Yesterday we lost two more solders fighting ISIS-K in Afghanistan; Cameron H. Thomas, 23, of Kettering, OH and Joshua P. Rodgers, 22 of Bloomington, Ill were killed in action during a raid in the Achin district of Nangarhar Province. Both were from the Army Ranger regiment and they were supporting the counter-terrorism component of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. Rangers provide the support and security elements for Special Forces raiding teams who are the assault element in these operations which is why the Rangers were in the Achin district this week.
Both of these men were Sergeants and although only in their young 20’s there is no doubt they were experienced, competent, effective fighters. They were reportedly killed by small arms fire which I would guess means machinegun fire as ISIS and the Taliban are rarely encountered with battle zero’d rifles and can’t hit a damn thing more than 100 yards away.
What can you say about the loss of two more men other than they; like their Marine bothers, would not have wanted to be anywhere else. No warrior worth the name wants to miss out on a combat deployment.
Afghanistan is currently a true mess that has become what every knowledgeable observer predicted it would become the second they heard Obama announce a withdrawal date mere seconds after announcing a surge date. The only difference is that we did not suspect there would be a stay behind component.
There are two ways forward; we pull the counter-terrorist teams out of the fight and leave them on fortified FOB’s inside Afghan FOB’s to “mentor’ or we take the remaining advise and assist forces and let them off the FOB’s and into the fight. The first option is the default Washington DC option – Kabuki Theater designed to look like we’re helping when we’re not. The second option gives the Afghan people a chance at obtaining their elusive goal of peace.
Peace is much on my mind as the Korean situation heats up. North Korea has engaged in nuclear brinkmanship for years now and has been met by appeasement from Clinton, Bush and Obama and that appeasement has been met by increase belligerence every time. President Trump has drawn a line and unlike any president before him he does not seemed inclined to ignore that line if it is broken. This was inevitable and the growing North Korean threat has to be dealt with or they are going to develop a multi stage missile to deliver the nuclear payloads they already have.
What are the chances of war? 50/50 is my guess and the tell is our deployment of THAAD batteries to South Korea. China didn’t say a word when we did that and in the past they would have gone high order having warned us repeatedly that it would be a provocation to them. Now it’s not
Japan is preparing it’s people for imminent attack right now and I bet the Chinese are moving forces to the Korean border only this time they are not there to fight us. This is serious and if war comes it will be short but expensive in lives and treasure. When it is over our forces in Afghanistan will still be there helping the Afghanistan National Security Forces in their fight against radical Islamic insurgents.
In the what the hell is going on category the Pentagon is claiming the two Rangers who were killed yesterday may have been a friendly fire incident. At least a dozen soldiers who were on the raid are contacting media to say that story is bullshit and the two were hit by enemy fire. Check this out from the Army Times:
The military’s investigation aims to learn whether Rodgers and Thomas were killed by errant Afghan or American gunfire, officials said. But several soldiers who fought in the battle vehemently dispute that’s what happened, according to Task & Purpose. More than a dozen witnesses contacted the news site claiming their comrades were gunned down by ISIS militants.
There is no way to determine what the hell is going on over there without competent reporters on the ground digging up truth and reporting that in context. That is why I’m trying so hard to fund an embed back there but I cannot do that without your support. If you can please consider a donation to the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page in support of accurate reporting from the front lines.
This morning the main stream media caught up with FRI by reporting how the terrorists who attacked the Afghanistan National Army (ANA) in Mazar-i Sharif got onto the base. They also reported on the relief of the 209th Corps commanding general. To be fair the news report (linked here) contained details I didn’t know so good for them for the original reporting. Here’s one of those details:
When the first fighting broke out, one of the assailants dressed in a special forces uniform rushed into the mosque, the security source said. He herded the panicked recruits to take cover together in a room. “And there he blew himself up,” the source said. Any survivors were gunned down by the remaining militants, he added.
That is a hard attack to defend against. In military terms it was a raid and raids are often easy to pull off because they, by design, target units or people who are not prepared for them. The hard part of any raid isn’t gaining surprise; it’s getting your troops back safely. That problem is mitigated when the assaulting troops have intentions of surviving the attack.
Saying “I told you” is, at this point, a tedious exercise in irrelevance. Nobody really cares and it makes for boring blogging. So, let me tell you something you didn’t know using another current news story.
Last week there was an uplifting story about high school girls in Herat, Afghanistan mastering basic internet skills in a computer lab apparently provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. The article is titled “In Afghanistan, girls break cyber walls” and was a human interest story designed to showcase progress but really showcased failure, and did so with reckless disregard for the future health and well being of the girls being reported on.
Herat is in the Western part of the country and the local culture, as it is in Zaranj, has a heavy Persian influence. The mores regarding women are a little more lax but not so lax that encouraging school girls to get on social media is a good idea. Both the Taliban and ISIS have used social media to target apostates and spies. Maybe the girls in this story belong to families with enough clout to keep them safe once we’re gone but I doubt it.
Bringing internet and IT training to Afghan children is not a new story; it’s been done before in a much more comprehensive way. But that effort garnered little media attention or big money foundation support.
Unlike other aid programs this one cost the taxpayers exactly nothing. Not a dime of aid funding funded the FabLab; the equipment was provided by MIT and grad students from MIT and their geek friends (known as Fab Folk) self funded their way to Afghanistan to set it up. They came from as far away as South Africa and Iceland; it was remarkable to see and best yet they paid their bar bills on time and with cash.
The Fab Lab equipment would have been of limited use without good internet conductivity which was installed by Baba Ken from Reachback.org. Ken supported a start up portable satellite antenna company into field testing their new Gatr ball system to Taj, to determine how long this portable system would function in a remote location. A government agency based in the Fort Washington Facility donated the 15k a month worth of fat pipe bandwidth (they too were interested in seeing how long and at what capacity the system would last). FRI provided the expertise to get all this gear through customs (for a mere 200 buck bribe) and delivered to Jalalabad and (as we did with all our guests at the Taj) Shem Klimiuk and I provided security for the internationals who came to work on the project.
