What To Do? Part One

The sun is setting over the Hindu Kush and tonight we finally end Ramadan and start the four day “Big” Eid holidays. The kids behind the Taj didn’t have any fire crackers so they dug up their Dad’s AK and shot off a magazine. By the time the guards and I got there in response their father was tanning the boys hides with vigor. Ammo is expensive here and the boys had just cranked off about 20 bucks worth; scaring the hell out of me and pissing their old man off to no end.  It is dark now and the local people are throwing firecrackers or cranking off automatic weapons at a sustained pace. Eid sucks for us because if there was a good time to attack a safe house full of internationals now would be that time. But at least Ramadan is over and the boys will step up their day game while stopping all the pissing and moaning about how thirsty they are or how they have no energy blah blah blah. It was refraining from smoking cigarettes that was really kicking their asses but they sucked it up well.

Afghanistan is getting considerable attention in the press lately.   Should we stay or go? Is this another Vietnam? Do we need more troops?  I found this quote today here from the President which clears things up (I guess.)

Each historical moment is different, Mr Obama said in an interview published yesterday. You never step into the same river twice, and so Afghanistan is not Vietnam.

I grew up on the Severn River in Maryland and went to the exact same spot on the river almost daily because my buddy Chris McConnel had a dock and a ski boat there.  Who knew you were not supposed to go into the same river twice back then? Better yet what the hell is the President talking about?

September 9th was Masood Day and here is a shot of one of parades in downtown Kabul
September 9th was Masood Day and here is a shot of one of parades in downtown Kabul

President Obama is on record as saying that Afghanistan is critical in order to prevent the return of the Taliban who will provide haven, support and bases to al Qaeda.   The problem is that al Qaeda has all the support and bases it needs in Pakistan. I am on record as saying that Afghanistan would never allow al Qaeda back inside its borders no matter who was ruling and the truth is al Qaeda has spent eight years reconstituting in the Northwest Frontier and doesn’t need Afghanistan – they are fine where they are. In fact the ties with their hosts are stronger and their overall security much better than it was when they operated out of Eastern Afghanistan.

When the President throws down a marker that big it makes it very hard to set conditions under which   we can leave.   The Taliban are not going anywhere – they live here.   Al Qaeda isn’t going anywhere either – they could not be more firmly entrenched in any other place on   the globe.

ANP checkpoint in Jalalabad which is similar to those found all over Afghanistan. This was on election day and the police were being attentive. During Ramadan they seldon stop anyone and they never fool with traffic at night. Think some real mentorship could make these guys more effective? You have to get off the FOB and live with these cats to do that and we are not anywhere close to doing that.
ANP checkpoint in Jalalabad which is similar to those found all over Afghanistan. This was on election day and the police were being attentive. During Ramadan they seldon stop anyone and they never fool with traffic at night. Think some real mentorship could make these guys more effective? You have to get off the FOB and live with these cats to do that and we are not anywhere close to doing that.

We had a chance to finish Bin Laden and blew it at Tora Bora. In hindsight it would seem we should have thrown everything we had into the fight to finish him off but we didn’t. The first hand account provided by Dalton Fury indicates that Colonels back in Bagram Airbase put the breaks on the American Special Forces troops who could have flooded the mountain in an all out effort to Kill Bin Laden. According to this account the Colonel in charge was a Mogadishu vet and did not want to see his men chewed up because they lacked proper fire support. I would like to think that were I in that Colonels place I would have fragged as many birds as I could, rounded up as many troops as I could and flew into Tora Bora to make an all out assault on Bin Laden. Nothing was more important than killing that shitbird and if it cost a lot of American lives so be it. As long as I was there sharing the risk and hardships that is – you can’t be frantically flinging troops into a meat grinder while in remaining in the rear – that is a huge Bushido Code violation.

But I wasn’t there and have the clarity of 8 years hindsight so perhaps my criticism of this lapse are unfounded but that action meant the mission failed and it was the most important mission of my generation. I know two things; good losers lose and the day Bin Laden got away was the day we lost the war in Afghanistan.

Western Armies are not good at counterinsurgency warfare. They do not have the people or formations who can embed in the local community. Western Armies can no longer deploy formations overseas for years at a time. They are not willing to use the tactics required to win which involve not only high risk but lots of killing.   Sri Lanka just won an unbelievably long and bitter counterinsurgency. Do you think if the Taliban leadership surrounded themselves with tens of thousands of non combatants we would kill all of of them to get that leadership? That is what Sri Lanka did .   There are some who believe the military is under performing on purpose.   Stephen Henthorne who is a Senior Adviser on the Joint Interagency – Multinational Stability Operations ISAF staff recently sent a memo to the National Security Adviser General Jones where he all but accused the Army of insubordination; check this out:

“Please trust me when I tell you that General McChrystal’s two man Civil-Military Campaign Planning team in the Pentagon, if they are in fact working for General McChrystal, will never be able to give the President an effective Civil-Military Campaign Plan for Afghanistan. There is a growing belief, that a Civil-Military Plan for Afghanistan is being designed to fail. This seems to be so much the case that the War Fighter Insurgency, that has been written about since 2004, might well be more accurately termed today a War Fighter Mutiny.

See the link for more on the “War Fighter Mutiny” but I do not think it is a mutiny at all.   The military has pulled its weight the best it can but that is clearly not good enough.

The price for failing to mentor - secure zones in key cities like Kabul can only be secure if we make them secure. The Afghan Security Forces are clearly not up to the task. This is a Reuters phot from yesterdays attack on an Italian convoy travelinig down the main road to the Kabul International Airport
The price for failing to mentor – secure zones in key cities like Kabul can only be secure if we make them secure. The Afghan Security Forces are clearly not up to the task. This is a Reuters phot from yesterdays attack on an Italian convoy travelinig down the main road to the Kabul International Airport

The military is not conducting a “warfighters mutiny”  it is performing as best it can but our military was designed in the past with the technology of the past to face problems from the past.   It is good at fighting peer level threats. It is not good at fighting counterinsurgencies. While our senior military leaders were spending years in school on topics such a ethics in combat and the law of land warfare the Afghans who we are now mentoring were killing people, lots of them.   Look at this report from last week:

Large numbers of members of the Mangal and Moqdil tribes have clashed over timber rights. Reports of  25-60 fatalities have been received. The Governor of Khost has gone to the area to try to stop the fighting and disarm the tribes.

This is how scores are settled here – toe to toe with automatic weapons. This is why when ISAF tried to apologize for whacking all the civilians who were demanding their cut of fuel from the Taliban up in Kunduz the local people asked them to start killing more so that the Taliban would head back south.   We need a surge of Tony Soprano’s to work with the Afghans because mafia guys have more experience solving Afghan style problems.

There are those who dismiss the effectiveness of solving problems by killing people but it is one method that has proven effective over the years…just ask the Carthaginians or the Aztecs or the poor Beothuk Indians who once occupied Newfoundland. People of the west no longer consider such tactics appropriate and I concur as I know there are other ways to get what needs to be done done. My point is that our diplomats and officer corps are in no way prepared to deal with people who resort to indiscriminate killing as easily and naturally as a fish learns to swim.

EID is here and all the Afghan boys get a new set of clothes and a plastic weapon. These boy are just outside the main ISAF enterance and are a new crew - the old kids one always saw out there either perished or are recovering from the VBIED which detonated in this street last month.
EID is here and all the Afghan boys get a new set of clothes and a plastic weapon. These boy are just outside the main ISAF enterance and are a new crew – the old kids one always saw out there either perished or are recovering from the VBIED which detonated in this street last month.

