As the summer started I was optimistic regarding the chances that we would see some indications that we are gaining ground in Afghanistan but that has not happened. Incident rates are skyrocketing which in and of itself is not a negative thing if it is our side who are instigating the incidents but that is not the case. While ISAF is conducting more raids and presence patrols they do not seem to have learned anything when it comes to pulling these operations off while managing the perceptions and attitudes of the population we are supposed to be protecting. By projecting force off of FOB’s we create a vacuum after every operation. Nature hates a vacuum so at the moment we see politicians filling that void. Let me provide an example:
Earlier in the week a joint Afghan/American SF team raided a madrasa in Sarracha village which is next to the massive airfield/military base in Jalalabad. They hit the madrasa at night and arrested five men described as mullahs or madrasa students (depends on who you ask). The next morning a large crowd closed the main highway between Jalalabad and the border and threatened to start burning cars and throwing stones at the police and in general getting out of hand. The police responded in great numbers but when they arrived a local candidate for Parliament was on hand calming the crowd down and swearing ”he will not rest” (where did he get that line) until he has talked with the Governor and ISAF and the police to get the people detained released. As it was approaching 100 degrees and this is Ramadan the crowd said OK and dispersed. By the time I got there the police were gone and only a few men remained who were clearing the road of rocks. My terp JD and I asked what had happened and were told the American SF had raided the Madras and taken five students and then they tore up the Koran. I burst out laughing at that one as did JD the Terp saying that and said flat was BS and JD asked the guy how he could say something that stupid. The man started laughing too – everyone in this country knows that neither US or Afghan troops are going to touch let alone destroy a Koran.
Here’s the thing – why is an Afghan political candidate managing the perceptions of a raid we conducted on a village less than a mile from one of our regional bases? Pashtunwali works both ways and if these people are harboring villains then who is accountable for that? I’m not advocating rounding people up and sweating them I’m saying the elders should be called into the mosque for a shura with the district governor and both Afghan and ISAF military representation and forced to explain why they can’t keep their house in order. If that seems a bit confrontational then both sides can explain their positions and everyone can talk for hours to reach some sort of understanding. Allowing insurgents into a village puts the village at risk because ISAF and the Afghan Army seek insurgents out and hit them aggressively. That is why they exist and nobody can claim that seeking out those who are against a stable and peaceful Afghanistan is an illegitimate task. The potential for collateral damage is significant and the responsibility for that damage has to rest on those who allow targets into their midsts. We are using all carrots or all sticks depending on geographic location. In Kunar Province ISAF fights daily while delivering aid programs while in Nangarhar Province we swoop down in the middle of the night and take away suspected insurgents and leave allowing various actors with their own agendas to fill the vacuum we create with whatever message benefits them. Kunar gets the carrots while Nangarhar gets the stick and I’m not sure why that is. Until ISAF wises up and starts calibrating their operations to gain the maximum effect from every offensive action we are going to continue to get played by Afghan elites.
In order to gain any positive result from a raid requires ISAF to be there in the morning which is one reason why I think the night time hard hits are so unproductive. Getting your side of the story out while leaving a small detachment of guys to probe into what is going on is critical because it sends a message. That message is we’re not stupid. In the last 72 hours we have had 16 rockets and 6 IED attacks. One of these IED attacks killed the sub governor of La Pur district at the gates of the Governor’s compound. Was it Taliban who did this? Who knows? The local people know that the Sub Governor had been spending time in Kabul trying to get his son released from jail. His son has been incarcerated for two months since he copped to killing one of his cousins over a family dispute which he may or may not have done himself. Nothing here is linear or simple as it is common for the sons of powerful men to take a fall knowing their fathers will get them out soon.
The tanker wars continue as you can see above but to what end? It could be the “broken windows” theory of terrorism where the bad guys seek to keep constant pressure on the civilians with nuisance attacks in highly trafficked areas creating the perception of tactical freedom of action or it could be fuel company wars. Who knows? I don’t and I am pretty sure ISAF doesn’t either.
The summer is coming to a close, the surge is on, the bases around Afghanistan are packed with military and contractor personnel yet for the average Afghan things continue to go right down the toilet. Make no mistake we are still in a shooting war and in a shooting war a commander has three forms of currency he must spend; money, blood and time. The various insurgent groups are spending blood – we are spending tons of money and time. The problem is that the Taliban has a vast surplus of fighters while we are running out of both money and time. ISAF is hamstrung for two reasons; the first is risk aversion and lack of initiative. The bloated staffs which expand exponentially are completely focused on the unimportant. If powerpoint briefs could bring the Taliban to bay (and they could if we could inflict a few on them daily – they are worse than water torture) then we would be already be home. Anyone who has been anywhere near the ISAF HQ in Kabul speaks of a dysfunctional culture so bizarre that Hollywood could never do it justice. The giant staffs which inflict so much pain and misery on those below them are a self inflicted wound and that is on the US military. The second factor the military can do little about and that is the Karzai government. Check this out:
After the corruption scandals, Karzai criticized U.S. war strategy and ordered private security companies out of Afghanistan within four months. He also signed off on the forced retirement of his official in charge of the Anti-Corruption unit.
We put pressure on the government about the corruption – they put pressure on the international community operating outside the wire and then we react to them. That is not a recipe for success. We are hamstrung with the Afghan government because we lack leadership, a central focus and direction. This news about the CIA paying members of the Karzai administration who are currently under investigation is a great example. I have no problems with doing what it takes to accomplish the mission but we have been at this for a decade and it seems to me if the information we paid for was worth a damn the ISAF J2 would not publicly complain about the complete lack of relevant intelligence and the current security stats wouldn’t look like this:
I correspond almost daily with American troops in Afghanistan, They are a frustrated crew. I hear the same thing over and over – “take the handcuffs off and let us off the FOB; we know what to do.” I’m not the only one getting this message and hope those on high are thinking about what they’re hearing from the pointed end of the spear because we are running out of time and we are running out of money.