Their story is remarkable, inspirational, but never gained any traction despite being told in the pages of this blog and featured in an excellent interview by NPR of Dr. Amy Sun, who introduced the Fab Lab to Afghanistan. Listen to the interview; you’re not going to believe what they accomplished without the help or support of the US Government or any other international aid organization.
The Jalalabad Fab Lab was unable to generate the donations required to continue operations and I believe that is because the success was counter- narrative. While NATO was spending millions and millions of dollars developing the”virtual silk road” the universities and teaching hospitals in Jalalabad had lightening fast internet provided free of cost by the Fab Folk and Baba Ken’s Jbad Geek squad (not pictured in this blog for security reasons).
When dealing with the narrative we have to judge what we know to be true before speculating on anything else. What we know to be true is that the most effective cyber aid program in Afghanistan came about in the exact same manner as America’s current oil boom – despite, not because of the government. It was an effective grass roots movement that ultimately died because the Fab Folk were unable to attract organizations like the Gates foundation to sustain it and they did try that source and many others.
These pictures and this story were once a source of great pride for those who participated in this noble effort. Viewing them now brings a sense of ennui. Baba Ken, Dr. Dave Warner of the Synergy Strike Force and Dr. Amy Sun were told over and over what they were doing could not be done. They took huge risks to prove it could be and did so because they wanted to help and knew their skill set could bring much needed technical education and resources to the Afghan people. But they had no connections in the halls of power and it seemed to me the last thing that the US government agencies deployed to Afghanistan wanted to see was people doing what they themselves contended could not be done. The ruling class and their technical experts hate being proven wrong.
The boys pictured above, if they are still alive, are in the fight now; on one side or the other. They wanted to be in university, they wanted a chance to live a productive life. What the can you say to them now? Sorry just doesn’t seem to cut it.
I’d like to report how this story ends but I cannot do that without your support. If you can please consider a donation to the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page in support of accurate reporting from the front lines.
My sources for this kind of information have never failed me but the media and Resolute Support staff are failing you by refusing to allow the news to come out unfiltered. This mornings news feed carried conformation of the scoop in this mealy mouthed way:
Ghani also reshuffled the local army leadership, as the Taliban threatened further attacks.
There are six corps in the Afghan army. Four of them have just had their commanding generals relieved. I do not believe the Afghans have a deep bench of senior general officer talent and know this move will cause turmoil in ongoing operations. It’s devastating to morale and not well timed either as it’s spring and time to start a new fighting season.
So, at this point, what difference does it make?
I don’t know. As many of my friends have said nobody cares about Afghanistan anymore. I respond that people will start caring when we start losing troops again but it is possible we’ll continue to avoid casualties (with the exception of the occasional SF soldier because they are staying in the fight). If that pattern holds then it means our train and assist missions are locked down inside FOB’s and never leave them. Which is to say they are wasting their time because you can’t mentor combat troops unless you’re fighting with them too. That approach is the exact same type of kabuki theater that is inflicted on the public daily by TSA agents at our airports.
Yet I still smell danger; not in the form of a threat to our country but in the form of refusing to learn from repeated past mistakes. I remain unable to track down who agreed to the deployment of 300 Marines and why. I’ve talked to general officers up to the three star level and they don’t know either nor are they optimistic about achieving mission success. I could have pressed general Turner on the issue but he’s a friend and I’m not a real reporter and would never put a friend on the spot like that.
I know the Pentagon will contend that the currently level of secrecy involving the Afghan commitment is to prevent enemies from knowing what we are up to. I also know the one entity that knows exactly where American troops are and in what number is the Taliban. They don’t need the press to tell them where we are and what we’re doing. This brings up the disturbing possibility that the Pentagon could fall into the same position of distrust and contempt that they were in at the end of the Vietnam war.
Recently in the news was another story about a gang of youths robbing and beating people. This was on a BART train but in the past similar things have occurred in shopping centers, state fairs or the high end retail property in Chicago. These stories always say the perpetrators are “youths” but look at the comment section following any of these reports and note the commentary concerning the ethnicity of the “youths”. The media won’t report on ethnicity concerning mob assaults which is one of the reasons Americans despise our main stream media. The media lies by omission and fools no one; our military leaders should not emulate their strategy; we’ve been losing enough lately.
I don’t want to see the military become the home of the “five o’clock follies” again. Nor do I want to see Afghanistan descend into civil war again. Both these possibilities are inevitable if we continue to do the same thing over and over expecting different results.
As I mentioned yesterday I am comfortable that whatever Secretary Mattis decides is the correct course of action because I respect the man that much. However it is dangerous to put that much faith in one man. Knowing him and knowing his level of understanding about war I would have expected him to drive a stake through the heart of all this females in the infantry bullshit. He hasn’t yet and he may not ever say a word on the subject. If that happens then I’ll admit I was wrong about the man; even our heroes are, in the end, only human and thus vulnerable to the twin curses of hubris and pride.
If there was ever a time in our history we needed a hero to step up an interject reality into the narrative it is now. If we don’t find one soon we’re doomed to descend into the third world status. History tells us that descent can be rapid and when it happens we’ll learn what the Afghans already know; death waits just around the corner and cares nothing about race, gender, annual income, or altruistic feelings. Death cares about death; we can be a free people or a dead people. Everything rides on the truth and treating reality with respect by not feeding a pretend narrative that makes coastal elites feel good about themselves.
This morning’s news contained the best news (for Americans) yet to come from Afghanistan. Our Secretary of Defense, former Marine Corps General James Mattis flew into Kabul to assess our efforts there. His visit was unannounced and I am willing to bet his entourage small. Secretary Mattis is the best general of his generation and is revered by the American military. America saw why if they watched him at his confirmation hearings. He comes to Kabul at a critical time because the Afghans just got some bad news.
The Afghan defense minister, the army chief of staff and (although not in the press and maybe an inaccurate tip) four Afghan army corps commanders have been sacked. The press is contending the two ministerial level officials resigned but that is not what I am hearing from my sources in country. This level of senior leadership turmoil will crush the already fragile morale of the Afghan National Security Forces while throwing current operations in disarray.
