visitors since 4 oct 2008

East Afghanistan

Spencer Ackerman over at Danger Room wrote a post last week with the disturbing title of East Afghanistan Sees Taliban as “Morally Superior” to Karzai.  This assessment came from the after action slides of Col Randy George who commanded Task Force Warrior this past year.  There is nothing in the article or Col George’s slides which is a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention.  What is not obvious to those outside of Regional Command East is that there is the distinct possibility that change is afoot.

RC East (a.k.a. N2KL to those in the know)  is comprised of Nangarhar, Nuristan, Kunar, and Laghaman Provinces.  It is mountainous, has over 300 kilometers of border with Pakistan, and full of isolated clannish tribes who have a long history being a pain in the ass to anyone trying to establish governance over their territory.  ISAF is restricted to moving along valley roads where ambushes are so common they have become part of the daily routine.  But here is the thing; there are only so many places in these mountain from which to ambush convoys.  There are only so many places from which the bad guys can attack isolated combat outposts too and we know where each and every one of those places are.  As one of the OH 58 scout pilots told me the other day “when we respond to an ambush once we learn where the contact is we know exactly where the Taliban will be.  They never change, they never deviate, and we see the same thing over and over and over again.”

Look at this money quote from Spencer’s article:

“As a result, those big mistakes by the Afghan government lead the locals of N2KL to rank the Taliban/al-Qaeda/Militant-Insurgent Syndicate’ fourth out of four on George’s list of how they perceive their problems. Locals consider the insurgents morally superior to the Karzai government. The insurgents provide the population something the government doesn’t, or at least doesn’t provide sufficiently: culturally appropriate access to justice, resources and Islamic identity, in George’s assessment.”

There is little that Col George or the current battle space owner can do about that the military can only do so much.  But what they can do to shape the local political landscape by setting up the conditions for success.  Those conditions would be first and foremost to beat the Taliban like a drum on a routine basis.  To make being Taliban uncool just like it was in 2002 when the local population’s perception of the Taliban was that they were losers.  Which is exactly what the commander, whoever he is, up at Camp Blessing started doing last week after the villains over reached with some sort of half ass  offensive.  Let me set the picture for you as we understand it from our normal open source security reports.

Sami the Finn sent this to me after week 26 to see what I knew about the steep drop off of activity in Kunar Province.  He's been here from the start and nobody has ever seen Kunar incident rate tank like this before

Sami the Finn sent this to me after week 26 to see what I knew about the steep drop off of activity in Kunar Province. We had never seen the Kunar incident rate tank like this during a fighting season before

Sami the Finn from Indicium Consulting was the first to raise the alarm as he watched the incident rate in Kunar drop at the height of fighting season and his take was the local Taliban was going to mass and try something dramatic.  A quick plug if I may; Sami has been in Afghanistan for over 8 years and is the most informed analysts in the country.  Anyone doing business here would benefit from utilizing his company which is highly respected among the old hands.

As the security incident rate was falling we were getting reports from various aid projects in Kunar that the place was awash with Pakistani Taliban and “foreigners” which could be al Qaeda or could be Jihadi tourists not that there is much difference.  One project manager I know who is of Arab heritage was approached by a Taliban emissary and told that if he did projects in the Korengal Valley they would provide for his security and even give him a Taliban work permit.  That would have been cool I have been trying for a long time to get a scan of one of those but to date nishta. The NGO involved wouldn’t have gone for that deal anyway.

There was another VBIED on the Beshud bridge the other day.  None of the soldiers in the MRAP were injured but local bystanders did not fare well.

There was another VBIED on the Beshud bridge the other day. None of the soldiers in the MRAP were injured but local bystanders did not fare well.

