visitors since 4 oct 2008

The Cost of Risk Aversion

Just in time to put a damper on your holiday spending comes this helpful article from the White House I mean McClatchy news service designed to prepare Americans for the impending raid on our hard earned money.   Questions arise over how to pay for Afghanistan war is the name of the article and as one would suspects it helpfully points out that many of our previous Presidents raised taxes to pay for sending our Armed Forces onto the field of battle. My first thought upon reading this garbage was it reminded me of the main stream media’s attempt to provide us “depth and context” to former President Clinton’ life long history of predatory sexual abuse by dragging Thomas Jefferson and JFK through the mud.   The second thing I thought was that our current efforts in Afghanistan are not remotely on the scale of our Civil War or World War II.   The third thing I thought was that LBJ was an abject failure as was his short lived 10% surtax for Vietnam.

Coincidentally this article compliments the ongoing discussion in the comments section of my last post.   As I stated there I have consistently raised the point that the level of money being expended on our current Afghan campaign cannot and should not be sustained.   Not because our great nation cannot afford to keep 60,000 or so troops in the field but because a majority of it is being wasted.   We can and should prosecute this war with far less financial expenditures.   But this initiative sponsored by David Obey (D) Wisconsin is ludicrous.   Congressman Obey is concerned about shoveling billions of dollars of taxes   generated by the war effort off on future generations.   Yet he has no concern about pushing off trillions of dollars of debt onto our children to finance health care we do not need or to “fix”the fictional problem of global warming – that’s no problem but finishing what we started in Afghanistan…..well that is a problem.   I suspect that problem directly correlates to the inability of Afghans or the United States Military to generate the votes needed to throw scum bags like David Obey out of office.   I have ideas on how to fix this – the old Roman Army technique of decimation comes immediately to mind but I do not want to end up on Janet Palitano’s watch list so I’m keeping my ideas to myself.

Nimroz province is one of the more dangerous provinces (statisticaly) in the country.  Zarang is the capitol and it is way down in the southwest corner on the Iranian border.  Nobody really knows what is going on there because nobody is there - no USAID, no military, no Kabul government repersentitives...nobody.  But The Boss signed us up to do cash for work projects there and being the kind of guy he is he went down with Team Canada (I got shut out on this trip) to see what was what.

Nimroz province is one of the more dangerous provinces (statistically) in the country. Zarang is the capitol and it is way down in the southwest corner on the Iranian border. Nobody really knows what is going on there because nobody is there - no USAID, no military, no Kabul government...nobody. But The Boss signed us up to do cash for work projects there and being the kind of guy he is he went down with Team Canada to see what was what.

Not all politicians are power hungry petty tyrants who believe their constituents too stupid to understand what they are up to.   Michael Yon posted a white paper from one who has consistently demonstrated sound judgment, professional leadership, integrity and an inordinate amount of common sense.   He is Adam Holloway; a British MP who has made several trips to Afghanistan traveling both inside the official security bubble and outside the wire.   Take the time to download and read the paper – it lays out exactly what we need to be doing and I suspect is just shy of 180 degrees out from the pablum we will be fed Tuesday night by our current President.   Here are some of the key points;

  • Afghanistan is just one area of confrontation in our wider struggle against political Islam, a struggle which we must win.
  • Afghanistan is no more important to Al Qaeda than a half dozen other countries.   But it is strategically useful for AQ in generating propaganda footage of “infidels” fighting Muslims and Muslims fighting back.
  • NATO’s ill-conceived operation in Afghanistan is on the brink of failure.   Support for UK and NATO forces is falling: only 45% of polled Afghans support a NATO presence in the south, down from 83% in the previous year.
  • Much of what NATO is doing is aggravation the problem and is making attacks in the UK and other NATO countries more likely, not less.
  • It is vital that Afghan territory is not used as a launch pad for future attacks; and that the Islamist minority cannot claim victory.
  • This can be achieved with a much smaller allied force.   There is always going to be some level of insurgency in Afghanistan.

One can only wish that somewhere in America there is a political leader with this much common sense.   If there is an American politician who has even half the knowledge on the current situation in Afghanistan I have not heard about him.   I suspect the current masters of Capitol Hill will be articulating some sort of weak ass cut and run strategy which will be folly.   In fact here is another Brit – this one a legacy press guy who wrote and article today saying “Afghanistan withdrawl would be a folly.” He too seems to know a thing   or two about what he is talking about and is worth reading.   Is it me or do any of you find it weird that we are now forced to get so much of our news about America from the British press?