There is no longer a question about our intentions regarding Afghanistan; we are staying to see things through. You can hear for yourself below:
ANSF is taking a beating reportedly losing 9,000 KIA in 2015 and 10,000 in 2016. Attrition from desertions average 1/3 of the force per year but buried in that number are soldiers who are late coming back from leave and marked as new joins when they return. How big or small that number is remains unknown. Ghost soldiers (having men on the payroll who are not there) has always been a problem but it is a different phenomena than it was in the days before all pay was distributed into individual bank accounts. In the past ghost soldiers were a sign that the commander was pocketing the cash himself. Now it is a sign that commanders are seeing that the families of their soldiers who were killed in action receive financial support without which they will be destitute. The next big idea we should be floating in Afghanistan is adequate compensation for the families of soldiers lost in combat.
Secretary Mattis contends that the levels of cooperation between NATO and the Afghan military and government has never been better. He also has said the ANSF security forces continue to improve in the face of excessively high casualties. If that’s true then how did the Taliban pull of such a spectacular attack in the prosperous and safest city in Afghanistan? I’ll tell you how.
The Taliban approached the base in Mazar-i Sharif with wounded men in their vehicles telling the guards at the first checkpoint they had to get their men to the hospital immediately. They were let past the first checkpoint but stopped at the entrance by guards who wanted to see the wounded men before allowing them to proceed. That was when the first suicide bomber detonated himself killing those guards and allowing the rest to race towards the Mosque and chow hall. Soldiers in the mosque attending Friday prayers would be unarmed; it would be an insult to Islam if they were. Soldiers eating chow are normally not armed either and no military in the world allows its recruits to run around armed. Once through the gates the attackers had everything they need to kill hundreds of unarmed troops.
Attacking troops in a mosque is an affront to Islam; it has enraged many Afghans (it should enrage them all) and the location of the attack is important to understand. Mazar is as anti-Taliban as Dearborn Michigan. Wait, that’s probably not true actually – it is as anti-Taliban as San Antonio. Populated by mostly Tajik and Uzbek peoples it draws thousands of itinerant laborers including Pashtuns from the south of the country. The people of Mazar are now afraid that the central government cannot protect them and they will turn to those who can; the former Northern Alliance which is another way of saying local warlords. They also could turn on the Pashtuns by lynching innocent men in the streets (like they did in 2001) sparking another nasty civil war.
The Mazar attack was a professional operation that was well planned, obviously rehearsed and has the hallmarks of a Haqqani network operation which is to say it was sponsored, directed (and possibly lead) by Pakistan’s secret police, the ISI. The goal of Pakistan is to keep Afghanistan prostrate, unorganized, and at war because they cannot handle a stable state to their west when they are fighting India to their east. Plus they are making millions off us allowing our equipment and supplies to transit their country.
This attack is part of a campaign to bring civil war to Afghanistan and it comes at a time with the progressives seem to be doing the exact same thing in our country. Witness this headline from the odious Think Progress organization The US has failed Afghanistan and the Trump Administration isn’t helping. The article contains no new news and was written to stoke anti Trump feelings. I wrote about these jerks in 2011 after they swooped into Kabul to line their pockets with consulting fees while leaving behind a report that proved them to be masters of the obvious.
So we are staying in Afghanistan to see things through. I’ve got no problems with that but how are we going to make a difference? I’m not sure because the only way to mentor effectively is to fight with the men you’re mentoring. Secretary Mattis knows more about this topic than any man alive and if he’s backing the plan then I’m with him. How this renewed commitment will play out on the ground is something we will not be able to judge due to the lack of reporting coming out of the country.
This is why I’m trying so hard to get the funding required to go back and report from a country I really am passionate about. But my efforts are clearly not bearing fruit so I’m being forced to resort to more extreme measures like this:
The 300 Marines of Task Force Southwest (TF Southwest) are on their way back to the Helmand province of Afghanistan to help stabilize the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in that part of the country. Based on the mornings news from the front it would appear they will be too little, to late.
Last night the Taliban staged an attack on the biggest base in the North of the country, Mazar-i Sharif, killing 140 young recruits who were in the base mosque for Friday prayers. How is it that an army, mentored by international military units for the past 15 years, cannot protect its young recruits from being slaughtered on its largest base? This is the biggest question of the day and one we can anticipate will never asked by our corporate media or explained by the senior American generals in Kabul.
But it’s worse than that because Mazar is not in Pashtun lands and the Tajiks and Uzbeks who comprise a majority of the population up north fought the Taliban back in the 90’s as part of the Northern Alliance. The Taliban is a mainly Pashtun movement and seeing the franchise branch out into the Tajik and Uzbek communities is a sign that the momentum is not going our way. There have been individual northern tribal fighters in the Taliban before but if the non-Pashtun tribes are now majority anti government it would seem that the game clock is rapidly running out.
Into the fray the Marines now enter without supporting arms or other combat enablers. They are not going to fight; their mission is to advise and assist which identical to the German army mission that is on the very base in Mazar that was attacked last night. The Germans suffered no casualties because the international advise and assist teams are housed on secure FOBs inside the Afghan FOBs where un-vetted Afghan troops are not allowed to enter.
And therein lies the problem. Mentoring of foreign armed forces is best done with teams who both train and fight with them. Advising officers after mounting (literally) a combat patrol to take you from your office to their office is ridiculous. You cannot put lip stick on that pig. Can it work? Hard to see how at this point.
Which brings up the question of what could the commanding general, Army LtGen John Nicholson, (no relation to Marine Corps LtGen Larry Nicholson who has been featured in this blog several times) be thinking when he asked for a few thousand more troops to help train the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)? That question was answered for me by BGen Roger Turner, the Commanding General of TF Southwest. He said the Afghan security forces in general and the Afghan army specifically have improved to the point where with a little extra mentoring and support they can turn to corner and become self sufficient.
General Turner, who I have known for a long time, is nobodies fool. He is a bright, tough and more importantly, intuitive combat leader. General Nicholson has been at his job for over a year and also has a stellar reputation. Both of these men have been handed tasks that, in my humble opinion, cannot be achieved. But I don’t know what they know and will give them the benefit of the doubt.