We were seeing lots of smoke and had little idea what was going on and but then there was that attack on the PRT in Nuristan I worte about last week followed by the fighting in the Marwarwa valley.  The operational tempo has not slacked off judging from the air and road activity around Jalalabad and the villains have responded with rocket attacks and another VBIED on the Beshud bridge.   Have you heard the the people in Kunar bitching about any of this?  There has to be collateral  damage given the intensity of the air to ground fire being used.   But the locals aren’t pitching a fit about it because they’re afraid that they poked the bear one too many times and now we’re seriously pissed off.  Besides what do you say to a farmer who lost his children when we bombed his compound from which the Taliban we’re shooting heavy machineguns?  What is there to say?  We’re in a shooting war.

the incidnet rate shot up after the Americans and ANA went on the offensive but all thisfighting is pretty one sided and judging from air activity around Jalalabad pretty intense

The incident rate shot up after the Americans and ANA went on the offensive but all this fighting is one sided and judging from air activity around Jalalabad pretty intense

Perceptions change with the audience in Afghanistan.  The local people have every right to upset about the performance of the government in Kabul.  But they have no interest in seeing any kind of central government which is strong enough to meddle in their affairs.  An example, Afghans will go to great lengths to avoid having their problems brought into the legal system.  Regardless of the crime be it murder or little boys stealing apples from a neighbor the Afghans know how to handle it and feel personally disgraced when the authorities step in to apply the rule of law.  Their family business them becomes public and their problems known to people outside their clan which brings disgrace upon the sons of the family.  They are going to bitch about the central government no matter who is in charge and how effective it becomes. The best we can do is concentrate on making regional government functional at basic things like irrigation, sanitation, health care delivery and other municipal services.

The Skipper - a retired navy master chief, EOD type runningaround Nuristan.  He respondes to all EOD calls in N2KL 24/7 because he's outside the wire in his own safe house with a mobile security crew. He's been doing this for years and the local people know and look after him because he is fast, efficent, and doesn't ask questions.  He collects a lot of ordnance and isyet another example that internationals can and should be operating embeded with the population

The Skipper - a retired navy Senior Chief, EOD type running around Nuristan. He respondes to all EOD calls in N2KL 24/7 because he's outside the wire in his own safe house and has a mobile security crew. Being able to get a call and go is key - his ISAF counterparts get a call and it takes at least four hours for them to plan and brief their mission before their allowed off base. FOB based security is not really security because they are not missioned or designed to respond rapidly to anything. The Skipper has been doing this for years and the local people know and look after him because he is fast, efficient, and doesn't ask questions. He collects a lot of ordnance and is another example that internationals can and should be operating embedded with the population

The corruption of the Karzai government adds fuel to the fire but there is no way the people of this region want the Taliban back and they know that we know this is posturing.  The Taliban has been operating in the open all over the Nuristan and  Kunar Provinces this year as well as southern Nangarhar Province and part of Laghman too.  It doesn’t take long for them to wear out their welcome because the locals have big plans for their daughters and getting hitched to some wild eye Waziristani illiterate isn’t past of the plan. Yet the villains are out there filling in the power vacuum created by dysfunctional government and poorly trained Afghan Police.  The Taliban is in the open and exposed at exactly the wrong time.  The ANA and the Americans have never been stronger and are more than capable of running the Taliban to ground if that is what they want to do.  Insurgents are supposed to wait until they defeat local and international security forces before they start walking around with impunity.

This is typical - the Taliban trigger man gets a bomb to set off but it doesn't come with a motorcycle battery so he has to walk to the big city to buy one.  Correctly thinking it to be a bad idea to walk around with the bomb he hides it in the median strip of the busiest road in Jalalabad hoping none of the 2 or so thousand people walkng by will take notice.

This is typical - the Taliban trigger man gets a bomb to set off but it doesn't come with a motorcycle battery so he has to walk to the big city to buy one. Correctly thinking it to be a bad idea to walk around with the bomb he hides it in the median strip of the busiest road in Jalalabad hoping none of the 2 or so thousand people walking by will take notice.

The insurgents has unmasked themselves way too early which is a strategic blunder of the first order. In N2KL ISAF and the ANA can make them pay for that.  If they did it would be the perfect time to get the “civilian surge” off the FOB’s and out interacting daily with officials at the province and district level. I know the State Department guy and the duty FBI agent, and the US AID guys etc… are all frustrated that they are not able to operate off the bases like the NGO’s and The Skipper do.

