to keep my mind off the fact that what I really need to do, more than anything else in the word, was go use the mens room
And wait – at this point I’m making up an elaborate fictional story about the last two days in order to keep my mind off the fact that what I really need to do, more than anything else in the world, is go use the men’s room.

As I sat, concentrating on positive energy for the test of wills that was to come, Deputy Provincial Governor Haji Qasem Khedry walked in, said his greeting to us and sat down next to me. The clock had finally started, and I settled in, determined to hang tough. A number of community elders came up to praise the US-funded Community Development Program and the management team in Nimroz, headed by Bashir Sediqi, who is my best provincial manager.

This is Haju Moulavi Sedahuddin who is a sharp critic of the governor and municipal authorities but agreed to come and testify as to the effectiveness of our programs and their positive impact on the people
This is Haji Moulavi Sedahuddin, who is a sharp critic of the governor and municipal authorities, but agreed to come and testify as to the effectiveness of our programs and their positive impact on the people.  It was interesting to see him at this awards ceremony, and I was hoping his remarks would be brief but was to be disappointed.

I was pretty confident we were at least half way through the schedule of events when fate intervened in the form of an unfortunate event which allowed me to make a brief graceful exit.

If you look closely at the man in the back of this photo - second from the right you'll notice he appears to be unconscious. He is about to lean forward and start throwing up. Half of the men sitting with me are doctors and I knew the best thing for me to do was get out of the way as this emergency medical situation was handled
If you look closely at the man in the back of this photo – second row next to the wall, you’ll notice he appears to be unconscious. He may or may not be. I don’t know.  What I do know is he’s about to lean forward and start throwing up.  This could be the sign of something serious or not – turns out he was alert and pain free when he left, so I’m guessing his was a minor medical issue.  Half of the men sitting with me in the front are doctors, and I knew the best thing for me to do was get out of the way as this emergency medical situation was handled

Once I caught the commotion over my right shoulder and recognized there was a medical emergency, I took immediate action. I bolted toward Bashir and pointed to the man saying, “He needs a doctor, and where is the toilet?”  Bashir said, “Downstairs to the left.” I flew down the stairs with Mike Yon in hot pursuit.  “Do you know where the men’s room is?” he asked. I told him we were on the way and stayed in front in case it was only one stall.  But it wasn’t – there were plenty of open toilets, as we had beaten the rush down to them. We were back before the ceremony re-started, and I resumed my post.

This is the tail of the end of the presentation and I'm accepting a award from the people on behalf of my company. The Boss should be here accepting this not me
This is the tail of the end of the presentation, and I’m accepting an award from the people on behalf of my company. The Boss should be here accepting this not me

During the past three years, we have accomplished some amazing projects. I’ll be posting in detail about two of them in the near future. What is important to remember, as we close down our Nimroz operations and move on, is that all the projects we did in Nimroz were conceived by, designed by and built by Afghans.  As the only American in the lash-up, my role was limited to minor writing of reports and moving money for paydays. The Boss was the man with the vision to tell USAID we could go down to Zaranj and work, and he proved he was right. I know I sound like a broken record, but I am trying to point out how easy it is to get things done in this country when you know what you’re doing. And if you know what you are doing in Afghanistan, you will never walk into some public awards ceremony without first visiting the men’s room. I now remember that I once knew that, bet I don’t forget it again anytime soon.

High Noon in the Forgotten Province

Yesterday morning there was a running gunfight spanning 100 kilometers on the Nimroz Province side of the Dasht-e Margo (Desert of Death.) It started just outside the little hamlet of Qala Fath, which is home to the only reliable source of drinking water near Zaranj and also houses this spectacular walled city which once guarded a portion of the Silk Road. Or it guarded the water source; or something else; because nobody in Nimroz Province has a clue when it was built or by whom.

Part of the walled city in Qala Fath
Part of the walled city in Qala Fath

The fight started when Haji Mehedin, the commander of the Afghan Highway Police, turned off the Lashkary Canal road heading towards Qala Fath. Once you exit the Lashkary road you enter into a canyon with 30 to 40 foot high sandstone cliffs right next to the single track road, and this is the one area in southern Nimroz Province I hate driving through, because it is too easy to ambush vehicle traffic from almost point blank range.  Haji Mehedin was alone and saw a vehicle with armed men about 100 meters down the track to his front. The armed men fired warning shots into the air. Haji Mehedin grabbed his rifle and started firing at the men in front of him. He was then engaged from his right flank by an RPG  and more small arms fire. He conducted a one man fighting withdrawal back to the Lashkary Canal road where he linked up with a two-man ANP guard post and called for the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) from Zaranj.  The ANA and ANP and every Highway Patrolman in the area converged on Haji Mehedin within an hour, and the chase was on. The road in that part of the province heads one way – into Charborjak District, running about 110 kilometers astride the Helmand River, where it ends at the start of a massive irrigation project we just finished last week.

