Security incident rates around Afghanistan are skyrocketing and this year it appears that Jalalabad is, for the first time, going to get its fair share of attention. This unfortunate fact is forcing outside the wire implementers to spend an inordinate amount of time tea drinking and jaw jacking with various local officials and ISAF people in order to get a handle on just how safe we are. My assessment? We’re in for a bad summer, but not as bad a summer as the few internationals working outside the FOB’s in the south. There are two reasons for this; the first is most of us working outside the wire in the east have been here a long time and have developed networks to local people who provide both warning and protection. The second thing going in our favor is that the attacks are amateurish and stupid; even if we were being targeted, the chances of being caught in an effective attack are minimal. This is clearly not the case in the southern region of Afghanistan where al Qaeda operatives are lending technical expertise and the Quetta Shura is able to funnel in ample amounts of money and munitions.
The suicide VBIED attack outside Darlaman Palace in Kabul earlier in the month demonstrated how bad it can get when the Taliban score a semi professionally constructed vehicle borne IED and get it into the city of Kabul. Four Americans and one Canadian soldier were killed in that attack (along with scores of Afghan civilians which nobody seems to be too upset about), but the Taliban do not have the ability to build car bombs of that nature (reportedly 1600 pounds of military grade explosives) in large numbers.
Here is the story board of incidents from the last 10 days in Jalalabad – previously an island of calm and safety in Eastern Afghanistan:
Allow me to provide some expert analysis; here it is…..ready? I have no idea what the hell this is all about. Normally tanker attacks are conducted to cover up fuel thefts but all these tankers were full. Normally IED’s are directed at some sort of target but for the last three months the IED’s going off in Jalalabad (with two exceptions covered in previous posts) have been small scale nuisance attacks designed to limit damage and casualties. So I have no idea what to make of it. All the local officials we talk to are adamant that the internationals working reconstruction projects are as safe now as they have always been. They contend the failed anti tank mine attack on locals driving a clearly marked NGO vehicle (and it is stupid to be in a vehicle which is marked with international NGO logos and stickers of an AK47 with a read circle and line drawn through it showing the occupants are unarmed and proud of it) was a simple mistake.
Just last night I saw a report from Jalalabad (I am in Dubai on R&R) that two vehicles had a collision right outside the main gate to the Jalalabad Airfield; both drivers were brought in for questioning and one of the drivers went back outside the gate to get his paperwork and took off running into the night. Upon inspection his vehicle was full of military grade explosives.
There are two things in play which probably account for the disturbing spike in incidents around Jalalabad. The first is Kandahar. The Governor of Nanagarhar Province is the honorable Agha Gul Sherzzai who is the head of a powerful Kandahar family and who fought with the US back in 2001 to rid Kandahar of Taliban. He was moved to Nangarhar Province in 2005 by President Karzai who then moved his brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai (AWK) up to be the head of the provincial council in Kandahar. Those of you who have been paying any attention at all to Afghanistan can instantly read between the lines. For the rest of you read this in order to break the code.
The second factor in play is ISAF – despite all the talk of ‘focusing on the population” and “population centric warfare” ISAF in general and the American army specifically are doing nothing of the sort. The Americans have a unit on the border crossing at Torkham but those guys just sit on the road all day doing nothing and they go back to the FOB every evening. They inspect nothing, they mentor nobody, they serve little purpose outside of providing an armed American presence at that crossing. The Americans have “rule of law specialists” who are fobbits – they do sortie out to the Nangarhar ANP HQ about two to three times a month so they can drink tea and play grab ass with their ANP counterparts but what is the point? What the hell can you accomplish in a three hour visit?
Until our actions on the ground include teaming up with the ANP; embedding into their units and patrolling with them we will continue to see tons and tons of explosives rolling across the border daily and guess what happens next? This happens – Afghan insurgents learn to destroy key U.S. armored vehicle. I have written at least a dozen times on the folly of trying to answer tactical problems with technology. Now even the McClatchey news service has figured that out. Maybe given more time and unlimited amounts of OPM the brass will figure this out too. They need to relearn the timeless military lesson that you lose more troops trying to protect them with a passive operational posture and “advanced” technology then you do using aggressive offensive action. If we’re here to fight, lets fight – if not lets go home – its that simple.