An ABP trainer and his terp duringa rnage shoot.  These trainers are from Xe which was Balckwater and is now something else I think.  There are several dozen guys on the contract with some embeded American Army troops and they have a large base at the Pachir Wa Agam distrcit center.  Using large regional training centers has proven to be a bust for train Afgahan police.  These guys from Xe are first rate working a top of the line contract for excellent pay.  They would be much more effective if they were out and about with their charges instead of being restricted to a training base.

An ABP trainer and his terp during a range shoot. These trainers are from Xe which was Blackwater and is now something else I think. There are several dozen guys on the contract with some embedded American Army troops and they have a large base at the Pachir Wa Agam distrcit center. Using large regional training centers has proven to be a bust for training Afghan police. These guys from Xe are first rate working a top of the line contract for excellent pay. They would be much more effective if they were out and about with their charges instead of being restricted to a training base. The taxpayer would get a better return on investment and the contractors would probably enjoy the freedom of movement and break in routine.

There is little question that we are going to have to start reducing our footprint in Afghanistan.  That doesn’t mean we cannot define an acceptable end state and start working towards it now while we have so many assets in-country but stuck on FOB’s.  There are civilian experts who want to get out and start making a difference but can’t do to force protection policies.  These people have the exact skill set needed to mentor regional government agencies but they cannot bring those skills to bear from the FOB.  It is time to set these and a number of other people free to follow up what has started to be a little house cleaning of the local Taliban.

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    21 comments to East Afghanistan

    • RJ

      So, there you are, seeing what you see, thinking what you think, hoping what you hope, knowing what you know, believing what you believe…and then what? Your puzzle has so many pieces, and yet are they all the pieces to this puzzle of “Here’s how to make Afghanistan work for America?”

      “Too big to fail” is a phrase now heard shouted around the political halls in Washington, applied to businesses, social programs, etc., but I haven’t heard such said about Afghanistan. Instead, I hear more groans about how it is a loser and we should “bug out” sooner, rather than later.

      If frustration is inversely proportional to satisfaction as evidenced by the scream “I was so close!” then where are we? With little fresh troops back home, worn equipment in the field, and a national treasury that is pregnant with IOUs…tell me how this is going to work.

      Ok, we wipe out the Taliban’s troops and will to continue, both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We put the super hurt on Al Qaeda, even to the point of bringing in the heads of Bin Laden and his number two man, the Egyptian doctor. Do we now re-activate the American Peace Corps and ship all our “make love not war” peaceniks over to this land of walls? Bring your guitar, flower power shirts…and a lighter for the great hash!

      I like the last idea, it should have been done 8 plus years ago…for a variety of reasons, in my opinion.

      I note that here in America the Native American communities really haven’t changed that much, even with a casino just down the street. We still have inner city ghettos, etc.

      Yet, somehow, Americans and her friends are going to “transform” this country Afghanistan…because our efforts and our will are “too big to fail” or for what? COIN or some other mutation will do the trick if we just give our boys and girls the freedoms to make it work!

      I note my local Costco sells Vietnamese pottery vases…hot damn!
      And yet I can’t take my family on a pleasure drive through southern Arizona within the border area.

      Meanwhile, at some American military bases we are still counting up those Afghans who have gone AWOL…for months and years!

      Yea, we got a really great team leading this war on terror!

    • Forgotten Man

      As twisted as the logic is, you can’t really fault people for not trusting the Mayor of Kabul. In response to the post above 30 +years ago, prior to the Russians, there were a lot of Peace Corps. people in Afghanistan. Some of them did an excellent job.

    • RJ

      “Forgotten Man”

      Yea, I know about those “peace corps” people…they’re the ones who set up the markets for the native “hash” if one’s memory still functions back that far!

      • babatim

        I have to jump in with another gimlet eyed ground observation this time on the Peace Corps. They aren’t here now but I did run into a family friend (Jim) who retired from the Peace Corps and is now working USAID contracts as an M&E specialist. My Dad introduced me to Jim who works out daily in the same gym as my Dad when he’s in the states and I have to say he looks and acts more like retired Marine Corps than Peace Corps. Jim knows what he is doing and has a better skill set for outside the wire travel as well as the professional ability to do comprehensive evaluation of large AID projects. I’m as bad as anyone when it comes to dismissing entire government agencies like State or CIA but the Peace Corps seems to be a lot like the Coast Guard in that there are all sorts of people doing interesting things which you never hear about.

