visitors since 4 oct 2008

On The Border

The military campaign in Afghanistan is going well apparently.  I read that last Monday here in the Washington Post so it must be true.  But two days ago it took a turn for the worst.  I know that to be a fact too because I read it here in the Washington Post.  The truth is that it is not terribly important how well the military is doing right now.  The military is fighting to do the “Clear” portion of the “Clear, Hold and Build” component which is the backbone of our current counterinsurgency strategy.  The people responsible for part of the holding and all of the building are about to head out of the country.

President Karzai is determined to implement the ban on private security companies and apparently it has just dawned on the various embassy’s who are funding most of the projects that this time President Karzai is serious.  There are now frantic consultations happening in Kabul with the Americans in the lead and they are asking for mountains of information, due in 48 hours, on the extent that new security platform will degrade technical results.  When asked what exactly the new security platform is there is no answer because nobody at the embassy has any idea. When asked the money question ” who will pay for security provided by the ANP”?  There is no answer because nobody at the embassy has any idea.  What the American embassy made perfectly clear is  “The USG fully supports this decree.   Any government should be able to regulate who has guns and what they do with them”.  Sounds like a recipe for tyranny to me.  Any government strong enough to take the citizens guns is strong enough to take everything else they have too. The Afghan government is not even close to strong enough to disarm their citizens but they can disarm international security operatives (except the ones at the embassy – they are exempt as are those guarding FOB’s, CIA agents, EUPOL police officer trainers etc…).

Why would the American government support a decree which is going to drive their implementation companies out of the country?  It is not like the American government doesn’t use armed security contractors back in the states.  Contractors guard prisons, fly convicts around the country, guard court houses and important officials.  Why the hostility to security contractors in Afghanistan?  Who knows?  This is Afghanistan.  But I’ll tell you this; as we work through how to move in districts with heavy kinetic activity you’ll be interested to know what the outriders are looking for.  We no longer have to worry about getting stopped at Taliban checkpoints; if they set those up in Marinestan a Hellfire is sure to follow.  What will cause us to abort a mission is an ANP (Afghan Police) checkpoint.  Now that the Talibs can’t set up on the road they stay off in the tree lines knowing if a vehicle with foreigners or a wealthy Afghan pass through an ANP checkpoint they’ll get a phone call.  We don’t have the same problems with the ANA (Afghan Army) but it’s the ANP who is going to be in charge of protecting convoys and outside the wire internationals.

One of the supervisors on a cash for work project in Nimroz Province

One of the supervisors on a cash for work project in Nimroz Province

I’ve been spending time in Nimroz Province in the border town of Zaranj.  We do a lot of work in Zaranj which is on the border with Iran and has a large population of Baluch tribesmen.  It is a Dari speaking town in the predominately Pashtun south with 24 hour electricity from Iran and a surprisingly relaxed attitude towards the female half of the population.  You do not see many women in Burkas and it is common to see them driving vehicles.  There are no social taboos associated with holding a job outside the home so we are doing several large vocational training programs for women in the city.

One of the Zaranj students in our USAID sponsored rug weaving class.  Not bad for the first rug but man that is one labor intensive process.

One of the Zaranj students in a rug weaving class. Not bad for the first rug but man that is one labor intensive process.

Zaranj is a desert border town of around 100,000 people just across the border from Milak Iran.  The Indian Government’s Border Roads Organization just completed a modern hard top road from Zaranj to the ring road and the city of Delaram.  That means there is now a modern hard ball road direct from the deep water port of Chabahar, Iran to the ring road of Afghanistan and beyond.   That route could prove significant to somebody at some point in the future.   For now it is hard to capitalize on having a modern route to a large seaport given that the run from Nimroz to Kabul is 500 kilometer ambush alley for truckers.

Iranian border fort just across from one of our irrigation projects.  They are manned posts every 300 meters along this portion of the frontier

Iranian border fort just across from the main irrigation canal. They are manned posts every 300 meters along this portion of the frontier

Zaranj is now starting to feel the love after years of getting by on their own.  Last year Mullah John and The Boss flew in here (Zaranj is way out in the middle of nowhere) with little idea of what was going on and discovered a community that was ripe for development projects.

There are strict targets we have to hit regarding the percentage of labor to materials in these projects but by going big on the manual excavation portion of canal projects we can build proper intakes and gates.

Cash for work project in Zaranj

This year as the military and civilian surge continues to pour into Afghanistan the regional representatives from various USG agencies as well as the Marines are staging a series of meetings to see where they can help.

Coming in for a morning meeting in Zaranj

Coming in for a morning meeting in Zaranj

The security element fans out - the Marine in the center is carrying an M-240 machinegun as well as his M16A2.  Being a machinegunner, an inherently cool job, sucks sometimes

The security element fans out - the Marine in the center is carrying an M-240 machinegun as well as his M16A2. Being a machinegunner, an inherently cool job, sucks sometimes. He wasn't going far but if you're humping that pig for miles....