Mainstream press coverage of this deployment has been uniformly uninformed, as has has the normally more accurate alternative media. This story posted on Brietbart yesterday is a good example. Read it and think about what you know on the topic when you’re finished. Then scroll through any of the last 10 posts on this blog and you’ll see what I mean. Apples versus oranges.
There is no indication that the momentum in this conflict is shifting towards our side. It clearly belongs to the various groupings of Taliban, ISIS and the other armed opposition groups and drug running syndicates that flourish countrywide. And then there is the annoying fact that the picture being painted by the Resolute Support mission staff differs (dramatically) from reality. This backgrounder PDF released by NATO states the following about ANSF attrition:
Reducing attrition is essential for the long-term viability of the ANSF, especially with respect to retaining quality personnel. If total strength objectives are increased in the future, attrition must be reduced even further. Average monthly attrition rates are 2.6% in the ANA and 1.29% in the ANP. The ANSF’s goal is to reach an attrition rate of less than 1.4%. On average, the ANSF consistently gets 6,000-9,000 recruits every month
Those rates of attrition are (to be charitable) suspect. This week Steve Inskeep of NPR had an interview with the author of a new book, Our Latest Longest War, LtCol Arron O’Connell, USMC. This book may well be the best yet from the military perspective on the Afghan conflict and I cannot recommend it more highly. Here is a portion of the interview:
O’CONNELL: I believe we’ve been trying to help them out of the tragic story of Afghanistan for 15 years. Americans are big-hearted people. The United States is the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world. But there is still space to reason what the appropriate amount of blood and treasure is to spend on a mission that seems to be in stalemate at best, backsliding at worst.
I think we have pretty good evidence now, both from Iraq and Afghanistan, that the massive assembly-line attempt to produce capable, professional national security forces has not worked well, and it’s been at tremendous cost. And for all those who say we should just keep doing what we’re doing in Afghanistan, let me explain why that’s not sustainable. Every year, between a quarter and a third of the Afghan army and the police desert. Now, these are people that we have armed and trained. We’ve given weapons to them. We’ve given them basic military training. And every year, a third of them disappear.
INSKEEP: With the guns.
O’CONNELL: With the guns. That’s not sustainable for us economically, and it’s certainly not sustainable for the Afghan people to just fill the hills with armed militias.
That sounds a little higher than 2.6% per month but 2.6 x 12 = 31 so the NATO brief is about right but looks better than the stats provided in the interview above. And this is why I feel it imperative to go back and cover this deployment. There is too much blood and treasure riding on this mission to condemn it to the mediocre coverage of the main stream media.
If you have the means and are interested in the truth regarding the situation in Afghanistan then please take the time to visit the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page and donate. We all deserve the truth about what is being done in our name and the only way to get it is to send someone over there who understands what he’s seeing and has the depth of knowledge to give context and background to his reporting.
After making a generous donation it would be appropriate to say a quiet prayer for the men and woman of TF Southwest. Their going need all the good karma in the world to pull this off. My money is still on them.
Moral Trauma is a new term for an old phenomena. A good definition of the term (from the VA) is:
In the context of war, moral injuries may stem from direct participation in acts of combat, such as killing or harming others, or indirect acts, such as witnessing death or dying, failing to prevent immoral acts of others, or giving or receiving orders that are perceived as gross moral violations
Moral Trauma is mitigated by victory. Victorious warriors have no problem understanding the purpose behind their sacrifices in combat; everybody understands what they were asked to do when they are on the winning side. Yet only a few can comprehend what was asked of warriors who have failed. The moral insult increases by orders of magnitude when the loss was inflicted not on the battlefield but by the gross incompetence of the ruling class in Washington DC.
American military men should be used to this by now as we have won every battle yet lost every war (except Grenada but that was a minor police action) for the last 72 years. Winners never react well to losing and the American military man is no exception. Some turn to the bottle or drugs, some become physical training fanatics pushing themselves to the limit in search of a good nights sleep, and some turn that disappointment into a drive to do the impossible.
Can one man, a military vet with zero movie biz experience, write, direct, star in and produce a movie that is actually worth your time to sit and watch? No, that’s impossible. Many have tried and all have failed. Until now.
I got an advanced copy of my friend Kerry Patton’s new film Dark of Light and was happy to review it because he’s a good friend and a poster boy for post traumatic growth. Actually with his work on the TV show Outsiders he’s now a straight up poster boy.
I wasn’t looking forward to doing this because I didn’t see how Kerry could, by himself, come up with a movie that was … you know…good. Love him like a brother mind you and I’d put lip stick on his pig in heartbeat but I don’t have to because Kerry done good. His movie spoke to me and like the last movie reviewed here; A War, I saw a message directed at those who served as well as their loved ones.
The movie is about a widower home from the wars and tending to his young daughter who is raising as a single parent after losing his wife to cancer. His daughter is raped and murdered which we are spared from watching on screen (vets of Afghanistan and Iraq are sensitive to the violation of children having seen too much of it). A quote by Kerry’s character that is featured in the movie trailer (and caught the attention of my Facebook friends) is; “what’s that mean Maggie…Justice”? That is a question as old as Western Civilization and one that any Afghan male would have no problem answering.
The main character in the movie is a former interrogator/translator who is carrying heavy weight from his time overseas and the subsequent loss of his wife and child. How does he handle it? Alone, like we all do, because few know and fewer care about what happened to us or what we did in the war. As T.R. Fehrenbach observed: in the book This Kind of War (the best book ever about Korea as far as I’m concerned).
Americans, even when they are proud of them, do not like their legions.
This is something we vets know well which is why most of us never talk about our time in the wars. Kerry’s character doesn’t talk about it either as he seems to understand nobody really cares much and that he will have to deal with his demons alone. The lead character, when we meet him in the film, seems to be doing as well as one can expect. He has a young daughter at home and thus is in the enviable position of living with somebody whose happiness and well being is more important than his own. That’s a good situation to be in as it prevents being visited by the demons of self pity.
He’s got a farm with ducks and chickens which is cool but requires a trigger warning. The protagonist keeps his chickens housed in an elaborate chicken FOB. This blog is named in honor of my chickens who staged a jail break (while I was overseas) from the chicken FOB I had built and migrated to the barn. I liked them better then – chickens should free range. And for the record in real life Kerry lets the chickens free range during the day so he’s off my chicken free range shit list. Shoot I’m off track again…apologies.
