Do We Still Drug Test General Officers?

Yesterday an article showed up in the press consisting of an interview with one of the general officers stationed in Afghanistan. He made a series of statements that were so delusional that were he a junior enlisted man he’d be subject to mandatory drug abuse screening.

The article can be found here and is titled US General on Trump’s Afghan strategy: ‘This will be a very long winter for the Taliban’.  It is hard to know where to start; literally every claim made by the general is factually wrong, supremely stupid, and just embarrassing for the home team.

So let’s start with the who; Air Force brigadier general Lance Bunch:

BGen Bunch – Air Force Academy grad and career fighter pilot.
My friend Colonel Eric Mellinger, USMC, is also an Air Force Academy grad: does he look like the kind of guy who would try to sell you a bill of goods? I include this to preempt acquisitions of Air Force bashing by my Hollywood buddy Kerry Patton. It’s not the uniform; it’s the man; right Kerry?

Lance is was promoted to BG last summer so he is a junior one star. Brigadier general is an awkward rank just like 2nd Lieutenant is for the company grade and Major is for the field grades. Combine the awkward rank with the fact that Air Force pilots are not known to be authorities on ground combat matters and you could forgive Lance for being a bit naive. But we’re not talking naivete or garden variety obsequiousness; we’re talking crazy:

“The Taliban strategy is moving backwards. As they are unable to conduct offensive combat operations, they have transitioned back to high-profile attacks, assassinations and kidnapping for ransom, all of which indiscriminately target the Afghan people,”

“We are able to go after their [Taliban] weapons cache sites, their revenue generation, their C2 [command and control] nodes, all the areas where they thought they were safe and they are no longer so,” Bunch said. “It has definitely been a game-changer, and the Taliban is definitely feeling it.”

In just three weeks, U.S. and Afghan airstrikes, coupled with Afghan special operations raids on the ground, have eliminated 25 Taliban narcotics processing labs, destroying an estimated $80 million in drugs, and denied the Taliban more than $16 million in direct revenue that is passed on from local drug kingpins, the U.S. military said.

Come on man. The Taliban control’s more districts today than they have since ejected from power in 2001. We have spent 16 years going after command and control nodes; that is what the night raid program was all about.  That is why year after year officers in Afghanistan have crowed about intercepting panicked phone calls to Taliban central in Peshawar or Quetta from ‘commanders’ on the ground freaking out about getting whacked. Yet every year the Taliban gets stronger, every year they gain more ground, every year the moles dig deeper while every year we say this is the year we whack them for good.

Where do you think the Taliban converts dry opium to heroin? Around the highly contested, kinetic towns like Musa Quala or across the border in Pakistan or Iran? All the ‘drug labs’ reportedly destroyed were in northern Helmand near Musa Quala, Sangin and the Kajaki Dam. Recognize those names? Do you want to give odds that the Taliban are not so stupid as to try and use this area of the country to convert opium to heroin knowing the Americans consider these towns free fire areas?

Air campaigns are only as effective as the intelligence they base their targeting on. Identifying drug labs and drug shipments requires solid human intelligence; trying to unmask them using signal intelligence or drone based pattern analysis is nearly impossible. This is why, after 16 years of fighting in Afghanistan, we still air strike wedding parties we mistake for Taliban.  We don’t have good human intelligence but for some reason believe we can cripple the drug business by taking out laboratories in Afghanistan despite knowing that most of them are across the border in Pakistan?

Another article from Afghanistan caught my eye yesterday puts this “game changer” crap in proper perspective. The Walking Dead; published in Foreign Policy, was an excellent, original, investigative piece on the Afghanistan Army’s treatment of its wounded soldiers.  Written by Maija Liuhto, a journalist from Finland, (home of the White Death winter campaign and the White Death sniper….Finns are cool) it is not a pleasant read.

A bullet pierced his stomach, and he lost a lot of blood, he says. “My friends wanted to come and help me, but I told them not to because it was an open area and they could easily get hit, too.”

Jawad had to use his shirt to tie the heavily bleeding wound. In the end, it was civilians who helped him get to a clinic. Jawad belongs to the Hazara minority not native to this area. He does not speak Pashto, the dominant language in the south and east.

Jawad, 20, stands on the runway waiting to be loaded onto a medevac flight at the Tirinkot Airbase in Uruzgan Afghanistan on May 4th 2017. Jawad was ordered to rescue injured soldiers when he was shot. He insisted on getting on the flight himself despite that his wound was still bleeding. Photo by Ivan Flores

Afghans are tough people; look at the picture above. An Afghan cop gets shot in the stomach, is treated with a crummy ace bandage and some 4×4 gauze and hours latter is standing on a runway bare chested and pissed off waiting to get evacuated to Kandahar for definitive treatment. It’s not the Afghan grunts who are failing; its their leadership, which is evident by the excellent reporting in the article linked above.

I feel compelled to say this again; the Pentagon’s plan is not going to work. We are supporting a central government that is not legitimate in the eyes of the Afghan people. As soon as we go the government will be forced to settle things the Afghan way and the best they can hope for is Ismail Khan or a few more like them are around to help.

The handful of grunts and operators still on the ground in Afghanistan need to trust their general officers. Blatant cheerleading consisting of the regurgitation of ridiculous talking points from the alternative reality that is Bagram is not helpful. It is indeed going to be a long winter in Afghanistan for somebody and odds are it’s not the Taliban.

8 Replies to “Do We Still Drug Test General Officers?”

  1. Tim,
    I had hoped that Gen. Mattison would have cleared the swamp by now across from the Jefferson Memorial. When are we going to do the right thing? Are there too many centuries of past fighting in Afghan to ever solve or is it money, drugs,religion, sex, or rock and roll?

  2. Majors become LCols who become Cols who become one stars become two stars by being gung-ho and coming up with ways to increase budgets. This guy is just playing his part in modern military culture. He’s just a cog in the machine.

    It’s unlikely that he’s stupid. He probably did quite well in school. Got good ratings along the way. Did well at service schools. But that doesn’t mean he’s not delusional or uninformed or guessing or lying. He may well be repeating talking points a two star handed him without even thinking about them. Take your pick.

    It’s the system that’s got the military where it is. Unless you plan to jump captains to one stars you’ll keep getting products of the system until something colossally bad happens.

  3. Spent some time in Kabul on the staff of the Turkish-led ISAF HQ (not very effective time in my opinion) – even then I kept worrying that we were the wrong fit, working the wrong ideas, with the wrong people and with no clear/achievable end-state. We were making all of the same errors in understanding that my Brit forebears had made in the past. At least we would not have to beat our way through the passes and out. We could fly out. Afghanistan is a lost cause and the good Afghans I met (and there were many) were hugely outnumbered by the venal and self-serving. Never underestimate their ability to regroup and shock us. Blood and treasure squandered!

    1. My friends and I would run into the Turks with their peculiar small armored cars (that seemed suitable only if used against unarmed peasants) and wonder just how effective they could possibly be. I am aware of stories from the Korean War of Turkish infantry units displaying truly tenacious fighting qualities that gave them a good rep but I was never sure how that would translate to an effective partner in Afghanistan. Guess the answer is that it didn’t…thanks for the comment.

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