Our collective military systems place a premium on education, obtaining advanced degrees, being polished, poised and articulate in all situations, being fit, wise and just but most important is being a consensus building team player with zero….and I mean zero defects in character and military reputation.   In America this system produces senior officers and enlisted men and woman who are most impressive. Our professional military education system produces great results if you are solving hugely complex symmetrical problems. It does not produce competent warfighters. Martin van Creveld wrote a book on this topic back in 1990   called The Training Of Officers; From Military Professionalism to Irrelevance where he was emphatic that we were warehousing officers in our schools letting them do nothing productive in the military context.

I actually met van Creveld when he came and hung out in Quantico back in 92.   After seeing him pop up at several of our field problems with his son in tow I asked him if he now thought better of his thesis now that he had spent time with the warrior monks of IOC. He looked at me squinting saying “I have never more certain of anything else in my life Captain Lynch.”

If the military is housing its officers in do nothing schools than they won’t know how to do something when they have to leave the US and perform modern problem solving on modern problems. It appears Gen McChrystal has recognized this to be a problem and is attacking it head on. Check out this quote from a piece which just came across the wire:

The key weakness of ISAF, he says, is that it is not aggressively defending the Afghan population. “Pre-occupied with protection of our own forces, we have operated in a manner that distances us — physically and psychologically — from the people we seek to protect. . . . The insurgents cannot defeat us militarily; but we can defeat ourselves.”

 

General McChrystal’s report covers the widespread corruption which characterizes the Afghan government. He takes head on the problem of the Quetta Shura, revitalized Al Qaeda, and the pointlessness of staying on FOB’s.   Man that is good stuff but how did it end up in the Washington Post before the Commander in Chief saw it?   Most of the long term observers in Afghanistan would agree with the report.   None of us expect the report to change how ISAF operates or change the trajectory of the Afghan Campaign. We lost the day Bin Laden walked away and we have been inflicting the death of a thousand cuts upon ourselves since 2001.   Part two of this post will address a way forward. But here is the thing – you cannot think “outside the box” when your first priority is to put all your troops inside boxes for their own protection. There are no school book solutions for Afghanistan there can only be short term stabilization and long term (modest) outside the box innovative solutions. Most of the problems currently plaguing Afghanistan can only be solved by Afghans.

There was a time when the boys of Kabul would wave, smile and ask for sanjook (chewing gum) but not now. These kids are the future and we should be paying much more attention to managing their perceptions then trying to get the adults to play by our rules.
There was a time when the boys of Kabul would wave, smile and ask for sanjook (chewing gum) but not now. These kids are the future and we should be paying much more attention to managing their perceptions then trying to get the adults to play by our rules.

You buy the Ticket You Get the Full Ride

A few days back I was reminiscing with my good friend LtCol Jeff Kenny, USMC who is leading the Embedded Training Team (ETT) efforts here in the eastern region.   We were talking about Gunny Donvito who developed the close combat training that has ultimately become the Marine Corps Combative program.   The Gunny – who retired as a Master Sergeant years ago – was a very big, stout individual who was serious about the need to train Marines to kill people correctly. His work at Paris Island, where he started LINE training and the pugil stick octagon, had earned him a billet at the Basic School where he could formalize his program using the doctrine writers at Quantico while simultaneously training newly commissioned Marine Officers on the finer points of hand to hand combat.   Jeff and I were Infantry Officer Course instructors back then and a few of us plus the boss and Gunny Donvito were in West Point talking to a then obscure Army   Lieutenant Colonel named David Grossman who would become the top police trainer in the world and is the developer of Killology – check the website it is awesome and I have blogged about Killology in the past here.

We were heading out to a local eatery/bar and asked the Gunny to join us.   The Gunny didn’t drink which we knew and we were really trying to get him to be the driver but he said no.   “Why?” we asked and he said, “Sir, there are stupid drunk people in bars and often they think it is funny to pick on guys my size; but if you buy a ticket from me you get the full ride. Then I”ll have a murder rap and the cops will put me in jail where I won’t be able to sleep with my wife or play with my son and I can’t take that chance.”   We loved Gunny Donvito despite his propensity for beating us up in “Room of Pain” training sessions – he was a classic.

One of the reasons I am so happy to see Jeff is that he has fully recovered from bing badly wounded in Iraq.  But he got to hang out with Cher which is a bonus to be sure but there are better ways to meet celebrities
One of the reasons I am so happy to see Jeff is that he has fully recovered from bing badly wounded in Iraq. But he got to hang out with Cher which is a bonus to be sure but there are better ways to meet celebrities

Tonight LtCol Kenny is in the Kunar Province taking over for one of   his team leaders who was wounded during an ambush at a small little shit hole called Ganjagal yesterday morning.   Four of his Marines were killed in that fight.   That is grim work for a commander and I feel for my friend Jeff.   There was a reporter (Jonathan Landy) from McClatchy news service embedded for this mission and his story is here.   It seems that indirect and air delivered fires were denied to the men in contact because the Taliban had ambushed them using a village as cover and that would fall outside the newest use of force guidelines.   As is most often the case Herschel Smith at the Captains Journal is out in front of the issue and his reasoned assessment can be found here.

The news reports indicated that the four Marines who were killed in this fight were hit in the opening moments of the ambush and therefore it is not reasonable to assume that the liberal application of artillery or air delivered ordinance could have saved them.   This is the way combat often works – the side on the receiving end takes casualties as the ambush goes off and then both sides enter into a protracted skirmish of fire and maneuver until one side breaks contact or breaks in the face of aggressive maneuver and/or fire.   In this fight it is clear that the Afghan/American team was set up and walked into an ambush.   It is also very clear that their ability to extract themselves from that ambush was hampered by the refusal of higher headquarters to allow indirect fires due to the proximity of local non combatants in the village.   It also seems that the women and children   of the village were busy shuttling ammunition to the entrenched fighters and therefore vulnerable to the effects of said ordinance.

Jeff and I right after he arrived in Jalalabad
Jeff and I right after he arrived in Jalalabad

This is Afghanistan.     The new commander, Gen McChrystal has promulgated orders designed to further limit collateral damage. I applaud his approach and have written repeatedly on topic of inflicting unnecessary civilian deaths.   But here is the thing; when you buy a ticket from us you need to get the full ride.   Every time.   No exceptions.

Look at this quote I pulled from an interview with Air Force Lt Gen Gilmary Hostage:

“The first thing we do is fly over head, and the bad guys know air power is in place and oftentimes that’s enough. That ends the fight, they vamoose,”

Say What?   You really think that the ambushers described in yesterdays fight were going to break and run because they heard an A-10?     This is too stupid for words and I am exercising great restraint by not breaking into a signature rant.   But my God has this senior General read one after action report from the Marines in the Helmand?   You know, the reports which repeatedly say that the Taliban will not run from fire that they need to be hit in order to impressed by our fire power?

Counterinsurgency warfare (COIN) focuses on developing a secure environment for civilian activities which means it focuses our efforts on winning the civilian population. COIN is a set of tactics not an operational strategy and COIN tactics are only appropriate for the areas in Afghanistan where the population wants to be helped which is a majority of this country.   There are many places where the people do not want our help and it is stupid to try to approach these areas using COIN focused tactics or objectives.

The areas where people are not interested in helping us build infrastructure are a problem which can only be solved by Afghans.   The instability in Kunar Province is being financed by timber barons.   In Nuristan Province it is gem merchants who finance anti government activity.   The villages located in the areas controlled by these anti government forces are hostile and there is nothing we can offer these people which will bring them onto our side – seven years of experience tell us that – so why do we continue to try doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result?   We are never going to get enough troops here to do a proper “clear, hold, build” program going countrywide and even if we did the State Department and US AID will never supply the manpower they said they would provide to stand up “District Stabilization Teams.”

We cannot reach out to people who have displayed seven years of belligerence, they are Afghans and their problems can only be solved by Afghans.   When we go into hostile villages like Ganjagal it should be a fully supported advance to contact and if they attack us they need to be crushed – all of them.