Kerry’s character seems to be coping well, but he’s not really and you can see that when he goes out to do farming chores. He stares off into the distance with a haunted expression that many of us know too well. But that happens and the healthy man or woman who has served knows that time is the only thing that will dull this sense of unease at being in a place where we are safe. We don’t do safe, we are born to battle and many of us only feel safe when facing the dangers of war. Think about that; as weird as it sounds it’s true.
Then the ultimate moral transgression is visited upon our character with the loss of his daughter and he crumbles, turning to the bottle and allowing the demon of self pity to drain him of his vitality, health, peace of mind and personal honor. What is the balm for a man’s soul when this much tragedy has visited him in such a short span of time? Badal.
Badal, which means both “revenge” and “exchange,” is the primary mechanism for settling grievances in Pashtun society, and as with almost everything, it is first and foremost a process for restoring honor.
Our Latest Longest War: Losing Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan University of Chicago Press.
When the law fails to deliver justice then doing it yourself is a staple of American movies. Taken comes immediately to mind but those big budget movies, although entertaining, are so far from reality that they should be classified as science fiction. Kerry Patton didn’t have the money or desire to do over the top special effects scenes; he has a good story. More importantly Kerry doesn’t need the ego pumping spectacle of beating 20 bad guys to a pulp using found objects and fists. Unlike a man who pretends to be other men for a living Kerry doesn’t have to prove he’s a bad ass to anyone. He’s telling a story and it’s interesting and it’s not about him or being a ninja freak who runs up triple digit body counts while tossing off cleaver one liners.
Our tribe can fight harder and better than any other tribe on earth. We can be implacable foes and many of us have killed and killed often in the course of our duties. But we’re not killers.
We also know what we don’t know and what Kerry’s character doesn’t know (after grabbing the man police think responsible) is if he has grabbed the right guy. As pissed as he is he’s not comfortable with what he is doing to his captive and what he’s doing isn’t nice. We all have brought a little of Afghanistan home with us but not so much that we think extra-judicial killing is acceptable after returning home. If forced to do it then stand by; we know what were doing but we’d rather live the American dream as productive citizens. In the end our protagonist knows what he’s doing and it is a beautiful thing to see.
Veterans (and those who support them) need to watch this movie to let the stoicism of Kerry’s character remind you that you have choice on how you shoulder the weight you are carrying. You can reach inside for what sustained you in battle to see you through until father time takes away your pain or you can fold up your tent, surrender to despair and spend the rest of your life feeling sorry for yourself. There are no other alternatives. For us life is now a counter ambush drill – assault through and live; assault through and die but assault through….there are no other acceptable options. We go forward or we perish.
And if you reach inside far enough you’ll discover you are capable of the impossible. Kerry Patton has done the impossible and the product is a good, solid, interesting, movie that is accessible to the public (because it’s good) and a message to fellow vets. Dig deep, do not give into despair and remember the virtues you leaned in America’s Legions. Virtues gained in war can translate into success at home. Let Kerry Patton drive that message home to support you as you support him. He’s a true warrior who in real life is also a good man with a large heart and I love him despite his chicken jail and all hair gel I’ve been told he now uses.
Afghan Security Forces (ANSF) have apparently reached the cave complex targeted by last week’s MOAB strike. There are no western (or local) reports from the bomb site but Tolo news (Kabul based Afghan news service) reported with some specificity on the casualties from the attack.
Five days after U.S Forces dropped its most powerful conventional bomb on a system of tunnels and caves used by Daesh in the eastern province of Nangarhar, a security source told TOLOnews that the majority of insurgents killed in blast were members of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and members of Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group.
As with most new ‘news’ out of Afghanistan FRI readers already knew this. But here’s something we didn’t know and it’s interesting. ANSF has had the time to identify bodies and nationalities; they found 12 Tajikistanis and 13 Indian nationals and a few Filipinos.
When I was part of Ghost Team we had Filipino’s in every province we were working as financial officers. They were excellent company, honest to a fault and kind, gentle fella’s who were not interested in weapons, war and mayhem. It’s hard to imagine ISIS Filipino’s all the way in Nangarhar province…they just don’t seem to be that kind of culture. I was once with my favorite finance officer on a road trip to Kabul when we rolled up on a hot ambush of then President Karzai’s brother and I thought “excellent get the camera in action…time for a Pulitzer” but this is how it turned out:
I was on the road that day too with my faithful finance officer Misael, who hails from the island of Mindanao but claims to be a Catholic and not a Abu Sayef member. When we turned a corner in the Tangi Valley and saw all the expended brass in the road, he ignored his collateral duty as photographers mate and wedged himself firmly under the dash board. Misael has spent the last year in Kandahar and has developed an exaggerated sense of danger but I’ll get him snapped in soon enough. So there are only a few marginal pictures from a point and shoot camera due to the insistence of the ANP that we keep moving … probably a good idea.
Filipino Jihadi’s getting MOAB’d in Afghanistan…the world is truly a small place. And getting smaller too; looking at the list of the ISIS-K commanders the ANSF said were killed in the strike you’ll find:
Commander Mukhtar, retired Pakistani army officer
Commander Abu Bakr, Daesh’s chief of operations
Sheikh Weqas, member of Lashkar-e-Taiba
Commander Mohammad, an Indian national
Geeta, an Indian national
Commander Aftab, from Pakistani province of Punjab
Indians, Filipino’s, Punjabi’s and retired Pakistani army officers…that is a hell of a mix this late in the game.
How will this attack affect ISIL-K? As I mentioned in the previous post they could very well shake off this attack and use it to prove how resilient they are in their propaganda. I’ll tell you the worst thing that can happen now is ISIS-K pulling off another spectacular suicide attack inside Kabul like they did last month.
The attack in Kabul last night was claimed (by the Taliban) to be the work of the Taliban but I’m not so sure about that. First reports on attacks like this are not always accurate. ISIS-K could very well claim responsibility for this attack and if/when they do we’ll see how effective the psychological component of the MOAB was on its intended audience. I don’t enjoy being correct (and I may not be about this attack) on my prognostications on Afghanistan but I usually am. I know the country which is why I want to go back and cover our continued efforts there.
