Stuck in Kabul
We are finishing up our projects and preparing to call it a war. This year we have had our biggest success to date; operating in over 20 Provinces, all of them kinetic and getting every project we started finished on schedule and on budget. I now routinely move in Ghost Team mode throughout the Southwest using a few tricks of the trade that I’ll write about in the future. The only way we do what we do is because our Afghan staff is awesome and the key positions in my region are held by men I’ve known for years. We have been successful where every other implementer have failed because we (the expat project managers) visit every project, track all expenditures, and use technology to GPS/time/date the photographs sent in daily by our monitoring crew. We have been doing infrastructure projects for so long that we no longer have to haggle over cement or gravel or steel prices in the local bazaars.
Being successful in the places we worked has probably raising expectations of the average local citizen far above what is reasonable. Operating with low overhead, no security company to impede our operations while we directly implement projects in areas thought to be too unstable means very little in the big scheme of things. The entire edifice on which the ISAF Afghanistan counterinsurgency campaign is based is built on a foundation of lies. The central government in Kabul in not functional now and will not be anytime soon. The thought that Kabul based or appointed government line ministries have the ability to project authority down to the district level in a Province like Helmand is not a proposition that any knowledgeable person would believe credible.
The ability of modern western armies to train and mentor Afghan security forces is almost zero. The western militaries insist that their troops have a certain amount of protection and access to unlimited quantities of high quality western food flown into the country at God only knows what cost. In order to achieve this base line goal the western military has based itself on FOB’s that are physically separated from the forces they are mentoring. That adds to the psychological separation that all westerners have to deal with when they choose to reside in countries like Afghanistan. It also subtracts from their ability to win friends or influence the men they have been sent to train.
The only exception to this deployment pattern have been the Marines in Helmand where the Regimental Combat Teams are deployed in small units up and down the green zone and where they live with their Afghan counterparts. The RCT’s also provide aircraft for leave rotations, provide all the logistical support and essentially run the ANA units attached to them. There are probably other places where ISAF units are doing this too but I haven’t seen it and I do get around.
The inability of the Government in Kabul to protect their city was on display during the attack in Kabul on the 13th of the month. When the attack from Abul Haq Square started at I was skyping with The Bot who was in his office and that’s close to the building from which the Taliban were launching their main attack. He reported firefights breaking out in a 2-kilometer circle around him. I told him it sounded like the Tet offensive and he might want to think about heading down to the bunker but he wouldn’t budge and it turned out to be nothing of the sort anyway. At Abul Haq Square six guys had rolled up to a building under construction in a Toyota van, exited the van with nothing on them but a pistol and shot the security guard stationed in front of their target building. The building had been under construction in 2007 and has been dormant since then after construction was ordered to stop because (reportedly this kind of info is hard to confirm) from the upper floors there was direct line of sight into the Presidential compound. There are probably 10 buildings now in Kabul tall enough and close enough for line of sight direct fire into the Presidential compound. TIA
So the villains run upstairs where they have a stash consisting of 5 AK 47′s, a 82mm (Type 65) Recoilless Rifle, two RPG launchers (with a bunch of rounds for all) and an unknown number of Russian F1 fragmentation grenades. From their pre-staged sniper nest they had direct line of sight to the US embassy and ISAF HQ compounds which were almost exactly 1000 meters away. As soon as they are set up inside the building they started cutting loose with the Recoilless Rifle. The AK’s and hand grenades were used on the ANP troops who came in the building after them. This is important to remember; the max effective range of a type 65 Recoilless Rifle is around 1750 meters, for an AK 47 about 400, which is probably about the best you can do with the American M4′s given their shorter barrels. Here’s the timeline:
1320 – 6 fighters (Haqqani type) start the attack
1415 – The critical response unit arrives with their ISAF mentors.
1500 Two 82mm shells hit USAID compound.
1515 – The ANP shoot a suspected suicide bomber outside the ANCOP HQ but he detonates against an ANCOP HMMVW wounding two of the cops.