With a very modest infusion of cash an implementing company operating like we operate now could fix every irrigation system in Nangarhar Province within 8 months. One American and the rest Afghans on the project and maybe 2 to 3   million and bingo every Karez and every intake of every canal could be refurbished, reinforced with stone masonry and the people of Nangarhar would be set up for success and happy.

But you have to be operating outside the wire to do that and there are not that many of us out here doing that at the moment.     What is more alarmng is that the space in which you can easily operate is shrinking rapidly.   Just this afternoon there was a riot in Ghazni City – here is an eyewitness report:

“The demonstrators moved towards Masoud Chowk area, and the demonstration turned violent. Demonstrators reportedly began throwing stones at ANSF, and ANSF opened fire. The demonstration has apparently dispersed due to the said clash. Casualties have occurred, and initial reports suggest that 4 demonstrators were killed and 8 were wounded.”

Why the riots in Ghazni?   A popular local pro Taliban mullah was abducted and murdered and the local people suspect Gen McChrystal and the Americans may be behind this operation (hat tip to Joshua Foust.)     The allegation of American involvement in this matter is ridiculous – the American Special Forces are no more capable of operating in Ghazni than they are able to operate on Mars.

I learned how to operate in Afghanistan out of desperation.   I had been the country manager for a company that went under and was 3 months in arrears on pay.   I started a company and took great risks to do the personal reconnaissance required for winning bids here.   I was lucky – able to learn through trial and error how to safely move in contested areas.   I can move anywhere in the east as long as the people at my terminal destination provide escort and guarantee that I am invited and a proper guest. I could have easily been operating that way in Ghazni in 2006.   One of the reasons I am able to operate the way I do here is that everyone who deals with my associates and I understands that if they buy a ticket from us they are going to get the full ride.   That understanding keeps everyone honest and polite which is how this culture operates for those who have a clue about getting things done in Afghanistan.

Animal House: The Real Story (Updated)

You have to admit that the current guard force at the U.S. Embassy Kabul know how to get attention.   The rash of stories which broke last Wednesday were amusing to say the least.   The story broke with a news release from a group called “Project on Government Oversight” (POGO) who had received pictures and written complaints from a group of contractors at the embassy and given the nature of the pictures it went viral.

A few selected news story headlines from aroound the world
A few selected news story headlines from around the world

I was the project manager for the first group of civilian contractors who relieved the Marines (weapons company 2/6) at that embassy in 2005.   At the time the contract called for 146 expatriates, 245 third country nationals and around 75 local Afghans.   There are things I know which I can not discuss in an open form but let me tell you this; there are serious, serious problems with that contract which have little to do with the behavior highlighted in the tsunami of international coverage.

Managing contracts of this size in Iraq or Afghanistan is an impossible job and there is a very small pool of talent who have the ability and energy to do it well.   I came to Kabul from the American Embassy in Baghdad where I first joined the circuit with a British firm.   I received a call around Midnight on a Sunday from the company recruiter who I could barely understand and he said in a very loud voice “mate do you have your kit?” I replied in the affirmative and he says “I need a fill in Baghdad mate can you leave in two days?”   I again said yes and he yelled “great mate see you in 24 hours.”   The next morning I had a ticket to London and I left the following day.   It was a weird thing to do but I hated being retired and was a really crappy civilian.   I was lucky, the project manager in Baghdad, who would come back to fill me in Kabul two years later was one of the best I have ever seen.   He was from Zimbabwe, had extensive combat experience, and was of the quiet confident type who paid keen attention to what his expats did both on and off duty.

Camp Happy housed over 300 Expats and TCN's and it sucked.  The upside to being in a real shit sandwich like this was that everyone had to respect the need for off shift personnel to sleep so everyone was excessivly considerate
Camp Happy housed over 300 Expats and TCN's and it sucked. The upside to being in a real shit sandwich like this was that everyone had to respect the need for off shift personnel to sleep so everyone was excessivly considerate

The main reason why managing these contracts is so difficult is that it is impossible to stay ahead of the stupidity curve your men will generate.   There is no way to anticipate it because some of these guys do the most unbelievably stupid things sober; add alcohol and the potential for Darwin Award level stupidity goes up exponentially. In the military I knew my Marines well because we spent so much time together – often in prolonged field exercises.   Your average young enlisted Marine has the ability   to do stupid things too but they fall into an easily anticipated set of behaviors which savvy leadership can recognize and at times circumvent.   Not true with contractors – some of stories I have heard are amazing.

I hated working at the American Embassy in Kabul for a number of reasons.   My personal antipathy unquestionably clouds my judgment on the ability, competence, and usefulness of the arrogant snobbish bureaucrats who work there. I showed up on the 7th of March, most of the expats arrived on a charter flight the next day and that ride in was so bad that one of them immediately resigned.   We were housed in a hastily built camp which had not been completed – the roof was not even on the barracks.   Our Nepalese arrived in April but we had to assume the contract on 17 March.   We had been set up to fail because the department in charge of our contract, the Regional Security Officer’s (RSO’s) clearly did not want the Marines to go – I knew some of the Marines and they were feeding me the inside scoop.

The Bridge contract had a bar which prevents excessive drinking or rowdeness due to peer level monitoring.  Our big nights were pub quiz night with MC Steve (behind  the bar) and our designated hosts Lord Nelson and Sponge Bob.  Due to the cut throat nature of pub quiz they were not allowed to drink until after the match was decided.  We did have to explain to the 3rd Para vets that anything involving nakedness and other mens rear ends was considered homsexual behavior by definition and therefore prohibited.
The Bridge contract had a bar which prevents excessive drinking or rowdeness due to peer level monitoring. Our big nights were pub quiz night with MC Steve (behind the bar) and our designated hosts Lord Nelson and Sponge Bob. Due to the cut throat nature of pub quiz they were not allowed to drink until after the match was decided. We did have to explain to the 3rd Para vets that anything involving nakedness and other mens rear ends was considered homsexual behavior by definition and therefore prohibited.

Most of the expats who arrived for the contract had worked for the same company during the first Afghan election and they were predominantly from the UK.   They were also an older crowed with the talents one expects to find in retired military men, so organizing and starting the contract was much easier than the industry norm.   Our cookhouse was a nightmare but we had a PA from Scotland who got it sorted out, but not before we lost men to the hospital, to all manner of food borne parasites.   The RSO’s would not give us the weapons called for in the contract so we had them send out raiding parties of guys who had worked the election and had weapons stashed or knew where to find them.   It was a nightmare and I never got along with the RSO shop but I don’t want to start telling old sea stories or start in on State Department RSO’s.   They have plenty of talent in that program and one of them, Tim Sullivan, for whom the current guard camp is named, was one of the best all around operators I have ever met.

The problem with the current guard force is that they are on a shit contract.   Ignore the money value published in the papers – that number is for five years executed at full value which is impossible to do .   Armor Group North America is losing big money on   that job and they are about to lose a lot more.   I was asked by a few companies to consult on their bids for it back in 2006 and my answer was always the same – don’t bid because if you win you’ll lose money. There were requirements in the contract that could not be filled.   The number of security clearance holding   Americans was excessive and unnecessary (they have been modified.)     The skill set required in the contract was out of all proportion to the tasks actually executed by the guards (these too have since been modified) and the training requirements were completely unrealistic given the amount of time the State Department would allow for the guard force to train prior to assuming the contract.

Camp Sully just before it opened. It looks like a big roomy place which it was compared to Camp Happy but looks are deceiving. The expat rooms had attached bathrooms which is good but the bathroom were almost as large as the sleeping area and wasted valuable space. The TCN barracks towards the rear of the picture did not have attached bathrooms and were therefore a little biggerthan the expat rooms. The project leadership lives in the closet building and those rooms - which had shared bathrooms - were pretty nice...but there are only 8 of them.
Camp Sully just before it opened. It looks like a big roomy place which it was compared to Camp Happy but looks are deceiving. The expat rooms had attached bathrooms which is good but the bathroom were almost as large as the sleeping area and wasted valuable space. The TCN barracks towards the rear of the picture did not have attached bathrooms and were therefore a little biggerthan the expat rooms. The project leadership lives in the closet building and those rooms - which had shared bathrooms - were pretty nice...but there are only 8 of them.

