ISAF continues to reposition forces closer to the civilian population centers as part of their “population centric” strategy. They’ve set off a flurry of activity putting up blast walls, T barriers, concertina wire and Hesco counter mobility obstacles. Only none of this frantic building of security barriers is happening anywhere near Afghan population centers – it is all happening on the Big Box Fob’s. General McChrystal is leading by example – at the ISAF HQ in Kabul last week I noted that the finishing touches are going into a custom built, specially designed, multi-million dollar blast wall which is located inside the new giant T barrier wall, which was built inside the outer T barrier wall after the last VBIED attack on ISAF HQ. The original multi-million dollar T barrier wall was built inside the Hesco wall which itself is backed by a locally made rock and concrete wall shortly after a rocket landed near the ISAF HQ in 2006. It is hard to square the frantic pace of installing three to four layers of blast walls on Big Box FOB’s with all the talk of securing the population centers.
As I am writing this post I am concurrently trying to reroute a client around the almost daily fire fight on the vital Kabul to Jalalabad road. Last night we had a mortar round impact in Jalalabad City which has seen more IED’s and indirect fire attacks in the past 5 weeks then in the previous five years. In Kabul rumors are flying around the city about the relative safety of internationals, both on the road and in their compounds. The Taliban and other bad actors are not the concern – it is the Afghan Security Forces which are currently making life most uncomfortable for the international community. Last week, the Afghan Vice and Virtue police raided almost every western restaurant in Kabul. They also raided a gigantic private secured living compound called Green Village because it (like every other secure compound in Kabul) had a bar. That these places were all licensed, legal and have been operating for years is a given, and apparently irrelevant. The eastern European waitresses from one of the nicer restaurants were arrested and taken for medical examination “to ascertain whom they might have been sleeping with, police officials said.” Yeah right, CSI Kabul – I bet they have the ability to “ascertain whom they might have been sleeping with.” Adding insult to injury, the French owner of L’AtmosphÃ¨re, who has been in business since 2004 and once paid more in Afghan taxes than any other entity in the country, is reported to be in jail after protesting too much during the raid on his fine establishment.
It is the Kabul ANP who stand accused of murdering the American security operative, Louis Maxwell, after he saved 17 of his UN colleagues during an attack on their guesthouse on 28 October 2009. He had a Heckler and Koch G36K assault rifle, which is worth a fortune here. He was shot repeatedly (he was already badly wounded defending his charges) at point blank range by an ANP soldier who wanted the gun. Apparently, CSI Kabul lacks the requisite skills to determine if an American contractor, armed and sanctioned by the UN and acting in accordance to his contractual duties, was killed at point blank range by one of their officers.
Paladinsix, at the Knights of Afghanistan blog, has an excellent post from inside Kabul on the effects of endemic corruption. What he is describing (and I can attest that everything he is saying is 100% on target) is a concerted effort by the Kabul authorities to drive westerners out. Which is exactly what the Taliban is attempting to do with multiple attacks on USAID implementation partners in Kandahar and Lashkar Gah. To date, the only Americans to be killed in both these efforts is Louis Maxwell – the Taliban only killed Afghan security guards and local bystanders. Does that give you some perspective on the current threat level for internationals living in Kabul?
Our fundamental problem in Afghanistan is that we are fighting on behalf of a central government which is not considered legitimate by a vast majority of the population. When we squeeze this government it tends to squeeze back, which is exactly why all of a sudden the vice and virtue police considered western restaurants to be “centers of immorality.” Just as a side, the consumption of adult beverages is a very popular pastime with the adult males in Afghanistan. The liberal canard that the use of alcohol is offensive to Islamic societies, like all liberal canards, is based on willful ignorance by our elites and their lap dog main stream media. Alcohol is not illegal for westerners and has always been part of the male Afghan social scene since before Alexander the Great invaded. Yet unlike Alexander, we have a lot of carrots to dole out to the Afghan government in support of our objectives, but do not have one stick – not one we can use to encourage good behavior. As a result men and women I have known for years and who have operated here effectively are for the first time ever planning to go home and stay. There is only so much risk a person can stomach, and the risk for the thousands of outside the wire contractors working in Afghanistan is not only increasing exponentially, it is coming from Afghans on both sides of the conflict.