Knowing I’m on some sort of streak I was just fixing to go out and get a lottery ticket when this popped up on the net:
Antifa girl is kicking my ass on the Go Fund Me front and that, my friends, is just not right. There may be many good reasons to dump 45k on this young unfortunate but none come immediately to mind. But having America’s reporter on the ground in Afghanistan telling you the truth about what the hell is going on there….one word friends; worthy. Yes, a worthy expenditure in support of truth, our troops and the new American way. The old American way involved getting all your news for the established media but those days are long gone.
Support free, independent, expert, Journalism by donating today to the worthy, yet getting left in the dust by #Moldylocks, Baba Tim Go Fund Me page.
This weekend I read a Macedonian paper to get a read on what India had to say about Pakistan’s involvement in the MOAB strike. An Indian paper to get a read on what Afghans not associated with the government thought about the attack and a Qatar-based Arab news network for the most even handed and comprehensive coverage of the incident and its aftermath.
India is claiming over 500 Pakistani nationals were killed in the attack. The Taliban said “using this massive bomb cannot be justified and will leave a material and psychological impact on our people” and Afghan journalist Bilal Salwary tweeted:
And that is a short summary of all the new news on the MOAB strike.
The New York Times published a piece on the visit of Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, President Trump’s national security adviser, to Kabul over the weekend confirming what we already knew about the request for more troops. Gen McMaster also:
… appeared to take a tougher line on Pakistan, which has been accused of using the Taliban as a proxy force and giving its leaders sanctuary. Many analysts, as well as some coalition partners, have been critical of the United States’ uphill struggle to persuade Pakistan to crack down on the Afghan Taliban leadership, which has used Pakistan as a base for its battles in Afghanistan.
We already know Pakistan’s Internal Security Service (ISI) drives the instability in Afghanistan and we already know the administration is tired of it. The last administration was tired of it too but who cares? There is not much we can do about it for the same reason Afghanistan can’t allow ISIS to gain a foothold in Nangarhar province. The supplies required to sustain (or commit more troops) have to come through Pakistan via the Khyber Pass.
Pakistan’s continued involvement in destabilizing Afghanistan is a problem that will have to be managed, not solved. And the problem is complex.
As covered in a previous post the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant Khorashan (ISIS-K) was started by Pakistani Taliban who had fled from various tribal agencies in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier into Nangarhar province of Afghanistan. They were mainly Tehrik-e Taleban Pakistan (TTP) fighters (and their families) from the Orakzai, North Waziristan and Khyber tribal agencies. But there were also fighters from Lashkar-e Islam; a group group led by Mangal Bagh who was described by the Long War Journal as a:
Robin Hood-like in character, claiming to mete out egalitarian social justice and rooting out crime, which to some extent is true. But he does this with an iron fist; any resistance is swiftly and permanently quelled. He has visibly reduced the criminal activities in the area, while also having a huge impact on decreasing drug trafficking in the area. At the same time he is engaged in a bitter ideological and sectarian struggle with a rival faction, a feud that has claimed many lives, and has blatantly and forcefully defied the state.
Mangal Baugh and his crew were courted by both tribal elders and the Afghan government as related in the excellent analysis of the organization by the Afghan Analyst Network:
The Afghan government’s support to Mangal Bagh’s men is an open secret among residents of the Spin Ghar districts near the Durand Line. Residents from Achin recall the generous hosting of groups of long-haired Lashkar-e Islam fighters at the houses of Shinwari tribal elders, such as Malek Usman and Malek Niaz, in Achin. They had introduced their black flag to the area long before ISKP hoisted a flag of the same colour with different symbols and slogans. According to residents, Lashkar-e Islam’s flags were flying over many houses in the Mamand valley in Achin in the summer of 2014.
Mangal Baugh was killed by a drone strike in Nangarhar province on 22 July 2016. Since then his fighters have apparently gone over to ISIS-K which seems to enjoy the support of Pakistan’s ISI which is why Pakistan appears to be so upset about the attack.
Pakistani Taliban come to Afghanistan in flight from the Pakistani army. While in Nangarhar province they are courted by the government; probably because they would be causing cross-border mischief easily deniable by Kabul. Then they turn on the Taliban and declare themselves to be a franchise of ISIS. The government in Kabul reacts (I’m not sure when) by attacking them and then NATO starts to drone them but mainly it’s the Taliban who lead the fight against ISIS and even drive them out of the Mamand valley…..for a day. How the hell does the ISI figure in all this…it appears they have agents fighting with and supporting various Taliban mahez commanders and they had some with the ISIS villains too. ISI agent vs ISI agent – reminds me of Mad magazine,
Complicated right? And how does the Taliban shift so much combat and fire power into Achin district? A better question is how did so many militants and their families find and settle on so much land in Nangarhar province? It’s not like the local tribes are timid about defending their land. My guess is that the locals have lost too much manpower over all the years of fighting. I just don’t understand how Pashtun’s from the Pakistan side of the Durand Line can take so much land and power from tribes on the Afghan side. I guess armed tribal migration still happens in the modern world. When everyone is a renter use is solely according to possession. …which is an old world concept.
NBC news helpfully pointed out that President Trump was not consulted by Gen. Nicholson prior to the MOAB strike. That is technically true but irrelevant. The MOAB was already in Afghanistan and the criteria for using it as weaponeering solution would have been well established. Gen Nicholson is an American combatant commander of a NATO mission who has served in Afghanistan longer than any of his predecessors. He’s a smart guy and I can promise you, without having a news source to site, that he notified CENTCOM of his intention to drop the MOAB. The bomb is (obviously) too controversial for him not to do that. And if CENTCOM knew then Secretary of Defense Mattis knew too because that is how these things are done. That the military can now weaponeer solutions without micromanagement from the White House is a good thing.
It’s interesting that Afghanistan Security Forces (ANSF) personnel were moved back two kilometers from their forward line of troops (FLOT in mil-speak) and issued hearing protection prior to the strike. The MOAB was obviously a big impressive boom that must have been a real shocker for the people in the targeted area who survived the blast. ANSF has yet to close with the targeted area due to fighting on the route leading into the cave complex. That’s a series failure by both ANSF and NATO.
