More interesting news is coming out of Kabul as the drive-by media continues its impressive efforts trying to explain our Commander in Chief’s continuing dithering on what to do about Afghanistan. His obvious attempt at moving President Karzai out of the way has ended in abject failure straining relations with the Kabul government to the point of breaking and driving Karzai right into the hands of the very people we have been trying to get off the Afghan stage. An excellent explanation on how the administration completely screwed themselves, the Afghans and the rest of us can be found in this Power Line post.
But the stupidity of our current administrations efforts are not what got the blood up this morning….what do you expect from a President with no prior executive experience and Hillary Clinton? This article from the New York Times about tribes resisting the Taliban is why I’m pounding away on the laptop in a Dubai hotel lobby. Authored by Dexter Filkins the article announces a new strategy to called the Community Defense Initiative which is designed to engage and arm the tribes in the east and south. The article talks about our bearded Special Forces helicoptering into Nangarhar Provinces Achin district with flour and some other nonsense to support the tribal chiefs who have run out the Taliban. It talks about other SF soldiers “fanning our across the country” to engage the tribes and support them in defending their lands and way of life from depredations by the Taliban. Dexter Filkins writes a great article and it is worth reading but unfortunately as in most things published by the New York Times it is complete bullshit.
Chief Ajmal Khan Zaizi who has been featured in a series of blog posts by Steven Pressfield and is a friend of The Boss. The Boss gave Ajmal a very competent Ghost Team member to start some major cash for work programs in his tribal area on the Pakistan border. We had worked out the logistics of going into the Jaji valley which is surrounded by areas under Taliban control and sent out a query to the local US Army COP about using their LZ to fly our guy out when he was finished. Here is the response we received:
Thank you for your message. Any development project in Jaji would be great, but I would like to ensure that it ties into the district development list/tribal development list, in order to ensure that the district leadership is not undermined.
Unfortunately, Ahjmal Khan Jaji is not a tribal leader at all. I do not want you to come into this environment thinking that to be a fact.
Additionally, the security force of Amir Muhammad is an illegal force that is not endorsed by MOI.
The facts are that Azad Khan, the Jaji Sub Governor, has a great relationship with the tribes a focus for his district. The ANSF in this area (ANP and ABP) are a professional/legitimate force that does a tremendous job in keeping the best security for the people.
Yes indeed the Jaji Sub Governor has everything under control, the security situation is fine, and the tribes apparently content. That seems to be at odds with everything anybody knows about the portion of Paktia Province which borders Pakistan but there it is. How can the local American Army commander be so stupid you are no doubt asking yourself and the answer is he probably isn’t stupid – he is doing what he has been told to do.
You see the American military is an effective military leviathan which, unlike most other components of American society is focused on one thing – its assigned missions. Mission accomplishment trumps everything else for the military and they are expected and will forfeit their lives and the lives of their men to accomplish their assigned missions. The main mission for our military in Afghanistan is to nurture and support GoIRA – the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. In most places we know and work in the government is more of a problem for the local people than the Taliban. This is a well documented fact which has zero impact on the American military.
Tribal Chiefs like Ajmal Zaizi are focused on their people and must protect them from outsiders who try to take their lands, rape their children, and disrupt the delicate balance of tribal social mores which allow all to live in peace. I have not heard of one reported rape of a child by Taliban but you can find dozens of articles about Afghan Security Forces being accused of that heinous crime with a simple goggle search. So when a tribal chief drives all the unsavory characters preying on his people off his lands who is it that he is driving out? In Ajmal’s case it was both the Taliban and the GIRoA officials appointed by the Karzai government in Kabul.
Thus a western educated, populist style leader who has been on the run from the Taliban, who lost his father to the Taliban, who has driven out the Taliban, established good order and discipline in his strategic valley and even reached across the border into Pakistan to strike up alliances with the hard pressed Shia tribes located in the Parrots Beak area (didn’t know there were Shia there did you? Me either but I know how important that is and also how much those people need friends like us) is now considered by the U.S. Army to be an AOG leader. AOG means “Armed Opposition Group” which means Ajmal is now lumped in with the Taliban and drug barons.
If a tribe is strong enough to stand up to the Taliban it is also strong enough to stand up to crooked politicians appointed by Kabul and their pedophile policemen. In areas with a strong governor and decent infrastructure like Nangarhar Province the tribes do not have problems with Afghan Security Forces because they will tolerate no misbehavior and the governor would be prone to quickly, decisively and one hopes brutally deal with miscreants who rape and pillage the population they are supposed to be protecting. In isolated portions of the country with little infrastructure and a weak provincial government this is not the case and thus men like Ajmal do what they have to do to secure their people and that means driving predatory government and security forces off their lands.
The FOB bound local American military units have little ability to observe or understand what is happening. They rarely leave their bases and when they do they have such large areas to cover that they can do little more than a “drive by” to show the flag or hand out some food stuffs or meaningless trinkets. The Americans have a mission to support GIRoA. Tribes with the cohesion and combat power to drive parasitic representatives of GIRoA off their lands are by default bad guys even if those same tribes are also keeping the Taliban wolf away from their door.
I know that I make this point over and over but feel compelled to point out yet again that one cannot “do” counterinsurgency by commuting daily from a large FOB. The concept of “bearded Special Forces” fanning out all over the country to help the tribal chiefs is a joke. What needs to happen is to put American troops into these tribal areas to live with, train with, and become allies with those tribes. There is no other way and you don’t need “Special Forces” for that mission – regular infantry can do the job with no additional training. The SF guys should shave off those beards anyway – 8 years of incompetently planned and executed “HVT” missions have given them a bad reputation while accomplishing nothing of strategic significance. What the hell is this helicoptering into Achin district by the “bearded soldiers” to pass out flour all about anyway? They could drive into the damn district in less than an hour, rent a nice safe house, move in and hang out for a year or two thus demonstrating a little commitment to the local tribes while simultaneously actually learning something about the place and its people. If they were really smart they would leave the beards, shed the uniform, rent local vehicles and ditch the stupid MRAP’s – that way the bad guys would not be able to target them with IED’s so easily – but that kind of thinking appears to be a bridge too far for the army these days.
The American military is a world leading institution when it comes to developing and using emerging technology. Unfortunately that technology now allows our bloated, top heavy staffs to micromanage units in the field to an unprecedented degree. The results were predictable back in the 80’s when my Marine peers and I were first dealing with the impact of satellite position reporting systems, radios which actually worked most of the time and commanders who had video screens in their operations centers. What we predicted back then and are seeing today is the stifling of initiative on the ground combined with the removal of the tactical decision making by the commander on the ground. Our OODA loop has now been slowed down so much by the ability of multiple staffs far removed from the battle to insert themselves into the process that we risk becoming as slow and cumbersome as the old Soviet Army. If we do not step away from the computers, comfortable quarters, lavish DFAC’s and get our collective asses out into the field to really protect the population we are going to end up with another mark is the “lost” column. There is no excuse for that.