Yesterday, the day after Thanksgiving, was little Eid and my Palestinian neighbors came over to help me cull the goat and sheep heard on my modest little farm allowing me to sharpen up my throat slitting skills.   I have learned the fine art of butchering halal meat and always enjoy chatting with my PLO neighbors (just kidding two of the three brothers served honorably in the American military) who normally drink all my beer as we trade stories.   Being little Eid they spared my beer stocks and the youngest brother – a former Navy diver – just walked into the kitchen and started making pot after pot of coffee.   The two older brothers and one of their sons and I set about to our task with quiet efficiency and in just over an hour had butchered 3 sheep and 2 goats.   Normally we argue about Beirut circa 1982 -83 – all of us were there although the brothers were children at the time.     They asked how we are doing in Afghanistan and I was forced to admit that we have learned nothing since our unfortunate intervention in Lebanon some 30 years ago.   Back then the Marines sat on the Beirut International Airport with no real clear idea of what exactly we were supposed to do other than sit there with our weapons unloaded.   Now there are thousdands of Americans who go to Afghanistan and most just sit on a FOB with their weapons unloaded and no clear idea what exactly they are supposed to be doing either.   Instead of arguing politics I told them of Zarang and what could have been were it not for risk aversion, micro managment, and a clearly disfunctional Department of State.Downtown Zarang - clean, quiet, safe, and dirt poor

Downtown Zarang – clean, quiet, safe, and dirt poor.   This was how 99% of Afghanistan was back in 03 -04 ready for a little help and secure enough for outside the wire operations.

The Boss has a serious case of wanderlust and our collective success at running cash for work programs in Taliban controlled urban areas motivated him to go to the next level.   For months all he talked about was Zarang – the capitol of Nimroz Province which is located on the border with Iran.   Zarang attracted him because nobody knows anything about it so he loaded up the plane with himself and Team Canada (Tim from Panjwayi, Mullah John and New Guy Todd who is not really a new guy to Afghanistan having done multiple tours with the Canadian Army but is new to the outside the wire ops) and flew down for a reconnaissance in force.

Team Canada is pretty good at blending in - there is more than one of them in this  picture and so far nobody had been ableo to successfully make all of them.

Team Canada is pretty good at blending in - there is more than one of them in this picture and so far nobody has been able to successfully make all of them.

We still actually know precious little about Zaranj.   The Mayor is Savar Khan. There are no ISAF forces in the city.   We are not sure they have ever seen NATO troops.   There is a gravel airstrip with no real control tower in the north end and it took about 10 minutes of flying around to figure out that it was the municipal airport.   Zarang is in perpetual drought until the Helmand overflows it’s banks and floods the city each spring.   The Iranian border crossing is a major bridge and has a fraction of the Torkam traffic. The border is marked on the Iranian side by a castle wall complete with guard towers every 200-400 m.   There is one NGO, Education Concepts International, in town focusing on education and womens programs. The UN apparently has one guy who may be withdrawing. USAID has no one.   Farsi is the language of government although most people speak Pashtu and some Balochi.

We have rented a house and will be starting up multiple cash for work projects soon.   It is going to cost a ton to get internet set up down there but everything else we need will come from the local economy and will be dirt cheap.   The Mayor appreciates all the help he can get and there is little doubt that our projects in this area are going to be wildly successful.   One international, a half dozen of our talented Afghan managers and we will be able to run multiple projects for less than one cent on the dollar currently spent by USAID implementers on the projects they run in the rest of the country.   That is no exaggeration we have no armored trucks, no expat security detail, no need for the lavish compounds or food flown in from Dubai.   We may not produce fancy PowerPoint’s and professional presentations on our genius plans to get a project going nor do we have a large inside the beltway corporate HQ full of retired USAID and military officers.   We have a dozen or so expats who know just one thing -how to get projects going at warp speed and for dirt cheap.   We do not talk reconstruction we do reconstruction.

The Boss doesn't even try to blend in - with his language skills he gets by just fine.  He is looking over a potential project office

The Boss doesn't even try to blend in - with his language skills he gets by just fine. He is looking over a potential project office.

There was never a need for the elaborate security which was foisted upon the reconstruction efforts by our Department of State when we started the reconstruction programs years ago.   There is now as we have fed the insurgency by failing to deliver meaningful aid while supporting GIRoA officials who prey upon the people they are supposed to serve.   The Afghans see us riding around in armored vehicles with truck loads of gunmen   fore and aft and wonder what the hell it is we think we are accomplishing.   I can’t blame them as I wonder the   same thing myself.

The key to getting things done in a post conflict environment is to get things done.   Using expensive large corporations who specialize on doing USAID reconstruction projects while relying on State Department Regional Security Officers who know nothing about the region and little about security to set the minimum operational security standards has proven to be a waste of time, money and lives.

Zarang is a perfect test bed for implimenting an outside the wire reconstuction strategy

Zarang is a perfect test bed for implementing an outside the wire reconstruction strategy

Adam Holloway is right on target with his assessment of the correct way forward.   Smaller, agile military formations complemented by small agile teams of reconstruction experts are not only cost effective   – they are the only way to go.   And now dear reader we (us Americans) have been placed on the proverbial “horns of a dilemma” by the “public servants” who spend their adult lives enriching themselves and their families by feeding at the public trough.   You can follow the advice of MP Holloway, myself, and countless others who have said for years we need to be smaller and more agile or you can pay a 1% surtax which will grow and grow as taxes always do.   My advice?   If you have a job, assets and saving which are worth more than   a warm cup of spit it is time to hire a good accountant.