The several hundred page request for proposal (RFP) was full of legalize contract language which was there for the same reason congressional bills are several thousands pages of incomprehensible gibberish – to hide things.   In the case of the embassy contract it was penalties for failing to meet certain stipulations. The only companies who could have actually met the requirements at the time were Blackwater and Triple Canopy but they could never submit a bid low enough to win because they have to run the training infrastructure back in the States required by the contract and thus were forced to bid realistic numbers.   They were never in the running.   All of the contracts being let for security and everything else go to the lowest bidder.

When we started the bridge contract back in 2005 I told the men there that although our billets suck and we look like clowns, (we had no uniforms and looked like a motorcycle gang on post with civvie clothing and old AK 47’s with chest rigs,   I thought it looked kind of cool, but it wasn’t good for morale) recent history tells us that we will be on the job for years, not the six months of the contract and that the pay is good, risk is low, and thus by definition life is good.   I was proved correct – the bridge contract lasted two years before a company successfully took over.   The first company to win the contract was MVM and their genius plan was to bring in South African passport holding Vamba tribal fighters from Namibia to work as the senior guards and “english speaking ” junior guards from Peru.   The South African plan met the terms of the contract but turned out to be a disaster.   When the Peruvians arrived not one of them could speak a word of English.   I was there for that too and am thus unable to go into the details.

When Armor Group won they were heading down the same path as MVM but at the last minute the CEO came in, immediately   fired his management team and entered into negotiations with the existing project manager for him and his crew to come aboard.   I am hesitant to go into detail due to an acute congenital fear of lawyers. Runs in my family according to my Father. The pay for new joins was low and the scheme did not favor Americans due to our tax laws. The original guard force lasted a little less than a year before the PM left which caused the immediate exodus of all the old guards.The new guards got much lower rates of pay.   You get what you pay for in this industry and Armor Group was not paying much.

Anyone who has visited the US Embassy recently may be startled to see this picture but this was how we started the contract - an armed guard and one unarmed terp out front on Masooud Road with a knee high concreate barrier.  This entire street is now closed off and full of T Walls.  We did have a drop arm and armed men directly behing the intiaial screening crew but this was nerve racking duty and the boys did not like it much.
Anyone who has visited the US Embassy recently may be startled to see this picture but this was how we started the contract - an armed guard and one unarmed terp out front on Masooud Road with a knee high concreate barrier. This entire street is now closed off and full of T Walls. We did have a drop arm and armed men directly behing the intiaial screening crew but this was nerve racking duty and the boys did not like it much.

The pay thing is a problem which can be worked through with good on the ground leadership and incentives for people who are on their second, third or fourth year of the contract; the real problem is with the living conditions and job requirements of the guard force.   The average living space per man in Camp Sullivan is less than   the square footage required for inmates in federal penitentiaries.   I put that in writing in a memo to the RSO when the camp was being built which may help explain the stained relationship I had with him.   The recreation facilities are inadequate and the gym full of third rate Turkish equipment.   There is no space on the camp for the men to do anything outside of their crammed barracks and they have little ability to get off camp.   When you are designing camps to house hundreds of guards for years at a time you have to pay attention to their morale recreation and welfare needs which is something the military excels at.   If you do not think through what they are going to do off duty as thoroughly as their on duty tasks than you are set up to fail.

What can you say about this kind of nonsense?
I feel compelled to point out that these are "consenting adults" which I thought made this kind of behavior exempt from the condemnation of normal people who find it offensive - wasn't that what the Sec of State said about her husband? Times change and these morons are now toast on the circuit

Now that the furor of last week has died down it appears that our Secretary of State has the situation in hand.   Surprisingly enough she found the behavior completely inappropriate and a threat to good order and discipline.   I don’t understand that – what business is it of hers what consenting adults do?   Is that not the lesson of the Lewinsky affair?   Maybe it was because the guards were having these stupid parties on a facility rented by the State Department which drew her condemnation – but the oval office is even more important a government place than Camp Sullivan isn’t it?   Or maybe she was upset because management was encouraging this nonsense which means there is a disparity in power between the individuals involved which makes even their consent suspect….you know like the disparity of power between the President of the United States and an intern?   No wait that can’t be it…anyway the boss has taken a stand against serial sexual predators (first time for everything) and fired the whole crew.

But that contract will still have a ton of problems and the men working there will continue to be even more miserable than the FOB bound military who at least have good gyms, pizza hut, lots of girls on their bases, green beans coffee houses etc.

There is only one way to fix the Embassy contract and that is to cut the number of guards in half, make them all Americans and pull them into the embassy where they can work and live alongside the other Americans.   The security guards are not now and never have been able to use the gyms or bars or tennis courts or swimming pool which are all reserved for embassy staff.   That should change.   The security guard contract should also be combined with the Ambassadors PSD contract (currently Blackwater and before them DynCorp) so that guards joining the contract can work their way up onto the Ambassador’s detail – that way when a new guy joins that team he has a clue about Afghanistan.   Knowing how to “evasive drive” or shoot is useless here – knowing the people, how they drive and what is normal behavior is critical and you can’t learn that in security “operator”   school.   What are the chances that the State Department is aware enough to recognize the problems they created on this contract and then really fix them?   Absolutely zero.   Like I said I hated working that contract because the people you are serving are just plain rude,   arrogant and worse yet, completely clueless about what is happening outside the walls of their plush digs.

A Fat Chicken Does Not Lay Eggs

The place I’ve been calling Mudville, vaguely in the eastern part of Jalalabad, is known as Base Eckmunblahblah. It means “military logistics area” and is owned by the Department of Defense. I’ve forgotten the word exactly – today’s new vocabulary includes reshwat (bribe), tofa (gift), bakshish (tip, alms, gift-for-something-you-did-or-’cause-you’re-poor) – but just like the name implies, the residential population are considered squatters and not welcome to rebuild.

It’s the kind of story that just makes you sigh because what else can you do? Long long ago the land was government owned military use land, then during the time of the war – during the mujahadeen times, the folks that seized power gave the land to people who promptly built houses. The recipients were already wealthy people and continue to be even wealthier now. These recipients don’t have the cleanest hands but no one will talk about that stuff outright. But now you get why I was learning the subtle differences among gifts, bribes, and tips.

After the legitimate government was restored, there is a stalemate because the military / government can’t or won’t bulldoze these large, expensive houses and the residents have no reason or desire to move. They didn’t pay for the land and don’t have deeds for land rights, so they also can’t sell their biggest asset. But as far as they are concerned, they were given the land and have every right to be there.

We see a cross section of people in the lab and I ask them about the flooding and damage. No one seems too broken up about “those people with the ruined houses” because they refer to them as “They are rich people. They have big SUVs. “. There are complaints about them exploiting the situation – “Even if they have 1 or 10 million dollars they will stand there on the street and say to the UN or USAID, ‘I am a poor person and I have no house. You must help me.'”

But what about the people I see who’ve hung up sheets and mats and who’ve thrown their soaked bedding on to the street?, I ask. And I show them pictures. More shrugging. Those are only the kids. I’m aware that the pictures tell the story and I’m just not seeing. The windows alone in those houses cost over $100 and some of the debris is super ornate mirrored tile. There are beds and mattresses, not simple carpet and floor cushions. They are rich people, they can fend for themselves. One groped for the right words, then said a fat chicken will not lay eggs, that is they are so wealthy they need for everything to be given to them, they will not rebuild on their own.

