Free Range International

The Cost of Risk Aversion

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 but new to the outside the wire ops) and flew down for a reconnaissance in force.

Nimroz Province

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.

Michael Yon posted a white paper from 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 are currently fed by the legacy media. 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. I suspect the current masters of Capitol Hill will be articulating some sort of weak ass cut and run strategy which will result in 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.

It is in this context that I want to focus on our efforts to take care of an entire Province using a small Ghost Team detachment.

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 identify who are the expats.

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 if they have ever seen NATO troops in this Province. There is a gravel airstrip with no control tower in the north end of the city and it took about 10 minutes of flying around to figure out that it was the municipal airport. The last 5 minutes of the flight included a brisk interrogation/warning from Iran which is less than a mile from the municipal airport.

Zarang is in perpetual drought with the canal intakes to the interior irrigation systems broken there is little water for farming. The Iranian border crossing is a major bridge and has a fraction of the Torkam border traffic in Nangarhar Province. The border is marked on the Iranian side by a massive wall complete with guard towers every 200-400 meters as far as the eye can see. There is one NGO, Education Concepts International, in town focusing on education and women’s programs. There are no UN or other international personnel in the entire Province of Nimroz. Farsi is the language of local government although most people speak Pashtu and some Balochi too.

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 but our focus is on the Governor and provincial irrigation situation. We’ll meet him on the next trip.

One international, a half dozen Afghan managers and a TCN finance manager and we will be able to run multiple projects for peanuts compared to what is being spent on aid in the rest of the country. Unlike every other USAID contractor we do not use brand new armored trucks, or have contracted expat security details, 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. Without the risk aversion based security postures that cripple the effectiveness while swelling the overhead of every other USAID project in the country.

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 that we created an insurgency by failing to deliver meaningful aid while creating a central government that is the second most corrupt in the world. 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 doing. 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 quickly, with minimal footprint and then to get the fuck out. America uses large specialize corporations for USAID projects while relying on State Department Regional Security Officers to set minimum operational security standards. This is why some of these companies take years just to get their team set up in country and that’s not quick or agile. It is proving 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.

We are going to a Province that has no international military presence and about which little is know and we are going to completely overhaul their irrigation’s systems (in every district) in three years. And we’re going to build schools and do woman empowerment projects too. If we are successful there will never be a need to send one Marine or soldier into that province to fight and die. Because that’s the cost of risk aversion – the forfeiting of brave men’s lives over folly and a lust for profit.

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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…

      All of them, bi-partisan confiscation.

      ok I’ll shut up now.


    • 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


      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).


    • 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)