1535 A suicide bomber detonates at the rear entrance of the Shamshod Regional Police HQ killing one ANP officer and wounding three civilians who were in the immediate vicinity.
1540 ANP officers shoot a suspected suicide bomber and he fails to detonate because he was carrying a large charge in a sports bag and that allowed the security forces to examine the bomb. It contained 7 kg of military grade explosives and was loaded with nails to provide fragmentation. The bag also contained one F1 hand grenade and an AK rifle.
1610 The villains launch two more 82mm rounds at the embassy but they overshoot and land around the main mosque in Wazir Akbar Khan.
1930 Some sort of SF team from ISAF makes an assault and the villains respond with a shower of hand grenades rolled down the stairs. The SF door kickers kill two of the six bad guys on the fifth floor and then slow down taking the entire rest of the night to kill the remaining four fighters. The assaulters (whoever they were) did not take any casualties during the clearance phase of the operation.
0700 Incident is declared over.
What was all the firing The Bot was hearing coming from? I originally thought it was undisciplined fire from Afghan Security Forces who were shooting at ghosts, as there was only one spot in the city with active shooters. Turns out I was wrong. Most of the shooting The Bot was hearing came from the ISAF Headquarters where the Macedonian guard force joined by Americans from the HQ staff started shooting at a building 1000 meters away with AK 47′s (Macedonians) and M4 rifles (Americans). What they thought they were doing and where all those rounds impacted is a mystery to me. I can guarantee that none of them came close to hitting the 6 gunmen who were outside the effective range of ISAF battle rifles. Apparently the shooting from the ISAF HQ lasted over two hours and only stopped when they ran out of ammo (there is no ammo storage/issue point at the ISAF HQ base.) There is already a YouTube video of this posted on line but I can’t access it on the system I’m on and have not seen it myself.
Despite the wild fire from the ISAF troops overall this incident was handled pretty well. Two of the three suicide bombers were shot before they could strike and the focal point of the incident was isolated and contained rapidly. Most importantly the door kickers took their time rooting out the villains who, as is typical for Taliban fighters, did not fight with any skill or determination despite achieving complete surprise and being prepared to fight to the death.
The subsequent assassination of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani is something on which I’ll withhold comment. I knew Rabbani’s deceased son-in law very well and have no desire to share my opinions on this matter except for two: That was one well planned and executed operation that reveals a skill set we in the west no longer have. And seeing Ambassador Crocker accuse the Pakistani’s of collusion in the attack was a refreshingly honest public statement from a senior diplomat.
The longer I stay in Afghanistan the more I learn that I really don’t know or understand much about this tragic land. But I understand this: we have based our campaign on a lie and that lie is that we have a viable, legitimate, capable host nation government.
Blind support of GIRoA is not a mission, but an abdication of the imperative of paying attention to reality when you define a mission. The American military has a counterinsurgency doctrine, which is based on supporting the local government, and they are not going to tailor their operations to fit reality despite the fact we have no legitimate host nation partner. The six fighters who launched the main attack obviously had staged thousands of pounds worth of weapons and ordnance inside Kabul’s Ring of Steel and that could only be done with the active assistance of Afghan Security Forces. Corruption in this country is that bad.
Richard Fernandez of The Belmount Club posted today about the consequences of building edifices on the foundation of a lie. This quote from the post lays it out beautifully:
But just as the appeasers have now about abolished the last remaining justification for national self defense and as the Left continued to operate on the Western side of the Berlin Wall in the guise of their transnational schemes, nothing in recent history indicates that being correct about an issue settles anything. Being right has nothing to do with politics. It’s what you can sell that counts. The price of keeping those product lines going was on full display on the world markets today. Stocks plunged all over the world, the 10-Year Treasury yields hit their lowest level since 1940s..
Not just because policymakers have gotten it wrong about the root cause of terrorism, or the Euro; but also about Too Big To Fail, population policy, multiculturalism, a crippling environmentalism and Global Warming, to name a few. The financial, national security and educational systems of the world are in utter collapse because they are stuffed with lies, which even when they are shown to be obviously false suck up trillions of dollars in their pursuit. And nothing will turn the global elites from continuing their ruinous path until they have spent the last nickle and dime they can lay their hands on.