The municipality sent out 500 workers again today to help remove the mud and debris. “Since the elections there is no government”, one of the residents told me when I asked him what he would do, “there is no organization, no plan. No one can make a decision.” People have sent their families to live in other houses or with relatives while they wait for foreign donations and help. Waiting is a past time here. “You people must help us, you must give to me.”

mudistan

It’s now two days after the storm and the water level has dropped amazingly. I don’t know where it all went, Pakistan, I’d guess. The brick and concrete structures still standing have marks from the high water level – dried mud and flotsam on the walls about waist high. Now the unpaved side roads are that special clay-mud-mush which is super slippery and which it is difficult to extricate anything that gets stuck in it (like your shoe).

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The residents – some men but mostly young adults – pulled me to the places that had been their homes. The Afghans are fanatics about walls and there wasn’t a structure with four intact walls. A lot of the walls were simply gone – presumably washed away “down there somewhere” – whereas we were standing on the mucky remnants of others. Several buildings had big gaps and cracks because the ground on which they were built had shifted down the street too. All the rocks you see in the pictures were once part of walls.DSC_3444

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Afghan homes (here in the rural/suburbs) are often built with enclosed rooms along the outside edge of the property so that there is an enclosed courtyard on the inside behind those tall walls. A compound may have only one enclosed structure with one or more rooms and then a series of porticos for cooking and lounging. When you are invited “into” an Afghan home in the suburbs, depending on the weather, you will probably be received in the courtyard or under the shade of a large tree or corrugated roof portico. There is usually a gate or door in the wall that opens in to the courtyard, and sometimes a door directly in to a room from the street.

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I described all this for you so you can study the pictures and see if you can figure out what was what … and where it was once. The yellow cabinet on that white and blue wall is a clue – it should be on the “inside” of a room.DSC_3428DSC_3406

 

I think I’ve been here too long – my initial response was to avert my eyes from that cabinet in the wall. You’re not meant to be looking in to someone’s house (or courtyard) and seeing the details of their private lives and the innards of their homes without their invitation.

This is two days after the storm and the residents have already removed their belongings, more or less. The ruined textiles and such are in heaps on the side of the paved road.DSC_3465DSC_3463

 

There are hazards everywhere, from downed electrical cables to huge cracks in the walls that stay standing. The drainage culverts are full of mud and rocks so even a small rain before they are cleared will damage things further.DSC_3436DSC_3450

 

The affected areas were pretty wide spread. Alley after alley was the same story; a short drive away we saw high brick walls of large compounds… missing.DSC_3482

 

These were not refugee-camp-style poor people’s housing and people have lived in these neighborhoods for 7-12 years, so they tell me. But “they” say that these people are all illegally squatting on military land and so the government is not rushing to help – they want the people to move anyway. Ah, TIA.

You can download an extended set of photos of flood damaged houses in east Jalalabad. (54 images, 16.3MB)

Running the Table

The bad guys hit a home run today by whacking the number the deputy commander of the Nangarhar NDS. The NDS is the National Directorate of Security and they are the best of what is currently available in the Afghan Security Forces. The number 2, Dr. Abdullah is an old Jihadi Commander from Laghman Province who fought the Soviets as Masooud’s chief of security before continuing the fight against the Taliban. He was reportedly at the central Mosque for Mitharlam City (the capitol of Lagham Province) to fork over a ton of family dough to finance a major addition to that mosque.   Seems damn un-Islamic to me to whack a guy who is donating that much cash to a Mosque in that Mosque.

Note the date time stamp - this is seconds after the BBIED went off and was taken by a friend who was in the city to remove and destroy old ordinance
Note the date time stamp – this is seconds after the BBIED went off  and killed Dr. Abdullah. It was taken by The Skipper who was in the city to remove and destroy old ordinance

Killed along with Dr. Abdullah was a Mr. Imadudin, Head of the Laghman Provincial Council along with 22 other people (54 more were wounded.) The press is reporting that this was caused by a vehicle borne IED but that is not correct. The bomber was wearing a suicide vest and forced his way through the crowd to detonate his rig after Dr Abdullah had entered his vehicle but before the guards closed the door. That is a damn near perfect strike which is not the norm for suicide bombers in Afghanistan. My sources tell me that there was a lot of small arms fire after the incident and at this point we suspect it was the Afghan security forces firing in the air as a method of crowd control.

Here is the best information we have on how this attack went down: Dr. Abdullah had stopped outside his SUV to disperse cash to some disabled people who had approached him asking for help. After handing out some cash he entered his vehicle and the bomber, wearing a burka, approached with a letter for him. He was in the car with the door open when the bomber handed him the letter and detonated himself. This is a   plausible explanation but anyone close enough to see this happen is probably dead so it could be bazaar rumor or the police coming up with a story that puts their security in a better light. There is little doubt that the BBIED (body borne IED) wore a disguise to help get him close to Abdullah and either a burka or a NDS uniform would be about the only ones I can think of which would work.

Dr. Abdullah was a very high value target so he had a large number of armed troops acting as a personal security detail (PSD) and they were the majority of the fatal casualties.

Here is what happens when a BBIED gets to you before the door on your armored SUV is shut - Dr. Abdullah may have had a chance if the armored truck was locked up.
Here is what happens when a BBIED gets to you before the door on your armored SUV is shut – Dr. Abdullah may have had a chance if the armored truck was locked up.

Dr. Abdullah and Mr. Imadudin join the Jani Khel district of Paktya Chief of Police and a senior CT (counter terrorism) commander in Khost as well as many more minor security officials in being “martyred” within the last six days. In the counterinsurgency (COIN) fight the insurgents look to strip away the government security apparatus when they feel confident in their ability to take the initiative and hold ground formally controlled by the officials they are knocking off. These kind of operations also allow the Taliban to portray themselves as brave warriors who strike with precision and minimize collateral damage. Ouch! Good thing they are as bad at IO as they are at shooting rifles or we’d have a world of problems sustaining our efforts here.

Here is the latest IO campaign from the eastern region Taliban – a professionally printed night letter which is so stupid school children giggle when they read it.

This Night Letter was posted around Jalalabad last week
This Night Letter was posted around Jalalabad last week

Here is the English translation:

We are kindly requesting and begging all the Muslims to immediately stop sending female members of their families to Shirzai Stadium on Wednesday days any more, Because we are all Muslims and such activities are prohibited in Islam whatever is happening inside the stadium. We are requesting you that you have already forgotten the Pashtunwali and courage but don’t forget Islam.

You don’t know what is going on inside but we are monitoring the activities closely, we are Muslims that’s why we are writing you this letter that we are ready be martyred because we don’t want disorder in the country. We are doing this just for Islam because we are Muslims and prior warning is important.

After this announcement you have few days if any one obey this will be good for him and if not he will be responsible for his own death, we swear to Allah that those who will not obey this will face severe consequences,

Note:

Each Muslim will swear to Allah that he will distribute this message to others as well.

We think this is referring to a Ministry of Woman’s Affairs training class which is teaching local teenage girls how to use computers. Jalalabad is the capitol of Nangarhar Province and the people here pride themselves on being educated. Nobody wants to live under the yoke of a bunch of illiterate, viscous, stupid puritans but there is a growing segment of the Pashtun population which will tolerate the Taliban because the central government has completely and totally failed them. Add to this all the problems with the election – remembering that I wrote 3 months ago that Afghanistan is no more capable of holding honest, open elections than the state of Illinois – and what we have now is the makings of another perfect storm.

The force behind the gathering storm clouds is the most fickle force in the world….American public opinion. It is getting harder and harder to explain what exactly it is we are hoping to accomplish by staying here just as it is getting harder and harder for the military to explain exactly how putting tens of thousands of troops behind the wire on large FOB’s is a plan which will accomplish anything productive. Here is what I think –von Clausewitz had it wrong about war – it should be politics by other means but it is not because there is too much emotional, cultural, historical, and psychological baggage tied up in it. George Will published an article today advocating an immediate withdraw from Afghanistan. He was immediately censored in the press but he is making an argument which is hard to refute.