The Governor of Nimroz Province

The Governor of Nimroz Province Abdul Karim Barahawi

The meeting with the governor and his staff was interesting.  In fact a case study in complexities of trying to provide meaningful development in Afghanistan.  ISAF put out a press release about the meeting which can be found here.  The governor said that he need some help with his main canal and also needs some sort of medical treatment facility.  He could also use a hand building a proper runway for the airport so commercial flights can resume.  For now only our planes and the Marine Osprey’s land at the airport due to the ruts in the runway and pack of dogs which always seem to run across the runway when fixed wing planes are on final.

The governor was probably in better spirits six weeks ago when they had their first meeting like this and talked about what kind of help he needed.  He opened the meeting saying he was happy to see everyone again and that he hopes they are not gong to put a base near Zaranj because they don’t need any Taliban lurking about.  He added that he hoped for maybe some action on the last discussion because although talking with friends is always good it is also good to see action resulting these talks.

I don’t think ISAF has an intention of putting a base way out in Zaranj as there is no reason for them to be there but this getting action instead of talk stuff.  That’s going to be a little problematic.  This is where good intentions drive expectations above what can met with the current contracting processes.

Governer     with the Chief of Staff for the II MEF (Fwd) Col. Kevin Frederick, USMC

Governor Barahawi with the Chief of Staff for the II MEF (Fwd) Col. Kevin Frederick, USMC

As noted in my last post nothing happens fast with the Regional Contracting Command.  The Marines and their USG counterparts are trying to use money as a weapon.  But if you are going to use money as a weapon you need to have money.  They will get the funds to do the canal work and probably pave the airport runway too but that is months and months and months away.  Plus the “Afghan First” policy which makes sense on a powerpoint slide normally produces results like this which I found today after surfing the net for .025 seconds.

More distressing is the lack of medical facilities in a such a large urban center.  Currently people who can afford it seek treatment in Iran.  The others have to make do with local doctors working out of offices with very little equipment.  This shortfall  clearly bothered the American delegation and they explained that it will be their first priority.  But as the mission of our military and USG agencies remains first and foremost to support GIRoA (Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) they stressed that whatever solution there is to this problem must be fixed in direct consultation with the Ministry of Health in Kabul.  Hate to be blunt about this but that is essentially the same as saying nothing is going to happen except years of frustrating meetings and in the end you ‘ll have to figure this out on your own.

From my perspective we’re fighting an insurgency to support a government who is actively working against our interest which is not in their best interest.  Last time I checked China, which is next door, has around 24 million more men of military age than woman.  How have humans historically dealt with massive imbalances between the male and female population?  Russia with all its mineral wealth (but very few people) in the eastern portion of their country should be basing their foreign policy on friendship with the United States.  They are crazy to antagonize us because we’re no threat to them, we’re a gigantic market ready to be exploited (especially if you lend us some cash) .  What the hell are they going to do if the Chinese decided to waltz on into Siberia to lend a hand developing all the resources buried there?  But governments don’t act rationally  and they don’t always care what’s in their best interests.

Life continues on the border, hot, windy, dusty but secure.  The Marines will fund the complete rehabilitation of the main water canal which will life a little easier for the people of Zaranj but it is going to take a lot of time given the current contracting procedures.  At some point we have to realize that speed and effectiveness can only achieved if we start doing things a different way.  We are acting as if we have all the time and money in the world and we don’t.

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    11 comments to On The Border

    • What is the Marine on the far left carrying on his shoulder?

      It looks more like an M-72 LAW then it does an AT-4, but with this resolution it also looks more like a fold-up stretcher or roll of tent spikes then it does a LAW or AT-4.

      Second from right, in black. He’s not USMC, is he?

      VMM-365 the Blue Knights, MAG 26, 2nd MAW. Seriously baddazz taxi’s.

      We really need to start thinking about hiding the tailcodes, on everything, from unfriendly ground observers.


    • dennis

      Well! Tim I would say THE BOSS will have to pay the rent money for the ANP.And hope that they don’t turn there guns on you.

    • Why would the American government support a decree which is going to drive their implementation companies out of the country?

      Gives the Commander-in-Chief the excuse he needs to declare Peace With Honor and bug out.

      Why the hostility to security contractors in Afghanistan?

      They’re eevil capitalist running dog mercenary enablers of colonialist aggression, don’t ya know.

      Putting Karzai in was a mistake. Leaving him in is a worse mistake. Karzai will sell Nimroz to Achmedinejad as soon as we leave.

    • elaera

      That’s a scathing commentary, for sure … but unfortunately, the longer I am here and the more I observe, I realize how right you are. I’ve been following your dispatches; keep them coming.

    • RJ

      Clear, Hold and Build component which is the backbone of our current counterinsurgency strategy…”

      I might be too stupid to understand such “brilliance” from our dearly beloved Princeton Patreaus, Obama-Mao’s man in Afghanistan…if one forgets Hoolbrooke.

      However, what with “political correctness” the right way to see and understand all things political in America, I smile at this fine phrase placed before all those who take orders from others and we citizens left behind in the states.

      Who ever said the former Soviets were the best at faking out?

      What is “nation building” but a game where one must…clear, hold and build. Hot damn, I think I got this all figured out!