        The only way I can see us reaching some sort of acceptable end state is using armed people who operate like the Peace Corps. Using large international firms like DAI doesn’t work. They cost a fortune a build huge well guarded elaborate compounds which are attacked in both Kunduz and Lashkar Gah and even though the security plan worked (at high cost to the security contractor) they still have abandoned operations in both cities. So we are spending a fortune to set up elaborate compounds which when attacked are abandoned. We need greater resiliency for the “build” component of this operational plan and the only way to get that resiliency is to use distributed operations of small, armed teams of contractors.

        • RJ

          Having just spotted your response post; I think you create a scenario that mimics most of Afghanistan, a walled compound filled with contractors or military who now pose as peace corps operatives, venturing outside every now and then to do “community organizing”…in other words you have a special stereo view of a game plan that lacks (in my opinion) the harmony for success, if for no other reason than back here in the USA you don’t have the real support for “victory” defined nor desired.

          Here in America we have our police behaving–and looking more every day, like the military. Now you (and our government too!) want our military to look and behave like warriors and peace corps personnel.

          You want your cake and intend to eat it when you desire!

          Sure, and Obama-Mao won’t do anything to secure our borders until he gets those in Congress to go along with his “comprehensive” immigration reform plan: See the parallels there with your game plan in Afghanistan?

          So, it’s an “acceptable end state” for you. Care to define just what that may be? Change the dress of our military people; have them walk about looking like Peace Corps workers, only with weaponry while wearing “don’t fuck with me” sunglasses!

          “Star Trek” this is not! We’re there and invested, both in treasure yet more importantly blood and guts! You may have a fine handle on “victory” tactics, yet I have many doubts to those “strategies” that may or may not be at play for a undefined victory.

          Bug out…set up camp in the border areas of Arizona, test your Afghan tactics there and see how our President deals with real problem solving. Watch as John McCain walks by mumbling “my friend” a dozen or so times. Hear Harry Reid shout out “The war is lost in Arizona” while denying the existence of illegals in Nevada’s construction industry (might be true since that business is more than flat lined!).

          Or is this really a game of those who love to play war just don’t want to give it up, even when they lack real victory type support?

          How soon before Barrett-Jackson has an auction where we see an MRAP up for sale?

    • Forgotten Man

      “RJ”
      No insult intended. Maybe some of them did set up Hash markets. Schools and farming projects also. I’m not saying they were all good. But they were there and for the most part the Afghan people liked them and they may have left the impression that Americans were suckers, but friendly suckers. I am more on your side than the last post may indicate, I was just responding to one point in your first post.

      If some NGO is interested in a 63 year old ex-Military/ not Peace Corp.who is a lot slower than he used to be let me know.

    • Travelfiend

      Concerning you appropo comments on the picture with the Xe. Inc ABP trainer: They (Xe Inc.) would love nothing better than to execute their contractual mandate by truly mentoring the ABP officers in the field and out in the areas where they operate. Unfortunately, Xe Inc. are prohibited sometimes by the same sorts of authority that keep our troops on the FOBs. In certain regards these civilian trainers/mentors have at times been a subtle bit of a liability in the past. At least in a few isolated cases. Things are better than they once were but the local ISAF commanders where the ABP training areas are located are quite loathe to the idea of letting civilians ashore in their operational areas even though the contract and mandates call for this happen. And so it goes…. Awesome blog by the way, been reading it for some time now. It was especially useful when I was in Afghanistan. Cheers!

      Travelfiend

    • J Harlan

      I’m not sure where the idea that the big PSCs are competent at training ANSF comes from. It’s been eight years and the US still pays them a huge amount to provide bad basic police training. Whatever training they gave to the Afghans it’s not been enough to create a cadre of local instructors. Xe, et al certainly can’t teach “policing” as we understand it because their instructional staff can’t speak Afghan languages and the programs are so short as to be laughable. They can teach handcuffing and close range shooting but the fact that they’re still doing it after nearly a decade is more evidence of failure than success.