There are no easy answers in Afghanistan. Gen McChrystal is coming out with an assessment that says he doesn’t need a lot of troops but he does need troops who can live off the FOB’s, eat kabob’s and rice and live with the Afghans. Modern western armies are not trained or organized to provide that kind of support. We once could and did in places as diverse as Haiti, El Salvador and China but that was when we deployed by ship and it took months to get on station and we were not capable of flying people all over the world. If McChrystal really wants on the ground embedded mentoring he needs to hire guys like us.

 

four down — how many more to go?

The bad guys hit a home run today by whacking the number 2 at NDS.   The NDS is the National Directorate of Security and they are the best of what is currently available in the Afghan Security Forces.   The number 2, Dr. Abdullah is an old Jihadi Commander from Laghman Province who fought the Soviets as Masooud’s chief of security before continuing the fight against the Taliban.     He was reportedly at the central Mosque for Mitharlam City (the capitol of Lagham Province) to fork over a ton of family dough to finance a major addition .   Seems damn un Islamic to me to whack a guy who is donating that much cash to a Mosque.

Note the date time stamp - this is seconds after the BBIED went off and was taken by a friend who was in the city to remove and destroy old ordinance
Note the date time stamp - this is seconds after the BBIED went off and was taken by a friend who was in the city to remove and destroy old ordinance

Killed along with Dr. Abdullah was a Mr. Imadudin, Head of the Laghman Provincial Council along with 22 other people (54 more were wounded.) The press is reporting that this was caused by a vehicle borne IED but that is not correct.   The bomber was wearing a suicide vest and forced his way through the crowd to detonate his rig after Dr Abdullah had entered his vehicle but before the guards closed the door.   That is a damn near perfect strike which is not the norm for suicide bombers in Afghanistan. My sources tell me that there was a lot of small arms fire after the incident and at this point we do not know if Afghan security forces fired into the large crowd which has gathered or if they were firing in the air as a method of crowd control.

Here is the best information we have on how this attack went down:   Dr. Abdullah had stopped outside his SUV to disperse cash to some disabled people who had approached him asking for help. After handing out some cash he entered his vehicle and the bomber, wearing a burka, approached with a letter for him. He was in the car with the door open when the bomber handed him the letter and detonated himself. This is a   plausible explanation but anyone close enough to see this happen is probably dead so it could be bazaar rumor or the police coming up with a story that puts their security in a better light.   There is little doubt that the BBIED (body borne IED) wore a disguise to help get him close to Abdullah and either a burka or a NDS uniform would be about the only ones I can think of which would work.

Dr. Abdullah was a very high value target so he had a large number of armed troops acting as a personal security detail (PSD)   and they were the majority of the fatal casualties.   Whacking the number 2 at NDS with that powerful a bomb without causing too many collateral casualties amongst the civilians is a good operation – no doubt about that.

Here is what happens when a BBIED gets to you before the door on your armored SUV is shut - Dr. Abdullah may have had a chance if the armored truck was locked up.
Here is what happens when a BBIED gets to you before the door on your armored SUV is shut - Dr. Abdullah may have had a chance if the armored truck was locked up.

Dr. Abdullah and Mr. Imadudin join the Jani Khel district of Paktya Chief of Police and a senior CT (counter terrorism) commander in Khost as well as many more minor security officials in being “martyred” within the last six days.   I have been studying guerrilla warfare since I was 17 (if you count the canon of   “I was there deep deep in the shit” paperbacks on Vietnam as studying guerrilla warfare…have you seen how much a paperback copy of The Five Fingers goes for on Ebay?   I should have held on to those stupid tales of daring do.) and can tell you this current stripping away of senior security officials appears to be a trend.   That would be a negative trend for those of us on the Afghan peoples side of this conflict.   In the counterinsurgency (COIN) fight the insurgents look to strip away the government security apparatus when they feel confident in their ability to take the initiative and hold the ground   formally controlled by the officials they are knocking off.   These kind of operations also allow the Taliban to portray themselves as brave warriors who strike with precision and minimize collateral damage. Ouch!   Good thing they are as bad at IO as they are at shooting rifles or we’d have a world of problems sustaining our efforts here.

Here is the latest IO campaign from the eastern region Taliban – a professionally printed night letter which is so stupid school children giggle when they read it.

This Night Letter was posted around Jalalabad last week
This Night Letter was posted around Jalalabad last week

Here is the English translation:

We are kindly requesting and begging all the Muslims to immediately stop sending female members of their families to Shirzai Stadium on Wednesday days any more, Because we are all Muslims and such activities are prohibited in Islam whatever is happening inside the stadium. We are requesting you that you have already forgotten the Pashtunwali and courage but don’t forget Islam.

You don’t know what is going on inside but we are monitoring the activities closely, we are Muslims that’s why we are writing you this letter that we are ready be martyred because we don’t want disorder in the country. We are doing this just for Islam because we are Muslims and prior warning is important.

After this announcement you have few days if any one obey this will be good for him and if not he will be responsible for his own death, we swear to Allah that those who will not obey this will face severe consequences,

Note:

Each Muslim will swear to Allah that he will distribute this message to others as well.

We think this is referring to a Ministry of Woman’s Affairs training class which is teaching local teenage girls how to use computers.   Jalalabad is the capitol of Nangarhar Province and the people here pride themselves on being more educated and   capable than other Pashtun peoples.   Nobody wants to live under the yoke of a bunch of illiterate, viscous, stupid puritans but there is a growing segment of the Pashtun population which will tolerate the Taliban because the central government has completely and totally failed them.   Add to this all the problems with the election – remembering that I wrote 3 months ago that Afghanistan is no more capable of holding honest, open elections than the state of Illinois – and what we have now is the makings of another perfect storm.

The force behind the gathering storm clouds is the most fickle force in the world….American public opinion.   It is getting harder and harder to explain what exactly it is we are hoping to accomplish by staying here just as it is getting harder and harder for the military to explain exactly how putting tens of thousands of troops behind the wire on large FOB’s is a plan which will accomplish anything productive.   Here is what I think –von Clausewitz had it wrong about war – it should be politics by other means but it is not because there is too much emotional, cultural, historical, and psychological baggage tied up in it. George Will published an article today advocating an immediate withdraw from Afghanistan. He was immediately censored in the press but he is making an argument which is hard to refute.

There are no easy answers in Afghanistan.   Gen McChrystal is coming out with an assessment which says he doesn’t need a lot of troops he needs troops who can live off the FOB’s, eat kabob’s and rice and live with the Afghans. Modern western armies are not organized to provide these kinds of people and modern western democracies won’t support that kind of nonsense anyway.     America has elected a President who has not one single clue about the military, or projecting force, or anything remotely connected to exercising executive control over an organization as large and powerful as the American national security apparatus.   Not trying to pick a fight here folks but that is just the way it is these days.   So what to do?   I have not a clue but I’ll say this; I would not want to be anywhere else – this place is about to get very interesting.

flash flood

I’m cross-posting this here at FRI because there seem to be more interest in the Saracha Bridge collapse than my little server at MIT can handle. You can find the original post at amy.fablab.af. Update: Download an extended set of photos from the collapsed Saracha Bridge (49 photos, 13.4MB).DSC_3361

 

Early in the morning of 8/31 a giant thunderstorm rolled in and dumped a stunning amount of water on us. High winds blew open my window which woke me up briefly enough to see the absolute solid wall of water as if Shem’s house had been moved under a waterfall. Lightning lit up the sky with such frequency it was nearly daylight.

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The next morning Logan asked if it had rained the previous night. The concrete houses are sound insulated enough that on the first floor I would have slept through the storm too had my window not blown open. The front yard didn’t look too different but once the front gates were opened we could see that Jalalabad had been flooded.

