visitors since 4 oct 2008

Extended Shelf Life – April Fools Edition

In my last post I claimed to have reached the end of my useful shelf life as a blogger which, it turns out, is not true.  I’m back in Afghanistan and what better day to turn the FRI blog back on than April Fools? Groundhog day would have been more appropriate but I missed it.  I’ve been back over a month, already had my bout of “welcome back to Afghanistan” dysentery which caused me to drop around 20 lbs so I now look marvelous, don’t feel that way mind you but you get that over here .

Kabul is currently a tense place as it has been many times in the past (the 2006 riots that erupted after American soldiers caused a multi-fatality motor vehicle accident and then started shooting people who were coming to the rescue of the original victims springs instantly to mind) but this time things are different.  The endgame is near, internationals are no longer welcomed in most parts of the country and barely tolerated in the rest.  Armored SUV’s, still the only way most internationals will travel in Kabul, are routinely stopped and the legally licensed weapons of the international security consultants confiscated.  On a technical note every weapon owned and licensed to PSC firms are now illegal because the Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF)  was supposed to take over the security duties from international PSC’s last month and that’s not remotely close to happening.

The local people here are terrified about what will happen when ISAF and the international community pull out while at the same time absolutely disgusted with ISAF, the UN, the big reconstruction firms and the Afghan politicians who are looting the country.  Who can blame them?  I’m disgusted with the American politicians who are looting my country too.  Over here the mob is enflamed by Koran burnings and rouge shootings.  In America the mob is inflamed by a media manufactured “racially motivated” shootings.  The New York Times prints articles about corrupt officials in Kabul and ponder aloud why they remain at liberty.  I’d like to know why Jon Corzine is still at liberty, he stole 1.6 billion dollars from his investors making the millions his Afghan counterparts are pocketing pale in comparison.  But we know why these men are free – politically powerful members of corrupt political machines never face the consequences of their actions.  That seems to be a trend around the world these days, or so I thought until I read this piece of conventional brilliance from our Secretary of Defense informing me I don’t know Jack about trends.  The topic Mr. Panetta was addressing, while demonstrating his mastery at defining common english words, was the non-trend of Green on Blue fratricide.

The problem of Green on Blue fratricide is a big deal, has been  going on a long time, and it’s not confined to Green on Blue as there have been reports of  Green on Green incidents over the years too.   We don’t know how big the trend  is because our military isn’t telling us how many Americans (another report on this un-trend can be fond here) have been gunned down by Afghan security forces.  Why is this happening?  I don’t know because I’ve got no perspective and very little inside information.  If you go back to this post and watch the 60 minute segment about Special Forces trainers or go back to this post and watch the you tube video of the mayhem caused by  Canadian soldiers as they spend an hour in the bazaar looking for a spark plug (I’m not kidding about that either) you’ll get an understanding on how we are viewed from the Afghan perspective.  I’ll write more on that topic soon as it is not one I’d normally gloss over but at the moment there is more pressing news at hand.   I’m going to cover a few points that I think unique and then share the best April Fools joke I have ever seen.  If it is not a joke  (and it has to be) then I’m spotlighting the event that is going to make getting out of here alive very difficult  for us outside the wire types.

The Koran Burning Apologies

It was not the apologies that were so bad it was how they were made and what was said.  Some regular Joe’s in Bagram made a mistake and placed Korans into an incinerator.  Local Afghans saw this and, with the help of the soldiers, rescued the material.  That’s the story – there is nothing else need be said and here’s why.  If any Afghan leader or any other leader took that story and started to accuse of us if not respecting Islam we have an 11- year track record in Afghanistan of not only respecting cultural mores and traditions but of bending over backward to show that respect.    Any accusation or remark by a senior Afghan official that we disrespect Islam or the Koran should have been met with an explosion of righteous indignation.  And I mean eyes bugged out, frothing at the mouth explosion of spitting right back at them the years and years of evidence that such a charge is out of line.  If there is nobody at the ISAF HQ capable of doing that maybe we should consider forgiving the considerable tax debt of NBC news commentator Al Sharpton and send him over here to deal with the press.