      A cynical person might even think the poor training is intentional. After all well trained Afghans on our side would put the PSCs out of work and if they changed sides or went independent, they would be far more of a problem than the current rabble.

    • dennis

      Uaa Tim ! could the down turn on activity at that time, be related to pakistan pushing on there side of the fence??.That bridge has become a magnet lately need to find the scumbag ordering the hits.

    • J Harlan

      Maybe I was wrong about ANP skills. Yesterday two ANP posts intentionally had a fire fight in Helmand. Seems their commanders were on the outs. They managed to hit 12 of each other.

    • Spencer Ackerman himself is rather disturbing, but that’s just a personal opinion about the post-punk generation.

      ===

      Tim –

      “Insurgents are supposed to wait until they defeat local and international security forces before they start walking around with impunity. The insurgents has unmasked themselves way too early which is a strategic blunder of the first order.”

      There have been a wealth of strategic blunders on both sides. That’s a big part of the reason why this has been, is, and will remain, a long war.

      Re-learning the old lessons is always painful.

      Not that I’m against a good head start on any difficult project but…Shouldn’t nation building wait until the war is over?

      ===

      RJ – Tim had an older post that mentioned an American agricultural/waterworks program from the 1960′s in Helmand. It was a very good post.

      As John Ryan pointed out, it wasn’t all hippies on the hash trail before the Soviets arrived in force.

      ===

      J Harlan – I think you might be on to something there regarding intentions. Side switching has something of a long tradition in the region.

      STRONGEST
      HORSE,
      R

    • J Harlan

      I don’t think one of the crews of ANP in this case switched sides. I think they have they own side. It’s like HA fighting The Mongols. They both agree crime is good and that they hate each other but they’ve never been on our side.

      I think there are myriads of “sides” in Afghanistan is one reason governance building and rule of law are such a waste of time. Of course so is training the police. You wouldn’t advise teaching the Waffen SS how to shoot better as a potential answer to their desire to over run France so why are we busy pouring billions into training ragamuffin police forces which we acknowledge are crooked, involved in drugs, and probably provide the Taliban most of their ammo?

      Given how badly building the police has gone is it a wonder that Karzai doesn’t want some new program to arm village militias. All we need is for Petraeus to supervise the losing of a second batch of 190,000 firearms.

    • John Ryan

      Today was another day that we spent 10 dollars on each and every Afghan ( 25 million times 10 dollars = 250 million) 50 or 60 dollars for each household. Does anyone think that we/they are getting a good value ?

    • J Harlen –

      Ammo and guns in some cases.

      Hungarian AMD-65′s are quite distinctive among the many variations of the AK series rifle, Hungary took them out of service in 2006. Charlie Cutshaw was reporting US Special Forces in Afghanistan using AMD-65′s in small numbers in 2006, but Charlie may have been seeing them in the hands of Blackwater/XE/Whatever or other contractor types who also use them.

      Some procurement officer around 2007-8 thought it would be a great idea to arm the ANA with those surplus AMD-65′s.

      It didn’t take very long after that for those very distinctive AMD-65′s to start appearing in the hands of the Talib. Now they’re all over the place, on both sides of the border.

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/11/AR2009021103281.html

      We didn’t need to pay for an expensive GAO team to tour Afghanistan to find that out, all we had to do was look at the photos and videos…

      http://www.longwarjournal.org/multimedia/Taliban-Leaders-Jan2008/index.html

      See photo #10 in that LWJ link. AMD-65 in the hands of the oft reported dead Qari Ziaur Rahman, Talib/al-Q commander for Nuristan and Kunar, Jan 2008.

      CAN
      SEE,
      R

    • RJ

      Ok, time for some “out of the box” type thinking.