The civilian reconstruction sector is not the only portion of the international effort being adversely affected by the failure to develop a functional Afghan government – the rot is spreading from the top down with the dangerous contagion of plummeting morale. Herschel Smith at the Captain’s Journal linked to a depressing report from Afghanistan by journalist Ben Shaw, which showed up in the comments section of his latest post. The first paragraph:
As a journalist (and combat veteran) currently embedded with US forces in Afghanistan, I have found that roughly 95% of the troops on the ground in no way believe in their mission, have no confidence that their efforts will bring about lasting change to Afghan security, stability, governance, or a decreased influence of radicalism. In truth, they fight simply to stay alive and want nothing more than to go home.
Napoleon said that in war “the moral is to the physical as three is to one.” This is the consequence of fronting a government which abuses the population and international guests alike. If the ISAF soldiers were methodically clearing areas of Taliban and then assisting in the establishment of law and order, governance and services which serve the people, and that the people appreciate, we would be achieving moral ascendancy. But that is impossible because the vast majority of troops are based on FOB’s and never leave them, and there is no legitimate government with which to entrust areas we have cleared. So now that we are unable to do what is important, the unimportant has become important and the mark of military virtue is the enforcement of petty policies like the mandatory wearing of eye protection at all times while outdoors.
We have pulled out of the Korengal Valley of Kunar Province as part of the new strategy to focus on population centers. Yet all the new building and all the new surge forces are being shoehorned onto Big Box FOB’s, where they are forming fusion cells to fuse the information generated by the 3 or 4 existing fusion cells in each brigade TOC in an attempt to make sense out of the avalanche of “story boards” and “white papers” being generated by thousands of officers and former officer contractors who are locked into FOB’s, but still feel compelled to work 14 hours a day. The surge in building activity is confined exclusively to ISAF bases and there are no indications, not one, that the military is going to shift into a “population centric” posture by putting troops out within the population 24/7 to provide security. This is deja vu all over again, it is exactly the same dilemma we faced in Iraq before the surge there. As usual, there is one segment of the population which is not fooled by story boards and white papers authored by their seniors – the troops. And so morale is apparently now a problem. While the Taliban make videos as they swarm over our latest abandoned base our troops are facing this;
As a recent example, I filmed approximately 75 minutes of combat footage, knowingly exposed myself to concentrated enemy fire, and learned two days ago that if I post this footage, the Soldiers on film will be charged and/or relieved for uniform violations, improper wear of personal protective equipment (ballistic glasses, fire-retardant gloves, etc), and that low-level commanders have already begun this process. In an attempt to preserve the careers of the Soldiers I am trying to advocate, I am unable to tell (or show) the US public what they’re experiencing and what they think of it. The military only wants good news to flow from embedded journalists not facts.
There are huge costs hidden behind this kind of pass the buck, risk averse, stupidity. Risk aversion is expensive, not for the bureaucrat, but for the taxpayer and it leads to fiscal insanity. For example, was it cost effective or even necessary to shut down Europe to all air travel because of the recent volcano eruption in Iceland? Richard Fernandez at the Belmont Club posted this yesterday:
As volcanoes go EyjafjallajÃ¶kull was accounted by Icelandic volcanologists as a weary old man. It’s recent eruption was unremarkable.
Ash from the volcano’s plume has reached an altitude of only about 10 kilometers (six miles), not high enough to reach the stratosphere images taken by the Eumetsat satellite concluded that Iceland’s EyjafjallajÃ¶kull has spewed 2,000 tons of sulphur dioxide into the air. Pinatubo spouted 10,000 times that amount.
So the economy loses about 4 Billion to the over reaction of bureaucrats in England who honestly believe they must drive down risk to near zero no matter what the cost. Do you remember all the airliners that were damaged by flying Pacific routes after the eruption of Mt Pinatubo? Yeah me neither – there were none and there would have been none if we had ignored the British “experts.” British “experts” are not confining their depredations to the global economy, this observation by Max Hastings is fair warning about where our military is heading:
We are in danger of emasculating the armed forces we claim to love so much, by extending Health and Safety protection to the battlefield. I have no doubt that the coroners who preside at inquests on soldiers killed in Afghanistan are compassionate men. But senior officers regard them as a menace to the Services’ real interests.