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All over Jalalabad culverts overflowed, low areas became rushing rivers, mud walls melted, and houses were damaged or destroyed. The biggest casualty was Saracha Bridge, about 1 km east of FOB Fenty towards Torkham. Tim and I went out to see the bridge a day later and found two and three story tall bridge footings washed down river and most of the bridge completely gone. The river looks innocent and small, only the near opaque turbidity gives away upstream mischief. Brick archways and stone footings are stranded on dry rock in what now looks like a dry river bed.DSC_3045

 

The initial ANSO report implied some damage that would be fixed within a day, which in Afghanistan usually might mean a week or so. I couldn’t remember a significant bridge to the east of the customs house because the road bed is wide and the approach to the bridge is long and gentle. We were unprepared for what we saw and initially I didn’t even realize that the enormous expanse had a bridge suitable for heavy truck traffic spanning it only a day before.DSC_2974

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There were trucks everywhere, pulled on to the side of the road on both sides of the bridge. Some tried to use smaller roads to the north or south as bypasses but upstream and downstream bridges were questionable themselves. The bypasses were not necessarily a great choice because the heavy trucks made big muddy ruts in the small dirt roads. So most cars and trucks opted to try their luck simply driving across the river after the water level went down.DSC_2995DSC_2959

 

Several bulldozers had arrived and were making ramps down and up the banks to make it easier for the vehicles to get down to the stream bed. While we watched, about 2 in 3 cars or trucks made it through ok, sometimes with a little help from the masses of Afghans who had collected to watch and see if anything exciting might happen. A handful of jingle trucks seemed to be pretty stuck.DSC_2983

Actions Speak Louder That Words

There is no shortage of news flowing out of Afghanistan concerning election mischief and general mayhem. Just tonight we received a report about a BBIED who walked into the Pakistani Khasadar (Tribal) Guard mess and detonated his rig killing 22 and wounding another 15.  That was probably revenge for the recent killing of Baitullah Meshud by drone strike.  We have been spending an inordinate amount of time investigating the increased number of Anti Government Element (AGE) incidents on the main roads and in Jalalabad City to get a handle on what is  criminal and what is Taliban activity.

The Bot conducting a field interview at an ANP checkpoint which had been attacked the previous evening
The Bot conducting a field interview at an ANP checkpoint which had been attacked the previous evening

Late last week we had a fairly large firefight in downtown Jalalabad (most unusual) but upon investigation looked to be a Badal (pashto for vengeance) act – the third targeting a small ANP post in as many weeks. This was a new tactic though – one or possibly two gunmen firing at the post from across the street while a third assailant, described as small and swift, bum rushed the main gate with a satchel bag full of hand grenades. One ANP officer and the grenadier were killed and another five ANP officers were wounded by grenade shrapnel. Rushing into a building behind a shower of hand grenades is an effective technique when properly executed by a squad or so of infantry but this looks to be a poorly planned and executed attempt to kill someone – not a deliberate attack to seize a government facility.

The "small swift" assailant took about 30 to the chest before he could get all of his stores deployed - these are 2 Chinese stick grenades, 3 Russian F1 hand grenades and 2 Pakistani handgrenades models P1 and MK 1. Typical collection of hand grenades available on the black market in Afghanistan
The “small swift” assailant took about 30 to the chest before he could get all of his stores deployed – these are 2 Chinese stick grenades, 3 Russian F1 hand grenades and 2 Pakistani handgrenades models P1 and MK 1. Typical collection of hand grenades available on the black market in Afghanistan

There is no reason to anticipate the election results for some time. Allegations of fraud continue to pour in and this report from Ben Arnoldy of the Christian Science Monitor (who I have seen several times outside the wire getting his own stories) sums the situation up succinctly.

I have been reading the new U.S. Government Integrated Civilian- Military Campaign Plan for Support to Afghanistan as well as the Commander of ISAF COIN Guidance and all I can say about them is actions speak louder than words. There is a world of disconnect between what has been written in these documents and what is happening on the ground. Joshua Foust posted his thoughts on the topic yesterday pointing out that there is no detectable change from what the previous COMISAF guidance. I agree and wanted to exam a couple of recent incidents to explain why we (the United States and our allies) suck at fighting the counterinsurgency battle.

Earlier in the month this story about a Bagram PRT was published in Wired’s Danger Room and it is a classic example of attrition warfare mindset being applied to a COIN problem. The article covers what is termed a “KLE”   (key leader engagement) and “HA” (humanitarian assistance) mission to a small village just outside Bagram Air Base from which the military suspects rockets were fired toward Pogadishu (Bagram Airbase – hat tip to Old Blue for the new name.)   Although the reporter is not savvy enough to recognize what he is witnessing – this mission is a perfect example of what not to do when engaging an Afghan village.

This is part of the route clearance package from the local FOB. They are brining in a broken truck and had traffic halted for about 20 minutes before this picture was taken. Instead of using the brand new truck by-pass to get to the FOB they rolled through the city center which clogged traffic up for a good hour. This is a minor examaple but how hard is it to just use the brand new extra wide not that busy truck by pass which dumps you out at your front gate and spare the city folks the drama of a large convoy limping through the narrow streets?
This is part of the route clearance package from the local FOB. They are bringing in a broken truck and had traffic halted for about 20 minutes before this picture was taken. Instead of using the brand new truck by-pass to get to the FOB they rolled through the city center which clogged traffic up for a good hour. This is a minor example but how hard is it to just use the brand new extra wide not that busy truck by pass which dumps you out at your front gate and spare the city folks the drama of a large convoy limping through the narrow streets?

The problems start when a large force rolls into the town in MRAP’s with full battle kit, a bunch of “HA” aid bags full of tea packets, soccer balls, school supplies, two terps, some medical staff, and no plan. For those of you who have never been to Afghanistan let me clue you into a fact – the last thing in the world these people need is tea.They have plenty and they hate Lipton tea bags because they suck – that is like rolling into a Mexican border town and giving the locals packets of cocaine and boxes of 5.56 ammo – they have enough of that shit … although the thought counts for something I guess.

The “KLE” meeting doesn’t go well. The locals bum rush the supplies, the medics have no female terp and are also getting overwhelmed to the point of panic by people who no doubt have a ton of problems such as infected sores, intestinal parasites, malaria etc.. which the Americans could easily treat if they had the time, patience and a clue. They see a young man snapping pictures with a cell phone – something Afghans do all the time – and interpret this as possibly hostile activity so they scan him with the BATS (Biometric Automated Tool Set) and erase his cell phone. Of what possible relevance these cell phone pics could be remains a mystery to me. Young Afghans taking cell phone pictures is what one expects to see and is therefore not a “rule of opposites” scenario.

An old man smacks one of the little village girls and an American officer steps in to intervene with a “stern warning.” What kind of stern warning? What the hell is the Captain going to do? What did the terp tell the old man? I bet the Captain in this story has no idea and I also bet it was not what the young Captain told him to say. Little girls in this country have much more pressing concerns than getting cuffed upside the head by their granddad. That is no reason to draw a line in the sand which may alarm some readers but is the way it is here and the Terp knows that.  And throughout the mission the company First Sergeant is “getting very agitated” because “They’re going to put soldiers lives at risk.” I hate hearing “they”….who the hell is “they?” What exactly about “they” is putting soldiers lives at risk? A company first sergeant is supposed to be an island of calm in the sea of chaos which is the Big Army. One that gets flustered at being around Afghan woman and children is putting troops at more risk than a “they.”

Juma Khan Hamdard, Governor of Paktia Province - important meetings should be treated exactly the same in Afghanistan as they are in America. How would it look to a state Govenor if a military commander arrived with 16 gunmen, embarked upon four Armored Praire Schooners and encased in body armor like Ivanho?
Juma Khan Hamdard, Governor of Paktia Province – important meetings should be treated exactly the same in Afghanistan as they are in America. How would it look to a state Governor if a military commander arrived with 16 gunmen, embarked upon four Armored Prairie Schooners and encased in body armor like Ivanho?