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    13 comments to The Cost of Risk Aversion

    • ken

      “It is going to cost a ton to get internet set up”-
      count me in.. – theres potential with a group called afsat – which can give a fairly phat pipe for under 2k mo, which, of course, can be shared via fabfi / canopy magic… Id be interested to know more about the clinics or hospitals there /

      another great post tim san.. i really enjoyed holloways paper.. he’s dead on..

    • I’m so glad there are bloggers like yourself, who don’t need to answer to sponsors or “higher ups”. It keeps everything clean and objective. I always learn something new from your posts, be it afghan culture or geography, it’s always worth the read. Thanks.

    • Instead of another “war tax” we’d get more money, faster if we confiscated the entire wealth of this handful of people…

      http://www.businessinsider.com/the-richest-members-of-congress-2009-11#john-kerry-d-mass-21

      All of them, bi-partisan confiscation.

      ok I’ll shut up now.

      SEMIPRO
      LURKER,
      R

    • jwest

      1. If you weren’t on Ms. Napolitano’s list with the rest of us aging veterans, you’re probably on it now.
      2. There is more to the aversion for risk (war) than the financial aspect.
      3. The combination of the sheer bloodiness of the civil war (US) followed by the unnecessary intervention during WW I caused a middle class antipathy toward FDR’s anglophilic support leading into WWII.
      4. An organization called America First had wide and deep membership and sympathy.
      5. America First instantly disappeared after Pearl Harbor.
      6. A photograph of 3 dead soldiers on a beach in New Guinea was published in February of 1943. The outcry following that was so great that no further photographs of American war dead were allowed publication during the conflict.
      7. Would submit that aversion to warfare has strong roots in areas other than financial in the US.
      8. Our elitist leadership is, once again, making decisions on a basis that they know better than the hoi polloi.
      9. The cynicism and disparagement expressed by the middle class is ignored, again.
      10. We clutch our bibles and guns in flyover country. We no longer offend Mr. Reid’s nose because of the visitor center that keeps us apart from his august presence.
      11. We all mine history to suit our purposes.
      12. Personally thought a lot of our Southwest Asian intervention had to do with maintaining the balance of power in the region.
      13. To me, that is a euphemism for supporting the Saudi Monarchy -which I don’t give a rat’s ass about.
      14. Your writings underscore our force’s inability to operate effectively in Afghanistan.
      15. Am unconvinced of the utility of acquiring that capability, much less the possibility of doing so.
      16. As with Iraq, say let others with more to gain shoulder the load.
      17. If I thought we had the political and national will to stay the course, would feel differently.
      18. Wish I needed a good accountant. Hope you do.
      V/R JWest

    • Desert Sailor

      Great synopsis Tim. I too share your thought process as well as your passion…with an equally non-optimistic view of Tuesday’s speech.

      Watch out for unicorns!!

    • The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 11/30/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

    • dennis

      well i wish you and the boss an team Canada,all the luck.the boss sure picket a dry spot. i did fine at one time there was some ANP. tomarrow should be a hoot. stay safe.

    • For the record, Adam Holloway was a former Officer in the Grenedier Guards and is a very streetwise guy with experience of counter insurgency work in Ulster.

    • Tim from Panjwayi

      FACTA NON VERBA

      This ain’t rocket surgery brother – let’s get’er done.

      We don’t need Robocop over here, we need Andy Griffith.

      - Tim from Mayberry

    • UnderMiner

      I thought it was Angel off the Rockford Files?

      You guys play safe!
      See ya soon.

    • VDK

      “There was never a need for the elaborate security which was foisted upon the reconstruction efforts by our Department of State when we started the reconstruction programs years ago. There is now as we have fed the insurgency by failing to deliver meaningful aid while supporting GIRoA officials who prey upon the people they are supposed to serve. The Afghans see us riding around in armored vehicles with truck loads of gunmen fore and aft and wonder what the hell it is we think we are accomplishing. I can’t blame them as I wonder the same thing myself.”

      Experience, insight, wisdom: It’s all there. And very quote-worthy.

      Do the “Team Canada” members have the same views on the Canadian mission in Kandahar? (appropriately substituting “Department of State”, of course).

      cheers

    • Merry Christmas Tim and company. Here is to a kick ass year of blogging. -matt

    • John Ryan

      Obama’s dithering ??? we had Bush dithering away for 8 years. We have now spent the equiviliant of 20 grand on each and every Afghani. And the “expense” of internet that sure sounded foolish: 2 or 4 k per month is a drop in the bucket to what we are already paying you(plural)