The posse found Haji Mehdin’s police truck, which did not make it far because its radiator had been shot up. The villains apparently set it on fire and were now crammed into one Hi Lux truck.  The posse fanned out and raced across the Dasht-e Margo in pursuit.

In the desert heading towards Charborjak; imagine about 60 ANP trucks in a massive line sweeping across this very road yesterday. It must have been a sight to behold.
In the desert heading toward Charborjak. Imagine about 60 ANP trucks in a massive line sweeping across this very road yesterday. It must have been a sight to behold.

The villains’ vehicle broke down about 14 kilometers outside of the Charborjak District Center, and they abandoned it, leaving behind large quantities of explosives and ammunition. The QRF fanned out and started heading toward the highlands, away from the Helmand River. The villians then struck with a pretty impressive RPG shot which killed the driver of one of the ANP trucks. That shot was the villains’ undoing, as dozens and dozens of trucks loaded with infantry, cops, and highway patrolmen moved in for the kill. And kill they did – 9 of the 11 insurgents died on the spot. Two got away but were leaking blood, and they headed into the desert where chances of survival are slim. They carried no identification papers, were clearly not local people, and the best guess is they were Pashtuns from the South.

The total weapon count from this group was 11 AK 47s, one RPG with 8 rounds, a few pistols, two plastic jugs full of HME (home made explosives) and an old PPSh-41 submachinegun.  The PPSh-41 fires a 7.62x25mm pistol round from a drum magazine; it is an open bolt weapon, just like the  Uzi and the old American M3 Grease Gun, but it has a dangerous design flaw. If the bolt is forward on an empty chamber with a full magazine inserted into the magazine well, the gun has an annoying habit of going off if you’re riding in a truck which is bouncing along on poorly maintained dirt roads. The Americans, for this exact reason,  modified their M3 Grease Guns by attaching a peg to the bolt and cutting a groove for the peg in the ejection port cover, which prevents the bolt from functioning as long as the cover is closed . Older Afghan men who know a little bit about weapons hate the PPSh subgun, and it is interesting that this group of scumbags had one. They really suck.

The Charborjak District Administrative Center - this district is geographically huge but sparsely populated with a few small villages situated close to the river and nothing but desert inland.
The Charborjak District Administrative Center – this district is geographically huge but sparsely populated with a few small villages situated close to the river and nothing but desert inland.
We built a large main irrigation canal that extends 56 kilometers and services every farming hamlet in the district. We were going to do 60 kilometers but ran into a mine field at the tail end of the canal and could not find a way around it. Yesterday was the day we originally scheduled the grand opening of this canal.
We built a large main irrigation canal that extends 56 kilometers and services every farming hamlet in the district. We were going to do 60 kilometers but ran into a mine field at the tail end of the canal and could not find a way around it. Yesterday was the day we originally scheduled the grand opening of this canal.

There are several things about this story which interest me. The first is that my guys and I, and the Provincial Governor, and a well known journalist were supposed be on that road yesterday morning to conduct the opening ceremony for our irrigation project. That project employed every working age male in the district, and because we dug most of it by hand, we kept these men employed for almost a full year. More importantly, we built reinforced concrete intakes, water control points and three bypass sections, allowing for portions of the canal to be closed for repairs as needed. Most importantly, we did not dig secondary canals.  We said up front we could bring the water inland but bringing that water to farmers’ fields was their job, not ours; and keeping the main canal up and running is again their job, not ours. I’m a little proud of that given the number of times local men came up to me to ask if we could dig a canal into their village and I just laughed and said no.  Politely – I’m a culturally sensitive guy.

Given the way the villains were set up, they could have intended to ambush the rather large convoy heading out to the ceremony. I honestly now wish we hadn’t changed the date – 11 knuckleheads with AKs, one RPG launcher and a dog of a subgun? Given the number of ANP who were going to be with us, I’d take those odds any day. I have the flame stick dialed in for 300 meters and this may have been my only chance to bust a cap into a real honest to God villain. Besides, we would have moved through there hours before noon, so I’m not so sure this was an attempt on the governor’s life, which is what the buzz on the street is saying.  Had these 11 idiots brought along a heavy machinegun or two that would be a different story; nobody wants to get caught in a narrow draw while being stitched up by machinegunners who, at that close distance, would have had to try really hard to miss. Had we not been traveling with the governor’s escort, we would have never entered the draw – we use multiple outriders who would have alerted us long before we got there.  We have one drill for potential ambushes – and that drill is called turn around and run. We’re not here for gun play, and despite a long year of moving low-pro throughout the most dangerous provinces in this country, the Ghost Team record of never being ambushed stands. Except for that time Crazy Horse got lit up in Paktiya, but he was with Chief Ajmal Khan, and it wasn’t that big of an ambush, so I’m still thinking technically we have a 100% movement success rate.