Messaging

ISAF

The Taliban kick our ass every day on twitter - that's Big Army IO for you and that is yet another indicator that our military may be good at a lot of things but winning wars is not one of them

Social media is not a game for big bureaucratic PC centric battle staffs because even illiterate tribesmen can make them look stupid

The Mask of Command; Modern Marine Corps version

The Mask of Command; Modern Marine Corps version

Pasted above are two recent examples of ISAF messaging; the first is self explanatory, the second unexplainable.  Let me take the second first, and, to make it fair, let me stipulate the following.  I’ll ignore the color of the Shalwar Kamise (the senior guy should be in all white) and ignore the man dancing (the senior guy doesn’t dance – he has subordinates that he can make do that) and focus on the venue.  Locked deep inside the most secure base in Southern Afghanistan, behind multiple secure entry points with armed, very serious, Marines standing post, is a prefabbed trailer with pictures of the Prez and the Queen and no doubt President Karzai and along with some local textile hanging on the walls and probably a bunch of Afghan rugs the Marines paid 18 times too much for and its called the Afghan Cultural Center.   The Commanding General wanted to thank the Governor of Helmand for all the great team work that has made his year-long tour so successful and he does this inside a gigantic Marine base where he established some bullshit “cultural center”?  You know what that makes him look like in the local context?  Weak.  If he wanted to put on local clothes and spend the night man dancing to thank the governor for such a great year on the ground he should have had the balls (and G2) to go to the Governors compound.  At least he would have been in a real Afghan room listneing to real Afghan music while eating real Afghan food and most importantly, demonstrating some confidence in all the improved security that was the cause of this silly celebration in the first place.

The Big Picture

Is there a reason for us to stay in Afghanistan?  No there’s not, but I’ve been saying that for years.  Should the military be packing up and going home?  They are – it is going to take until 2014 and probably well beyond just to retrograde all the equipment and personnel from theater and I doubt there is much they can do to speed the process up.  Should we stop doing night raids?  Yes – I’ve been saying that for years too, and I don’t care how many phone conversations of panicked Taliban ISAF intercepts or how many senior guys they kill because it doesn’t matter.  Every month the Taliban spread, every month the number of successful IED strikes goes up, every month more Afghan government officials are assassinated.  If these are indicators that the night raid tactics are working what are the indicators that they’re not?  I think the reason we do night raids is because we have a huge, expensive, special operations apparatus that specializes in night raids.  When you’re a hammer every problem looks like a nail right?

April Fools

But night raids aren’t my problem today…this is and I took a screen shot just in case the story disappears from the web  as fast as the stories about Obama sending one of his kids, with a dozen of her friends, and two dozen Secret Service agents to Mexico (on our dime) did.

If this isn't a joke us internationals in Afghanistan are in big trouble

If this isn't a joke us internationals in Afghanistan are in big trouble

Breaking News: Ban on full-face veils instituted in Afghanistan may be the only hint of good news I’ve seen from Afghanistan this month.  Somebody here has developed a serious sense of humor combined with an understanding of irony and fooled the western media with a story that cannot possibly be true.  If, and I can’t see how, but if, the central government tried to force Afghan women out of the Burka the appropriate Immediate Action drill for all foreigners  (and especially the women folk) would be to head to the Kabul airport and fly out  with the clothes on your back.  Any attempt to go to ground in a safe house or delay your departure a day or two would be suicidal.  That’s how disruptive the topic of women and their place in society is in Afghanistan.

To those westerners paying attention the treatment of Afghan women is so uniformly dismal (by western standards) that it is unbelievable.  You want to see the ANP respond to a police call with true alacrity?   Phone in a report of an unescorted teenage girl talking to a male who is not her relative.  I’ve seen that kind of call play out  in the past and it’s not pretty.  In fact here’s a story from yesterday about just how strongly locals feel on the issue:  Boy and Girl killed in Afghanistan acid attack ‘over friendship’.  But to Afghans the treatment of women in this country, and boys who befriend them outside the conventions of social mores, is the way it is supposed to be because it’s the way it has always been.  That will change when the Afghan people want it to change and there is very little any one person or country can do to speed that process up.

To westerners it may seem like the story above is a perfectly reasonable start to a process very important to them, but irrelevant to the interests of the United States Government.  At least it should be irrelevant but it’s not, because our Secretary of State continues to champion this particular cause.  I’d rather she focus on corruption and Green on Blue fratricide but those issues deal with OPM (other peoples money) and OPC (other peoples children) and obviously don’t interest her much.  That strange, poll-driven, PC centric policy formulation may explain why, one day before she is scheduled to visit, the UAE closed down a State Department funded advocacy group National Democratic Institute (NDI).  That is not an indicator of radicalization in Dubai – it is indicative of how little clout the boy and girls in Foggy Bottom have in this part of the world.  After all the time and money we have spent in this region one has to wonder why?