      Gays should marry, if for no other reason that our military has been married to the peace corps…only we didn’t know about this reality, now did we?

      How queer will our defeat really be? Or, how gay will Obama-Mao’s speech be when he delivers his “bug out with honor” theme?

    • ken

      “Why would the American government support a decree which is going to drive their implementation companies out of the country?”

      oh baba Tim.. what a great question.. even us outside the wire types are ready to call it a day… if we cant protect ourselves, there is no reason to be here.. the gig is up…

      cool.. back to the civilized world then….

      fuck shit piss !!/ we tried…

    • Hey Render, that is a LAW that the Marine is carrying. The LAW is actually making a comeback in these wars, and there is even a HEAT round that they are shooting out of the thing. (honestly, the LAW never went away and it is kind of like the A-10 of rocket launchers)

      What is interesting is that when I was a Marine 0351, we carried the SMAW, AT 4, and the LAW. This was over twenty years ago, and the LAW continues to stick around, and for the same reasons that we liked them. They are light, compact, pack a punch, and disposable. The AT-4 is a brick. The SMAW is useful, but sucks to carry around the launcher and it always seemed like something was falling apart on our SMAWs back in the day.

      I think it would be cool if Marines started carrying the Airtronics RPG. That thing is awesome, lightweight, and there are tons of excellent RPG rounds to fire out of the thing. They could also mount whatever optics or devices they want on the rail of this weapon. The stock is adjustable too.

      Plus the gunner can pick up the enemy’s RPG rounds off dead guys, or grab rounds from the ANA/ANP if they needed ammo. I think BHI also makes some cool packs to carry everything as well.

    • RJ

      I had my son look at these pictures, wherein he commented “Hey Dad, I now know where those “shovel ready” jobs Obama spoke of went!”

      Here are people who wear suits, middle class attire, sitting round a table where bottled water is present. Meanwhile, outside, in the boonies, their fellow citizens wander about dressed in garb from centuries past and get on their knees many times daily to pray and seek guidance, all the while poppies grow for others to waste their lives in distant lands, maybe shooting up on a rug made in this country.

      Ah…the Silk road comes to mind. The Khyber pass too. I think watching the new reality program “Swamp People” gets me to the same conclusions.

      Suckers are born every day. Sometimes it is hard to spot the true suckers. Look at the guys in military uniforms: Could it be these are the real suckers?

      I sure don’t get a good feeling thinking those thoughts, not one bit, especially since my VA doc wants me to come in to see him and I know there will be these younger guys all banged up from these wars we’ve been engaged.

      My fellow brothers, and sisters now, don’t deserve to place their lives in harm’s way for Peace Corps work, no matter how it is dressed up!

      Damn right I’m pissed, this isn’t fair at all.

    • RJ

      Oh yea, while I’m on this rant, realize the citizens of Connecticut just elected a liar who claimed active Viet Nam service as their new US Senator. You don’t think our electorate loves the Peace Corps more than our military?

    • RJ

      More “red meat” next day: Ok, let’s see, Obama has put fear into the Indians for his forthcoming trip! As it is being reported, all coconuts on his walking routes are to be inspected and those posing a hazard of dropping on his Imperial head are to be removed. Further, it is being reported that around 34 US warships will be detailed for his needs and protection.

      Our Imperial President goes to the Taj Mahal…in imperial style, carrying with him his family, staff and select friends. Louis the XVI had nothing on this guy!

      Meanwhile, out in the boonies of Afghanistan (and don’t forget Iraq), the sons, daughters, fathers and mothers of American citizens attempt to bring peace and stability to a country from which death and destruction visited the United States 9 years ago.

      While on this grand vacation Obama may turn toward those in uniform and offer up some sweet “fairy dust” words…just for them!

      Force protection: Can or should it reach all the way back home? Should such commitments be daily reinforced by our Commander In Chief?

      How do the troops “at the tip of the spear” feel when questioned if they believe that the federal government and the executive branch “have their backs?”

      Yea, we’re gonna win this war, with a “victory” over terrorism as our government begins to “inflate” our economy so that all will learn how tough the Chinese can be!

      Suckers we are, have been and just might continue! I stand with all those who wear the American military uniform…

      Hopefully, we’ll get some real support via our elected politicians, not just pretty pumped up words.

    • Tom

      Nice work, great article. Thanks for making the time to write. Love the photo of the supervisor, priceless. Tim,
      Just a quick question. From your perspective on the Iran/Afghan border.

      Question is: Sitting locally on the Afghan west border region, from list below who do you find to be the greatest threat to US citizens and humankind in general (don’t forget to include local Afghans) at this time?

      1. The nuke-amped Shiite Iranians.
      2. The drug trafficking guerrillas.
      3. The ignorant ass-backward violent Taliban
      4. The corrupt Afghan gov police and/or military.
      5. Influence/funding from Saudi and Pakistan ISI Sunni extremist.
      6. Nato or CENTCOM (and CIA).

      Which group from above list is doing the most harm in your opinion? Your perspective is unique. Call a number, gut feel.