But here is something else of interest – Haji Mehedin is a Baloch (most of southern Nimroz is Baloch), and they, for the most part, dislike Pashtuns and hate the Taliban. Haji Mehedin has also not been to one of the multimillion dollar regional training centers where they cram powerpoint classes about things which an Afghan policeman will never do, would hardly understand, and couldn’t care less about.  He doesn’t need instruction from US Department of State contractors to tell him what to do to bring order and the rule of law (Afghan style – which is a little different than the standards in western law enforcement) in his own damn district. Which is, of course, another great point – it is his district, where he grew up and knows all the residents. Do you think men like Haji Mehedin will tolerate his troopers shaking down truck drivers and other civilians for pocket change?

The canal was not all dug by hand - we rented every excavator in the Province too for the harder sections of the canal
The canal was not all dug by hand – we rented every excavator in the province for the harder sections.

Back in World War I, the British had a problem, and that problem was German agents were moving through Balochistan and into Afghanistan where they were trying to get some traction and allies to fight with them. Three of the four major Baloch tribes had gone over to the German side when the Germans told them their country had converted to Islam and that they had giant airships which travel around the world leaving death and destruction in their wake.

The British sent out what they had: a lone Colonel, his London born driver and 23 Sepoy’s (Indian infantry) who had not been trained or issued any weapons. I read the Colonel’s fascinating account of how he bluffed the insurgent Baloch tribes into coming back to the British side by telling them he led a huge army and had mountain guns, and all the holes in the radiator grill of his now beat up car were machinegun barrels with which he could kill them all in the blink of an eye.  These bluffs, as bluffs always do, did not last long, but by then the Colonel (who had promoted himself to general, so he had more juice with the natives) did get a couple of mountain guns. He also got a cavalry troop with a British officer, a squad of Seapoys who were trained and had rifles, and I think maybe a machinegun platoon – I  returned the book to its owner and now have to go on memory. Once he had a little firepower behind him, the now-General summoned a few of the rebel chiefs to his mud brick fort, had a quick military tribunal, found the lot guilty and ordered them to be hanged in the morning. One of the bandit chief’s wives – reportedly the most beautiful woman in Balochistan – asked the General to come to her camp, where she presented him with a magnificent white horse (it was his horse and had been stolen earlier in the year.) She promised him that her husband would never again fight against the Raj or the crown and would from that day forward be a trusted ally.

That’s about as far as I got in the book before I had to return it to its owner – so B, be a good friend and fill us in after you read this.  I’m pretty sure the bandit chief turned around and attacked the small garrison after his stay of execution and subsequent release, which prompted the British General (his self-promotion was approved during his first year there) to mobilize his army.  That army was a few infantry, one field gun, a cavalry troop and 600 camels, and they marched to the winter camping grounds of the tribe, where he threatened to let his camels loose on the wheat fields and vegetable gardens.  Six hundred camels would have consumed every bit of the winter fodder these nomads had grown, so the threat posed by the Brits was literally a death sentence for the whole tribe.

Compare and contrast the responses of a cash strapped, over-extended British military almost 100 years ago to the response of a cash strapped over-extended United States military today. The Brits send in a field grade officer with an enlisted driver and push him whatever horse, small mountain guns, infantry and machineguns they can spare, and throughout the entire war they could spare less than 100 men total to send into Balochistan. We start by spending billions and billions of dollars to set up high speed training centers staffed by people who know absolutely nothing about this land, culture or people, and even when it is recognized from on high (as it was in 2005) that these training centers accomplish next to nothing what do we do?  Double down and spend billions more.

Haji Mehedin demonstrated something that old British General knew and something we could not learn in a million years due to the slow thinking, one size fits all problem solving of Big Government, which wholly owns and manages our Big Military.  That something is that we don’t need to spend billions building and manning regional training centers full of ex-cops who cannot possibly teach much to their students because they have no idea what those students really do all day when they are out on the job. Nobody needed to train Haji Mehedin how to fight or what to do when ambushed by Taliban. He’s a Baloch tribesman, a tribal leader in fact, and to be honest he would have probably done better if we have given him an old Enfield bolt gun instead of the piece of shit AMD 65 that is standard issue for Afghan police.

Could this man be the next Brad Thor? If you are in the publishing business you'd be smart to send me a large check and a contract right now or lose the chance of a lifetime. Throw in a business class upgrade when I head home and I'll sign over the sequel. I'm a cheap date but won't be after you see the manuscript.
Could this man be the next Brad Thor? If you are in the publishing business you’d be smart to send me a large check and a contract right now or lose the chance of a lifetime. Throw in a business class upgrade when I head home and I’ll sign over the sequel. I’m a cheap date but won’t be after you see the manuscript.

We no longer send colonels out into the wilds of lawless lands like Balochistan with a single enlisted man assigned to them and a written order which says something like “stop the Baloch from raiding our supply trains, and if they won’t stop, kill them.”  Or words to that effect – they did come from the British so I’m sure his written orders were a little more polished than I remember.  We once knew how to fight a counterinsurgency while having to deal with a dysfunctional host nation government and fight on the cheap.  We can’t do anything on the cheap now and we’re broke.