The MOAB would have cleared all IED’s within a kilometer or so of the blast and the Afghans have line charges to clear routes through mine fields too. They should have attacked and held the complex following the MOAB strike especially if they knew important leaders were meeting there. Dropping a big bomb and not using the shock it generates to clean up the survivors and sieze the targeted area is an amateurs mistake and both Resolute Support (NATO) and ANSF should be better than that by now.
How will this attack affect ISIL-K? As I mentioned in the previous post they could very well shake off this attack and use it to prove how resilient they are in their propaganda. I’ll tell you the worst thing that can happen now is ISIS-K pulling off another spectacular suicide attack inside Kabul like they did last month.
ISIS-K has obviously inherited part or is working with the old Haqqani (HiG) network. The Haqqani’s group was the only group that could consistently get inside the Kabul “Ring of Steel” and set up complex attacks. ISIS-K has shown they can do that too. If they pull off another attack they can boast that the only people impressed by our big bombs are us.
And for yet another example of how totaly worthless the American media has become we have this helpful segment from Fox news concerning how ISIS may respond to the MOAB attack. The news persons are operating with the assumption that ISIS is a connected, integrated, hierarchical organization which it most clearly is not. Thus every assumption they make in this piece is absolutely ridiculous. Watch it for entertainment value only as I swear these people do not have one clue about what they are talking about.
That silliness passing as news reporting is yet another reason why it is important to send America’s reporter back to Afghanistan. The fighting there is not over and we’re going to stay so it is important that somebody who knows what he’s doing return to cover this important story. Visit the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page today and donate to support professional reporting of this confusing conflict.
If I needed a sign to confirm my plan to return to Afghanistan was a sound one I need look no further than the coverage of yesterday’s MOAB bombing. It is clear that the usual ‘experts’ who comment on these types of events are clueless and that makes me wonder (yet again) just how much of the news we digest is factually correct.
The only Fox news show I’ll watch (occasionally) is Tucker Carlson but yesterday he struck out when he interviewed an “army veteran” who claimed these tunnels were the same ones used by Osama bin Laden to escape in 2001. He then added some nonsense about the Haqqani group using them too before saying the MOAB was intended to “make ISIS fighters think twice about using such tunnels.” Everything the guy said was demonstrably wrong as is most of the reporting out today following up this story.
Osama bin Laden was trapped in the Tora Bora Complex in Khogyani district not the tunnel complex in Achin district which is at the head of the Mamand valley and the terminus for supply runs from across the border. It is also a training complex as well as a command and control node. ISIS has used this complex from day one because it is remote, easy to defend, fortified from back in the Mujaheddin days and is a direct link (via donkey train) to the ISIS-K Pakistani homeland.
The MOAB will have a psychological impact on ISIS but that impact may or may not strengthen their resolve; it’s hard to say. What we do know is that militants in Afghanistan have been on the receiving end of unbelievable amounts of firepower for 16 years now and it does not appear to have affected their ability to replace casualties, motivate their fighters or stay in the fight. ISIS can now claim that not even the “Mother of all Bombs” can hurt them and use the attack to drive recruiting through the roof. I don’t know how they’ll react and also know that nobody in the meida does either.
We do know that Islamic State of Khorasan (ISIS-K) is comprised mainly of former Tehrik-e Taleban Pakistan (TTP) militants from various tribal districts on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line. We also know they have been joined by Salafis from Kunar, Nuristan, Nangarhar and a number of other provinces. What we don’t know (not that it matters) is how many militants were killed in the strike. The Independent Journal Review says over 100 people were killed based on a source who appears bogus to me, the Guardian says 36 were killed but doesn’t explain where that number comes from and the BBC is reporting dozens killed. All of these reports carry speculation about the number of civilians killed in the strike too which is something the press never speculated on when Obama was president but I digress.
The truth is we’ll never know how many were killed because their bodies are sealed inside the cave complex. That’s what 18,700 pounds of H6, (a mixture of RDX (Cyclotrimethylene trinitramine), TNT, and aluminum) delivered in an air-bust ordnance is designed to do. Were there non combatants present in the caves? There had to be a number of boys and old men who do the cooking, goat herding, water humping, firewood gathering and other housekeeping chores. But I wouldn’t call them noncombatants; young males and old men will always be co-located with Islamic terrorist fighters in the bush.
Weaponeering is the process of determining the quantity of a specific type of lethal or nonlethal weapons required to achieve a specific level of damage to a given target, considering target vulnerability, weapon effect, munitions delivery accuracy, damage criteria, probability of kill and weapon reliability. The use of the GBU-43 MOAB yesterday was a weaponeering decision; nothing more. It may well have sent a message to other potential antagonists but was used because we wanted to destroy several metric tons of weapons and ammunition stored inside a cave complex.
There will be unintended consequences from the use of this weapon and one of them is this: the world just became a much safer place. I just finished an interesting book titled The Upcoming War With Russia, written by General Sir Richard Shirreff, the recently retired Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (NATO). The book is an urgent warning from a senior commander about an impending conflict with Russia and takes place in May through July of 2017. It starts when the Russians seize the Baltic states because they are convinced NATO lacks the will and combat power to stop them. General Shirreff cities the problems we are currently facing regarding aircraft and combat unit readiness (they are at the worst levels of my lifetime and damn near as bad as 1949) as well as the attitudes of our current political leaders as the precipitating factor in Russia’s decision to initiate hostilities.
The purpose of his book was to alert the reader to a real, no shit, existential threat and he was spot on with one exception. He anticipated that Hillary Clinton would win the election and American foreign policy would remain as fickle as it had been under Obama. The sales of his book will now plummet because in one bold move President Trump removed the greatest enticement to World War III and thus the purpose of the book. America has returned as a legitimate counterweight to any nation seeking to overthrow the current status quo. We are leading from the front again and tolerating no shenanigans.