There is little that will be done to change the tragic trajectory of Afghanistan. We blew it years ago by ignoring the obvious and assuming that somehow we could midwife the birth of Afghanistan into the family of modernity. Thus we have a gigantic military presence and that military has assumed all sorts of roles and missions they cannot accomplish by VTC meeting, endless closed loop reporting and chin wagging about good governance or women’s rights among themselves inside the safety of a FOB. Afghanistan is not going to end well and we may not know (in my lifetime) if the investment of blood and treasure was worth it. But it is not Afghanistan that worries me it is the consequences of basing everything we do on lies.
The resolute reluctance by the American government to deal with reality in Afghanistan is not the exception to a rule; it is the rule. I remember vividly the first time I experienced it in the military. Former Commandant of the Marine Crops General Krulak was the Commanding General in Quantico when I was an instructor at The Basic School. There was a new class on deck and the General had come to welcome them on day one of their 6-month course. The first thing he asked was who here thinks that a female is incapable of doing anything and everything a man can do? I almost had a heart attack when I saw some of my new Lt’s preparing to state the obvious there is no way the female gender of the species can physically compete with the male gender in any endeavor that requires strength, stamina, or endurance. Fortunately the good General had paused for only a second before concluding with because if you do I’ll dismiss you from our Corps this very afternoon (that may not be an exact quote but it is pretty close).
So on day one of their official Marine Corps careers this group of 300 odd men were exposed to the corruption of the lie. And for the rest of their careers (those who stayed in are now Lieutenant Colonels) they have had to deal with an organizational defect built on what they know to be a lie. And this is just one minor example out of dozens. This is how you end up with senior officers who will look you straight in the eye and tell you they are here to support GIRoA and they have shown so much promise and improvement that there is no reason to be here after 2014.
What can you say when confronted with such stupidity? I don’t know – I know the Helmand Province is unnaturally free of IED’s and SAF attacks this past week. If that trend keeps up it is safe to deduce that somebody on the Taliban side now understands the lie and have switched tactics in response. The Taliban once massed hundreds of fighters to go after small outposts in the mountains or the British in Helmand Province. They can’t do that now without becoming a HIMAR magnet so going to ground, keeping minor pressure on ISAF with IED’s and shoot and scoot attacks while simultaneously running what appears to be a most competent assassination campaign targeting Afghan officials is a good call. The hit on Rabbani was a most impressive operation and nobody here thinks he’s the last senior government official on the Taliban JPEL.
But again, who cares? I don’t; I’ve done my bit and am proud of it too despite discovering that the lie has penetrated every nook and cranny of the US Government. My father once served as a General Officer with a NATO headquarters in Norway. He thought NATO a good idea and enjoyed the tour, but we now know NATO is worthless. It is completely incapable of conducting any meaningful military operation. Afghanistan proved how gutless, expensive, and incompetent NATO really is but that truth will not see the light of day because it might make our allies feel bad or hurt their self-esteem. Same-same with the flood of USG agency folks who came here as part of the civilian surge; they proved that they are incapable of deploying to or working in primitive environments without literally a million dollars a day in life support and security services and that is per person.
I’ll end this post with a quote from Victor Davis Hanson’s book Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise to Western Power:
Western civilization has given mankind the only economic system that works, a rationalist tradition that alone allows us material and technological progress, the sole political structure that ensures the freedom of the individual, a system of ethics and a religion that brings out the best in humankindâ€”and the most lethal practice of arms conceivable.
Western civilization is broke because our elites have robbed future generations to pay for their utopian schemes. In the process they have ruined many a proud military by insisting on levels of security and life support, which are unnecessary, counter productive to the mission, and ruinous to the fighting spirit. Who cares? You are all going to care when the bill for this incompetence is due. Only the dead have seen the last of war.