As the elections approach there has been much in the news on Afghanistan and most of it is not terribly accurate. Yesterday’s VBIED in Kabul is a good example. Most news outlets are connecting this attack to a countrywide effort by Taliban groups to interfere with the Presidential election scheduled for Thursday. I’m not buying that and I don’t think the Taliban view this upcoming election as a significant event. Some groups have publicly stated they will not interfere, other groups say they will disrupt the process, but we are not seeing any real attempts to do that.
This Washington Post story is typical of the MSM reporting on the Kabul blast with the title of “Pre Vote Blast in Kabul Signal Taliban Intent.” That is bullshit – what the blast signals is that somebody was able to bribe their way past the ANP check-posts and get right up to the U.S. Embassy checkpoint without being detected. This is the first successful Taliban attack in Kabul since last winter and although the execution was better than average the Taliban once again managed to kill or wound innocent Afghan civilians most of whom were undoubtedly children. I was interviewed for my take on the bombing by the Christian Science Monitor and remarked that it seemed this attack was executed better than the average Taliban lash up but after seeing the picture above I take it back. Poor bomb making with typically poor execution – there would be nothing left of the vehicle or that poor bike rider had this been a Baghdad VBIED.
This blast in Kabul needs to be investigated with both forensics and interviews with every guard at every post around ISAF being grilled by counter intelligence specialists in an effort to determine how that little as vehicle with all the explosives on board made it to the front of ISAF Headquarters. But that is not going to happen. Take a moment to read this article from CSM and to see why. The ANP general in charge of conducting criminal investigations is denied access to the scene and run off by ISAF HQ troops who would not know an Afghan general from the Easter Bunny. What kind of an investigation do you think we will have now? The Afghans have done a good job at securing Kabul and this was a serious breach but we (ISAF we) will never know how it happened because we do not embed with the police – we have meetings and PowerPoint briefs and drink a little tea with them and call that “mentoring.”
Gen. Sayed Abdul Ghafar Sayed Zada is not going to be inclined to help us when he is treated so poorly during a routine bombing investigation and who can blame him? But it gets worse. In Jalalabad the city is emptying of civilian internationals who are being forced to spend the week in Kabul or out of the country as election day nears. The Army Brigade in Jalalabad has nightly meetings to go over and over and over the plans for placing Afghan security forces in concentric rings to screen all the traffic coming into the city. An officer I chatted with today was very proud telling me how they have the Afghans in on the planning and everything is going just perfectly. But there is one problem; there are no security checkpoints going up around Jalalabad. The officer was stunned when I told him that I have seen only one extra checkpoint and that was up for 3 hours several night ago. No I was told “they are up all night and have been for weeks.” I swear you cannot make this stuff up…they are no extra check posts up and I drive frequently from the Taj to the Shem Bot’s house at night and know exactly which check posts are working, how many men are manning them and who the men are. This is what happens when you live on a FOB and your daily reality is defined by PowerPoint briefs and classified(read closed loop) reporting. Just because a bunch of guys sitting in a conference room say something is happening doesn’t mean it is happening – whatever happened to the old troop leading steps?
Military officers are not the only ones with a warped perception about how things are going in Afghanistan big time foreign policy wonks are capable of making fools of themselves too. This article in Foreign Policy by Anna Husarska is full of the kind of lunacy which can only come from classified reports and briefing with senior officers. In the article Anna states that ANSO – the Afghanistan NGO security office has stated NGO’s “were generally attacked for being perceived as intrinsic to the military and political objectives.” ANSO has said no such thing. NGO’s are targeted by criminals because they are easy targets and the Taliban because they are foreigners or work for foreigners. Ms Husaraska goes on to bitch about ISAF using white SUV’s saying that NGO’s use white SUV’s and the military shouldn’t so that the bad guys don’t get confused about which SUV’s to attack. Pick your own cuss word for a response – the NGO’s in Afghanistan do not all have white SUV’s (very few do) and the military is not about to change the color of the white trucks they have finally gotten around to procuring …why should they? The final interesting tidbit in this article is the description of her ride from the Jalalabad Airport to downtown Jbad. That is a drive I do almost daily and I promise tell you she is not describing Jalalabad in her article. Maybe the military flew her into Ghor Province and told her she was in Jalalabad…who knows?
There was also this article from USA Today concerning the counter IED program in Nangarhar Province. It covers a call made to the local Army FOB concerning an IED and the soldiers response with a 4 MRAP flying squad. The mission unquestionably went down as described but there is a problem with the whole story line and that is 95% of the ordinance recovered and 99% of the calls for EOD support go to a single American contractor who lives outside the wire and has a team of Afghan EOD techs in training. The reason he gets all the calls and most of the recoveries is that he responds within 5 minutes of notification 24 hours a day 7 days a week. The FOB bound Army cannot run to their vehicles and respond – they take at least 3 hours to get organized, make a patrol plan, file and brief the plan before even drawing their weapons. A retired Navy Chief who travels in unarmored low profile vehicles – exactly as most of us do can often be on scene, disarm and secure the device, and be back home in bed before the ISAF team can even clear the base. That is the price of fighting a counterinsurgency off of big box FOB’s. The lone American also has the time and ability to rent a backhoe and dig out reported missile hits from farmers fields – just like the one above which impacted right outside the Army base in Jalalabad. It is important to know why missiles fail to function which is the whole point in having highly trained EOD techs in country. The Army guys locked down on their FOB in Jbad can do this work too but they have to be given the freedom of movement to allow them to work like their lone out side the wire contractor does.
It would be safer for an EOD flying squad to be in armored SUV’s like the cats in Kabul pictured earlier in the post. The belief that MRAP’s will protect you from the bad guys is just not true. They have saved many lives so far in Afghanistan but that will not last. It is always, in all times and in all places, easier and cheaper to defeat a new technology than it is to field it.