Friday started with a disturbing report – a fuel tanker attack on the Jalalabad side of the Duranta Dam tunnel. Ambush teams operating less than a mile from the Taj! Not good news, so after the incident scene cleared out we went for a look-see.
A trucker had hit an old leaky fuel truck and the resulting spill caught fire. The various civilian security services had got the story right by late afternoon after issuing an alert for an armed attack inside the Jalalabad movement box just hours before. The local military folks did not know what had happened until we gave them a heads up while clearing the scene.
If this had been an ambush of tankers with RPG’s, as initially reported, it would have had an immediate effect on the international reconstruction programs throughout Nangarhar Province. It would not have impacted American or Afghan military convoys on the road, nor slowed the flow of commercial traffic, but it would have showed an alarming amount of cooperation between insurgents and local people. That kind of cooperation, were it ever to occur, would lead to an exodus of most of the 50 or so internationals that operate in and around Jalalabad. The few who remained would have to harden – which costs money, lots of money. That reported attack represented critical white information concerning local atmospherics in a very key portion of the human terrain environment.
Today’s little drama illustrates in real time how our military is ignoring the effort to maintain situational awareness via the active collection of white information because of their focus on “red intelligence.” Tracking and targeting active combatants is what the military is designed and trained to do. It is also what they have been doing for the past 8 years. Generals McChrystal and Flynn can write all the papers they want explaining why this approach is missing the point and counterproductive. Historically, radical military change comes in the face of or after defeat. That will not happen here – the Taliban could not in a thousand years engage in a set piece combined arms battle with any ISAF military. They could not stand up to the Afghan Army either, with their tanks, artillery, gun ships, experienced leaders, and international mentors.
Focusing on the population – that takes getting out and living with the population. There is no other way. This is supposed to be what we are now doing with our military operations.
You can see decentralized, white information-focused operations at work in the chaotic areas bordering the large military installations in the south. All trucks entering any ISAF base have to sit in lots, known as “cool down” yards, way off post for at least 24 hours. The trucks bring with them butchers, bakers, tea houses, mechanics, and assorted other small shop keepers. ISAF keeps a close eye on these areas where multiple base agencies have some jurisdiction. The Marines have security, the Brits are the local law enforcement. There is a constant stream of trucks, military convoys and civilian vehicles. The Marines are from a dismounted tank company who left their big beasts back home to come out as part of the Brigade Support Unit (BSU.) The BSU is built around an artillery battalion because the Marines do not really have Brigade Support Units, except for on paper, and when one mobilizes it is better to build it out of an existing battalion.
The Marines who keep an eye on this lot have a remarkably deep understanding of who the regular shop keepers are, where they came from, and in some cases, what they were doing before. That is because they are bored being assigned to a base defense role and spend a lot of time out there because they can. This will pay big dividends in a few months when all these people will be forced to move across the highway when the base expands.
If a young sergeant and a squad of dismounted tankers can master the civil terrain nuances of this sprawling, unregulated township outside one of their bases, do you think they could accomplish the same in a village cluster a little further to the south? When we are able to deploy like that, we will be able to obtain the white information needed to conduct a counterinsurgency. At that point we will have started down the track to winning in Afghanistan. Until then, we our wasting time, money and people.
There is a fad in the first world called “low impact environmental living.” Afghans are masters at real low impact environmental living: no refrigerators, no electricity, no cardboard packages or fast food bags, and if you’re lucky, a trucker will have a large bag of dried buffalo dung for sale to cook your food over. If somebody could just get these people access to the internet they could make a fortune selling carbon credits to Algore and friends.