      Game plan #1: Bring our troops home, now…not 2012, not by an election cycle…now! #2: Create videos and audio recordings of what modern civilization can do for the sick, the injured, the un-educated…everything a “slave owner” would not want his “slaves” to know anything about in the native tongues of those living in Afghanistan…throw in the “frontiers” of Pakistan. #3: Find avenues to transfer these two formats into the hands of as many natives as possible, as cheaply as possible, as often as possible, for as long as it takes to measure a dynamic change socially/culturally via demands, both locally and nationally by these natives–to experience, to have, and to embrace the many positive modern realities of medicine, education, etc. (real revolution)!

      Prior to leaving with our troops inform all Afghans that if they ever support, harbor, etc. those who would attempt or do again what was done on 9/11 (attack the USA) we will return with the Wrath of Hell and Vengeance like they have never had visited on their world and everyone they love!

      Afterward, we sit back–sort of, and watch to see what happens; all the while–from time to time, killing off (frontier justice…not Obama-Mao/Holder justice) those who we can get to, that were part of the leadership of 9/11, that just might be “dead men walking” in those areas.

      This would mean that all our aged hippies, all our senior Peace Corps personnel and all those lefties who just know how terrible America has been, is and will always be…all these wonderful citizens who expect others to die for them and their right to enjoy the freedoms of expressing their passive aggressive, narcissistic hatreds, won’t have to go to the front lines in Afghanistan (they’ve been making/growing their own hash and skunk weed for years anyway)!

      They can remain home and complain; knowing that they will not have to go somewhere life threatening!

      Maybe they might come up with an idea like asking all Americans and Mexicans to vote for uniting both countries into a new United States…to finally get water that is drinkable in Mexico and to really get some great salsa in America that’s tasty and hot!

      Or, we can just keep on doing what we’ve been doing; from time to time fill a body bag, return some injured or waste more of our treasury/future as we have been these past 8 plus years.

      Define your sense of victory…but be real!

      Remember, if it’s Wednesday nite, it’s party time at the White House!

    • dennis

      Tim I wish you luck in your neck of the woods.

    • J Harlan

      Talking about “sides”. The press have immediately parroted ISAF’s assertion that the lone shooter in today’s attack by an ANA sgt on British soldiers was a “rogue”. He got away so another option is that he was a plant and had a plan.

      It would much better for ISAF if he just had gone “postal” over some workplace grievance- say failure to do anything about repeated sodomy like the last time this happened in Helmand.

      The entire “build the ANSF” plan relies on some level of trust between the students and western mentors, especially if you’re keen on very small groups of mentors tagging along with cops. How many Dyncorps folks would have to disappear before the desire to go on patrol with the ANP would wither? Answer- 4.

      How many planted Taliban would it take to disrupt the entire training scheme? One per province per month? That by the way, if on average was even half as damaging as today’s event, would be nearly double last years fatal casualty count.

      BTW just to make things more fun the Taliban have started to lose the beards and turbans in Helmand.

    • dennis

      At Kabul Perspective: “Quetta” a good read and gave me some new insight to mull over.

    • J Harlan

      You can imagine how good I feel that the Afghan CO of the shooter in Helmand- he put at least one RPG into the PB Ops room and then shot up the Brit company commander’s tent with a MG- wasn’t possibly Taliban. This according to his Afghan CO who is reported to have said that the soldier was from Ghazni and they don’t have Taliban there. Who knew? The CO also said his motive is unknown as there’s no buggery at his base either. A unique facility.

    • The Peace Corps is a very cool group, and there are many great small projects that operate under the radar internationally. This is the time to take leaps in thinking and doing. The political polemics have done nothing but entrench us to a point of being frozen with the whole thing run by political whims, rather than …what works. As a military wife, I’m not interested in polemics as much as I am what works. Polemics are as uncool as the Taliban.

      The Hubs uses the term, “Like Peace Corps, with guns,” because this is the work that he did as a surgeon who took care of as many locals and children as soldiers. His daily “rounds” included speaking with all the locals who worked on the base who learned to come with him with a variety of ailments, often with kids and women in tow. I think this is the approach we have to take, though in no way do I think it’s going to be without short term risks. Create better conditions –irrigation, sanitation, and health care and also cultivate trust as the Skipper (Amen to him) has done, and only then do you create desire for those other things such as empowerment and education.