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    18 comments to Extended Shelf Life – April Fools Edition

    • Dr. Don Alvey

      Tim:

      It’s great to be able to read your posts again after several months absence. I’m not all that excited that you had to go back to Afgan country. You give us a more realistic view of what really happens there when compared to the liberal news media we are feed daily.
      Stay safe and well.

      Your former Geometry teacher and football coach at QHS.

    • ken

      Great to see you back TimSan ! Sounds like the adventure continues – thanks for your keen insight to the green on blue issue, and all things on your mind !
      Karzai Banning Burkas on Mondays.. that’s a good one!

      • T2

        Ken,
        When can we start scheduling white water river trips? I have plenty of patch kits. What do you think, will the Taj endure? It takes a big love.

      • babatim

        Good to be back Ken and I’ll be seeing you next month inshallah

    • dennis

      Great to see you back.Was not surprised to hear your in country.

    • Vanessa in Kabul

      “They” (ISAF/HQ) tell us that there is no green on blue problem. We hear about G on B via open source media, NOT from our command. Most of the time, they don’t even release cause of death. It’s a scary time to be advising ANA…

    • anan

      Tim Lynch, some of us have tracked green and green [ANSF on ANSF attacks] for a long time. It is a larger problem than Green on Blue. Before this year, about 3 times as many green on green and green on blue. Most of these incidents are not ideological. Before this year, more than 3/4s were not ideological.

      On Toolan dancing. I think it is good that he was photographed dancing. But he should have been dressed in white, as you said. And it should have been at an Afghan venue. Governor’s house, wedding, whatever. Doesn’t Toolan get invited by many excessively extravagant, excessively expensive Helmand weddings? That is the place for dancing.

      Questions for you. Did Toolan also dance in the governor’s compound, at weddings, or other Afghan venues. Or did he only dance in the FOB?

      On successful IED strikes: in February 2012, total IED strikes initiated by the Taliban in Afghanistan fell 32% from February, 2011. Why do you think this is? Part of it is the weather in the East. But what explains the drop in IED strikes against the ANSF and ISAF in the south?

      “Every month the Taliban spread” Exaggeration. Violence is falling in the North [not that it really matters since only 3% of all violence is in the North] and Helmand. The Taliban is spreading only in specific pockets. Don’t know of any pockets in the South where the Taliban are spreading. They are spreading in Kunar and Nuristan, some parts of Wardak, Logar, Ghazni and some other places. They are not spreading in Loya Paktia. They may think they are spreading in Lagman. But Lagman has a way to deal with invaders. :-)

      What do you think about transforming ISAF into combat enablers, embedded advisors and trainers for the ANSF? Much the way the deep state provides combat enablers to the Taliban.

      • babatim

        I don’t see any other way forward Anan. There is no doubt that the international community remains committed to financial support well after 2014 and the only way that will happen is if there is enough security for internationals to remain active in the country. I don’t for a second believe the Taliban could drive through the ANA and into Kabul today even if all the ISAF assets were fairy dusted back to where they came from. In 2014 they should be even more capable but holding the enemy at the gates is not a viable solution and we both know that the ANA needs enablers if they are going to generate any kind of offensive momentum. So my hopes are this is the trajectory we are heading.

      • E2

        I know I’m a bit late on this, but I’m going to weigh in on the stat data issue. You know what they say about lies, damned lies, and statistics…

        There are a variety of reasons why the rate of violent incidents could be falling. Here’s a few:

        1. Under-reporting. So, maybe the Taliban aren’t raising their profiles by doing things like blowing people up with IED’s in say, Chahar Bolak District up in Balkh, but maybe they’re doing more subtle things like going to people’s houses and beating them up and then threatening them if they call the authorities? How would we know things like that are happening if they never get reported?

        2. Loss of ground. If you’re the Taliban and you take over a particular area, then you don’t have to fight there anymore do you? Presto-chango, the area magically becomes devoid of violent TB activity.

        3. Lack of targets. I don’t know this for sure, but I have a suspicion that ISAF units are patrolling even less than they used to. Additionally, as the number of troops diminishes, so too will the number of targets. Less ISAF patrols to target = less TB attacks. For example, TB just recently announced that they’re going to start focusing their attacks on ANSF, rather than ISAF in Kunar. Could be because there aren’t that many ISAF to hit anymore.

    • RJ

      Thank you for confirming my thoughts on our country’s so called leaders. You’re like DeNiro going back to find Waulken in “Deer Hunter” those many years ago.

      My generation is comprised of far too many narcissists who chose government jobs for power and prestige.

      Perhaps you have come to realize that our military got married to the peace corps years ago.

