During our last trip to Zaranj we had one more task to complete before we went home. The after action report on the ambush of Haji Nematullah, reported they seized three large buckets of Home Made Explosives (HME) and three Explosively Formed Penetrator (EFP) mines. EFP’s were a big problem in Iraq and their source of origin was Iran. Iran being about 1/2 mile away from our safe house in Zaranj we took this report seriously and wanted to see them for ourselves. We also submit reports to the Marines at Camp Leatherneck when we get to verify stuff like this. We have no idea if they already know what we are reporting, that would be classified and none of us have current security clearance, but it seems like the right thing to do. The Colonels who got those reports always thanked us so we always sent more when we could.
On our last day in Zaranj we headed over the Provincial ANP headquarters to talk with the heads of the ANP and NDS in the Province and asked to see the explosives recovered from the October 5th ambush.
I know that the Taliban would go through each frame of every al Jezzeria news cast and black out all female correspondents but back in the Taliban days only senior Taliban officials had TV’s. Some things never change, and the people in charge of any corrupt political system from Nancy Pelosi to the Taliban always think they are entitled to more for themselves at the expense of those they rule over. I didn’t think the Iranians ever did the “blur out the infidels breasts” thing as their well-educated population would consider it a joke. Clearly I was wrong about that.
After talking with the Chief of Police we went out to inspect the take from last weeks ambush in their explosives locker.
What we had come to see is what was described as a “milled metal device with explosives inside” and that turned out to be true except they were not EFP’s. They were the containers artillery fuses are packaged in; and they had four 155 mm arty round fuses and no EFP’s in the captured ordnance.
That was good news – EFP’s are a devastatingly effective weapon, able to easily penetrate military grade armor. I have not heard of them being in Afghanistan but I checked with The Bot who had heard of one being found around Ghazni last year. A flood of them entering Afghanistan would be alarming to put it mildly.
As we walked back towards our vehicles Mike Yon asked our escort – one of the local NDS men who spoke English – what else they needed and he replied “somebody to fix our trucks”.
We continued on to find the Chief of Police having a Press Conference about a recent drug bust.
I appeared on the Aloyna Show last week and talked to the current conventional wisdom about the need to keep some sort of military presence in Afghanistan for the next 10 years. A link to that show is here and my segment starts around the 34 minute mark. This is a topic on which I am conflicted, and as usual as soon as I cleared the skype screen I thought of 15,000 better ways of saying what I said but I’m sticking to my central point. I don’t think we belong in Afghanistan and as soon as I heard what President Karzai said at the Loya Jirga last week I would (if I were king for the day) have started pulling out.
But we can’t pull out because our military has no agility – shit, they don’t even have a real mission. Saying we are in Afghanistan to ensure al Qaeda doesn’t attack us again is like saying we all should start peeing outside to stop global warming. One has nothing to do with the other.
Our military is a big cumbersome leviathan designed to do one thing and one thing only; crush other nation state militaries. Our military is lethal and good at killing bad guys. But killing bad guys is the easy part of war. It is everything else you have to do simultaneously that’s the hard part. We once knew how to do the “other things besides killing people” part of expeditionary warfare but that was long ago when the units dispatched half way around the world took a month or two to get there and remained in country for the duration. Our military can’t do that anymore – contractors can and in doing so fill in for fighting infantry but then you are outsourcing the fighting to mercenaries and have little reason to maintain such a large standing force structure.
I’m no Victor Davis Hanson (I can only dream of being able to write so clearly) but if I remember my Roman History correctly Rome started to fall when they became unwilling to bear the burden of military service and outsourced fighting to Barbarian tribes. We have not reached that point. I don’t know about the other services, but I know the Marine Corps is currently so flush with tier one (99.9% of the current pool) enlistment applicants that the wait for boot camp is 7 months minimum. The wait for candidates entering the officer training pipeline is over a year. We have men and women willing to get into the fight (and I understand the economy is a contributing factor) but we do not have the national leadership required to direct the fight.
When you are unable to do what is important, the unimportant becomes important which is why we spend millions to fly 5 pound bags of crushed ice from Saudi Arabia to our FOB’s. I saw that in Nangarhar – in Helmand there is an ice plant on Camp Bastion run by the British, but the Marines I rode around with did not have coolers full of ice, which was mandatory with the American army units in Nangarhar. The Vietnam War may not be the best example of doing things right, but my father spent 13 months fighting in Leatherneck Square and the Arizona Territory of Northern I Corps (on the DMZ between South and North Vietnam). In all that time he saw ice once – it was flown in off a Navy ship – but by the time they had divided it evenly among the rifle companies it had mostly melted. Today crushed ice for coolers full of expensive sports drinks and bottled water is considered essential for troop morale.
There are Marines and soldiers in Afghanistan now who man small patrol bases and never see hot chow; let alone ice. I blogged about them in the past. But the guys (and now gals) who are out at pointy end of spear are at most 4% of our deployed military. Everyone else gets ice on demand and has access to unlimited amounts of high quality chow, pecan pie and ice cream.
The press rarely tells the story of the small minority of deployed troops who live, fight and die in conditions their forefathers would recognize and identify with unless it involves some sort of tragedy. I read one of the best pieces in this genre this morning in the Wall Street Journal. The story was well told and as supportive of the fighting men as such a piece can be. The journalist who wrote it played the story straight and did a fantastic job with such a tragic topic.
Yet by far, the most common story line concerning the troops deployed to Afghanistan are like this piece, which claims half of the vets returning from Afghanistan need medical treatment for the lingering effects of blasts and psychological trauma. At the very most 15% of those deployed to Afghanistan ever leave the FOB so how can half of them be so damaged?
Do I sound conflicted to you? I know I do, and it will take some distance to get things in perspective. And distance is what I have; I’m back in the US staying with friends while undergoing treatment for the lingering effects of a blast injury. Ironic, I know, given what I just wrote above. Nothing serious mind you, just rotator cuff and lower back issues which, inshallah, will not require surgical intervention. Other than that I am clean shaven, wearing normal American clothes, do not hear the call to prayer being blasted from speakers all over town five times a day, and for the first time in seven years when I mention T&A I’m not talking about toes and ankles. It is good to be home.