But just because we are great again doesn’t mean things are going to go smoothly from this point forward. We are in a real sticky situation in Afghanistan and if we do not radically change the approach we are taking there we’ll never leave, never make the place better, never stop the fighting and never stop the dying. The Marine deployment to Helmand province this spring is the first attempt by the United States military to try something a little different. That deployment needs to be covered by somebody who knows what he is seeing and can understand context as well as the big picture.
You’ve got me to do that but I need you to help get me over there and in position to report. Please take the time to visit the Baba Tim Go Fund Me Page and support independent, honest, competent reporting from the front lines.
Last Sunday (April 9th) CNN published a report of another American soldier killed in action while fighting in Afghanistan. The operator; Staff Sgt. Mark R. De Alencar, 37 from Edgewood, Maryland, a member of the 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne); was killed in while battling with Khorashan in the Nangarhar province. Today the pentagon announced it had dropped the “mother of all bombs”, a GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) on Islamic State in Iraq and Syria-Khorasan province, or ISIS-K.
Readers who have followed our combat efforts overseas will remember the Khorashan Group as a fake news story floated to justify the use of American tac air in Syria. During the summer of 2014, James Clapper, the US Director of National Intelligence for the Obama administration, released a dire warning about a new threat emanating from Syria called the Khorashan Group. A collection of 50 experienced, hard core former Taliban leaders in Syria specifically to develop external attacks, construct and test improvised explosive devices and recruit Westerners to conduct operations targeting the USA and Europe.
The Khorashan Group story was instantly outed on the internet. I was confused to see the ISIS group in Nangarhar province called Khorashan; they have been there for years and I had never seen them called Khorashan before so I started looking into the ISIS problem in Nangarhar and found a hell of a strange story.
The current ISIS-K is not related to the former Khorashan group and probably got that name from the excellent Afghanistan Analysis Network (AAN). In July, 2016 Boris Osman of AAN published a report titled The Islamic State in ‘Khorasan’: How it began and where it stands now in Nangarhar. Boris explains in detail where ISIS came from, how they gained a foothold, why they remain and also why they are not spreading outside of Nangarhar province. He also get’s the credit (as best I can tell) for the adding Khorashan to ISIS when referring to the ISIS movement in Nangarhar. The Afghan’s, like the Arabs, call them Daesh which seems easier to me but conflict analysts seem to like more specificity.
The ISIS-K designation makes sense when divorced from the bogus Khorashan Group of 2014. The definition of Khorashan (from the article linked above) is pasted below:
Khorasan is a historical term for areas populated by peoples speaking Iranian languages in northeastern Iran, the Transoxania part of Central Asia (Mawr-un-Nahr) and Afghanistan, mainly north of the Hindu Kush Mountains. In IS propaganda, it now comprises all of Afghanistan, most of Pakistan as well as Central Asia. Its reaches are felt as north as Kazakhstan and in eastern Turkistan.
That definition encompasses a wide range of tribes and peoples including Tajiks, Uzbecks, and the Hazara who do not normally cooperate with the largely Pashtun Taliban. Four main themes resonate throughout its propaganda: the duty of violent jihad, ISIS’s own legitimacy in fronting this cause, the trans-nationalism of its movement, and the discrediting of the “deviance” of its jihadi rivals. The propaganda is sophisticated and designed to affirm its legitimacy, and therefore “ownership” of the Afghan jihad.
The most important road in Afghanistan runs from the Torkham border crossing in Jalalabad province to Kabul. Over eighty percent of Afghanistan’s trade comes across that border which is a direct link to Pakistan’s ports. In 2010 Pakistani Taliban, mainly from Tehrik-e Taleban Pakistan (TTP) started to settle in Achin, Nazian, Kot, Deh Bala, Rodat and Ghanikhel districts. They invoked Melmastiafrom the local communities saying it was their moral obligation to help their Pashtun brothers escape the Pakistani army which was mounting operations targeting the TTP in the Northwest Frontier.
Fast forward to 2014; the muhajerin (refugees) from Pakistan have continued to settle in Nangarhar but then the Pakistani army starts operation Khyber II and militants from the Pakistani tribal agencies flood across the border to get away from them. Mule trains full of weapons and ammo, some of them 50 animals long, arrive daily into the Mamand valley in Achin district along with hundreds of militants. Suddenly the muhajerin declare they are now ISIS and evict the Taliban from the districts they control but leave the Afghan security forces alone. The locals are happy because trade is moving, Taliban and government road blocks are down and nobody is shooting at anybody.
But then the Taliban attack ISIS in Nazim district and all hell broke lose with ISIS battling back hard and taking control of five districts by June of 2015. Then the Taliban call in their ” elite forces under brutal commanders from Loya Paktia and Loy Kandahar” and these guys infiltrate the Mamand valley (in Achin district) one night during Ramadan and (from the linked AAN article):
……. on 3 July 2015, local men (including those not usually sympathetic to the Taleban) and Taleban rose up together against ISKP, with calls by the Taleban via the mosque’s loud-speakers for all men of fighting age to come out and participate, or face seeing their homes burnt down. Taken by surprise, the ISKP fighters retreated from most of Mamand valley by the end of that day.
Could you imagine that? Every mosque in the valley telling the locals to come fight the Daesh (which is what they call ISIS-K) or else? I would have loved to have seen that and now at the head of that same valley we dropped a MOAB on the caves where those donkey train loads of weapons were stashed. But how the hell does the Taliban shift elite forces around the country? I have some experience moving truck loads of armed men around Afghanistan and even when it was legal it was hard to pull off. It’s impossible now (for us foreigners) but the Taliban did it. Plus where was the Afghan Security Forces and Resolute Support in all this? They have been targeting ISIS-k with drones in the past and have fought them before and are apparently fighting them now.
Afghanistan, a country I honestly love, is a weird damn place where the most improbable things like the population of an entire valley; reinforced by elite Taliban units from Kandahar and Paktia, stage an uprising and drive out a powerful foe in one day; happen as a matter of routine . Amazing.
This is a reminder that we are not done in Afghanistan. We will be sending the Marines back this spring to the Helmand province. My goal is to cover that deployment with a month-long embed but I need your financial help to pull that off. Please visit the Baba Tim Go Fund Me Page to support quality journalism from the front lines.