      How’s that working for ya?

      General Dempsey wears two rows of ribbons, goes on television, speaks of the good old days teaching English at West Point, talks of being multitasked and smiles into the camera.

      “The check is in the mail.” “My wife doesn’t understand me.” “I’ll only put the tip in!”

      Feels so good…want more? That’s what I thought!

      • babatim

        Sometimes I feel like DeNiro in the Deer Hunter. This was a much easier country to live in and move around from 2005 – 2010 now, to be honest, it’s a little scary.

    • Ron Peery

      Welcome back, Tim. Michael Yon snitched you out last week in a post, so I figured we’d be hearing from you again. Well…..I hoped we’d be hearing from you. I was IM’ing with my terp from ’06 this last week. He said everything is okay “for now”. Obviously, he has reservations. I look forward to hearing more when it is safe for you to post. Is the book/movie deal still gestating?

      • babatim

        I share your terps reservations as does my Afghan crew but the issue is far from settled and we’ll have to see how it plays out. The book/movie thing was most frustrating because I think my expectations were unrealistic. I am back at the drawing board with both but more focused….or so I’m telling everyone.

    • JWest

      1. Glad you are up and writing.
      2. Be cautious traveling to the well.
      3. Don’t wonder about your last sentence.
      4. We come across as weak and indecisive, despite our military might.
      5. Describing what they really think of us would result in my being labeled as misogynistic.
      6. There is a scramble almost everywhere in N. Africa and SW Asia to align with OBL’s strong horse.
      7. The regional powers are buffing up and we’re preaching about democracy and whatnot.
      8. Pipe General Allen’s apology for the Koran burning. You wouldn’t need to speak a word of English to get the gist of that.
      9. Anyway, wish you well. Watch back, front, sides.
      V/R JWest

      • babatim

        It took me a while to get my sea legs and start writing again J but it feels good to be back in the game and able to have something worth writing about. I’m doing analysis work on this tour and not moving around much at all. Kabul is difficult for most internationals because of the ANP but The Bot and I have no issues because we speak pretty good Dari. Like most places in the world stopping and chatting up the cops makes life easy as does not carrying contraband or being a dick. There are a few high end PSD teams here who are just like us because they’ve been here as long as we have and that observation reinforces a basic fact…..there is no replacement for being on the ground for years on end in the COIN fight – none. Those of us who have been here for the duration operate more effectively, cheaply, and safely than those who have not. It’s that simple but nobody on high seems to give a crap about simple.

    • Anyone who is not prepared to exert maximum violence or sheer ruthlessness is perceived as weak in that part of the world.There are no rules.

      The mullahs are tools of the Pakistanis and Iranians as much as the Taliban. It suits their purposes to incite the violence and destabilize the country.

      We have had no Warburtons who could broker the peace with the backing of the Khyber Rifles. We lost it at “hello” in that regard.How many fluent Pashto or Dari or Nuristani etc. white players do we have?

      How much of the violence is Pashtun on other tribes? How much is vendetta? How much is the drug trade?

      all of the fusion cells and all of the MI and all of the diplomatic intelligence has done just about zippo in changing hearts and minds.Met with a BDE I/O last week just back who was very proud of their counter propaganda and radio stations in a box and I had to wonder if the peoples minds are closed, who is listening.

      • babatim

        Hey Matt – I hear you brother and the one thing that I see probably a little more clearly now is the number of Afghans who are patriots. We have a whole crew of guys who have worked for The Bot or I or friends of ours over the years and they come from all corners of the country. They hate Pakistan so much that they forbid us from having Pakistani Chai (I love that stuff) and when I tried to bargain saying “how about we call it Spin Chai”? they said no.

        “Calling it white chai doesn’t make it not Pakistani chai and we draw the line on Pakistani anything including Vat #9 Scotch.” Which is no real loss because Vat #9 sucks.

        There are a lot of people here who know they are being manipulated by regional power brokers and resent the hell out of it. I don’t know if there are enough to make a difference but I suspect there is or I wouldn’t have come back. We seem to have a lot of fluent Dari and Pashto speakers – the USAF LCOL killed in the MOI shootings was one of them – but knowing Dari is of limited use when you spend your deployment cycle on a FOB which is what most of them still seem to be doing.

    • Steve

      Greetings Again,
      So I’ve been doing flybys of FRI to see now your back.Thanks for the service of Free Range Information.Thanks also April 1 is almost a birthday present for me 04/04.
      Will your operational security keep you from photography?
      Walk calmly and scurry when you have to.
      Cheers,
      Steve