What is putting the soldiers at risk is the institutional stupidity. Let me explain why. In order to do “KLE” you need to engage the “key leaders” in a manner consistent with your objectives. If your objective is to provide aid and make new friends how should the company commander present himself? I vote for he drives in with his terp in an unarmored SUV; sits down with the local elders and asks permission to come in with his company and also for their help distributing some supplies. You ask them to provide male and female interpreters as well as supervisors to assist with the distribution of aid and you agree to the rate for these folks. You both agree exactly how the MEDCAP will go and pay for supervisors – both male and female to run that too.  Leave the security outside the village and walk in without all the body armor – side arms or slung rifles are no big deal and soldiers should never allow theirs to leave their bodies anyway so wear them. The visit is supposed to be about trust and you can only show trust with actions …. not words. If the elders do not hold up their end of the bargain you leave. It is that simple – Pashtunwali cuts both ways and if they won’t play ball they should get the stick … or just be ignored. Both responses are appropriate depending on location, tribal composition, and the overall Provincial security picture.

This is how we get large projects done in the most volatile regions of the south and east and is nothing more than good manners and common sense. What do you think is going to happen when you bring in a large convoy of fully armored troops who have not a clue what they are doing into a village? I run paydays where we distribute very large sums of money to hundreds of poor illiterate workers and these pay calls go like clockwork. The reason they are so smooth is that the Afghans organize them – I can only imagine what a Charlie Foxtrot it would be if the Bagram PRT did pay calls for me ….those guys seem clueless.

Payday in Gardez which runs like a Parris Island training evolution and is completly organized and administered by Afghan staff.
Payday in Gardez which runs like a Parris Island training evolution and is completely organized and administered by Afghan staff.

As I mentioned above the Bot and I have been spending a lot of time trying to get a handle on the nature and seriousness of the many incidents being reported daily. This means going out to the various posts and talking with the Afghan police or army guys who man them. The physical condition of these posts are very poor as is the most of the equipment the troops are issued, but what is most appalling is the complete lack of adult supervision, military planning, and meaningful mission.

The Bot and I are looking at a ridge line some 600 meters away which is the attack point for Taliban gunmen who fire on this post regularly. There are four ANA soldiers and four ANP policemen manning this position and they have a Hummer mounted M60 machinegun, and RPK machinegun and their rifles for defense.   Apparently the bad guys tend to attack in the evening when the ANP re-supply truck arrives with chow and they have wounded at least two ANP policemen this month.

glassing the ridge from ANP fighting position on Rte 1 - the AGE firing points are outside the range of rifles
glassing the ridge from ANP fighting position on Rte 1 – the AGE firing points are outside the range of rifles

What is frustrating to guys like Bot and I is the fact that we could easily sort out this threat with a good machinegun squad and a mortar – manned by proper infantry. An American squad with a sharp squad leader would be perfect for a job like this. The reason why American infantry is so effective is that their machineguns come with tripods and T&E’s which are traversing and elevation mechanisms. Machineguns are deadly in the defense because you can dial them in using a map, range finders, a little math and test firing. There are five different firing spots on the ridge across from this position and each of them should be dialed in on range cards so that the leader calls out a target designation off the card when he wants to shift fire. The machinegunner than dials that target in on his T&E and he can rock and roll. A mortar which has been placed in properly can do exactly the same thing – register the targets allowing for first round hits which saves ammo and pumps up the troops.

This machingun should be dug in on a tripod with T&E attached and registered to hit the 5 different firing points used by AGE gunmen. Shooting it off of a pintle mount (which is how it is attached to the vehicle) only works well in Hollywood movies; on planet earth it is a waste of ammo
This machingun should be dug in on a tripod with T&E attached and registered to hit the 5 different firing points used by AGE gunmen. Shooting it off of a pintle mount (which is how it is attached to the vehicle) only works well in Hollywood movies; on planet earth it is a waste of ammo

The generals can write all the pithy COIN sounding directives they want but words mean little outside the wire. Only actions count and it seems that our seniors are forgetting the age old dictum “you cannot fool the troops” and that applies to all troops including Afghans. We used to know how to do counterinsurgency back in the early parts of the last century. We would actually embed our troops in with the local formations to live, train, fight and die with them. We do not embed troops now – we say we do but we don’t. Embedded training teams live on mini FOB’s inside Afghan FOB’s and the Afghans they are supposed to mentor cannot enter the little American FOB’s without an escort and a body search. The Americans do not go out and stay out with the troops they mentor and when they do go out the Americans are in MRAP’s with full body armor while their trainees are in unarmored pickups without body armor. That is not leading be example – in fact it is not leading at all.  Embedded trainers need to train Afghans exactly as they would Americans which means they really embed, eating what they eat, sleeping like they sleep and fighting with them wearing the same kit they wear. That is what my friends who work that mission tell me they should be doing but they can’t and they are frustrated.

I have mentioned this before and want to stress it again – I joined the military in 1978 back when morale was in the toilet and discipline in the ranks almost nonexistent. The American military we know and love today was created in the 1980’s during the presidency of Ronald Reagan by a cadre of officers who were able to erase the stain of Vietnam with the generous help and support of the greatest President we have ever had. The current occupant of the White House knows nothing about the military and could not in a million years have the impact on that organization that President Reagan did. The current senior military leadership apparently knows nothing about Vietnam or they might understand the consequences of putting layers of ass kissing, careerist motivated, humorless and petty Colonels in stupid do nothing staff jobs to micromanage the troops in the field. Leaders who create larger and larger staffs do so to insulate them from having to take responsibility for everything happening under them in the chain in command. That is why you only see the Navy relieving O-6 level officers as a matter of routine – you can’t create more and more staff jobs on a ship so a Navy CO actually has to live up to the responsibility for everything which happens or fails to happen in his command ….just like a junior officer in the Army does. We need Generals who come to Afghanistan and command in the manner of a U.S. Grant or Patton or Razor Ray Davis. Men who will dump the staffs, ignore PowerPoint briefs, get off the FOB’s and out with the men in the field.

Election Day

It is hot, humid and sunny this morning in Jalalabad with a pleasant light wind blowing out of the Northeast. The traffic is light, people calm and as we sit here on the Baba deck monitoring the election we are receiving a report about every 10 minutes of mischief and mayhem. I bet less than 50% of them are true. For example, there is a report out of Kunar that the Taliban is shooting “an RPG” off near a polling station “every hour.” We are getting a steady stream of SMS messages out of Kabul where most of the international community is currently located due to potential instability and they say there are several gunfights and a few bombs in the capitol. As most of the security companies are on complete lock-down it is impossible to verify the reporting. Good security companies and good operatives report as fact only those things they have verified themselves – everything else is suspect. So when we hear there is a “gun fight between political parties in Zone 9 of Kabul” we don’t necessarily believe it.

I still believe the Taliban do not view the election as a significant event although it is clear some actors do. Around the city of Kunduz there were 24 election stations burned down on Tuesday night which indicates Hekmatyar’s group HiG is sending a message about the election. HiG reportedly conducted their own version of a RIP (relief in place) by replacing all the commanders in Kunduz last winter and ordering them to fight. They have been battling with the Germans all summer up in the previously very quiet and safe north and it will be interesting to see if the German’s step up their game and rediscover the art of small unit infantry warfare like the French have done outside of Kabul.

The French now move in small fast formations or "sierials" in milspeak allowing them to move thier company sized convoys quickly and with the ability to mutually support. Classic infantry tactics and a new look for the Frnech who have gotten better and better at the COIN fight since their embarrasing defeat a year agpo in the Uzbin valley outside of Surobi.
The French now move in small fast formations or “serials” in milspeak allowing them to move their company sized convoys quickly and with the ability to mutually support. Classic infantry tactics and a new look for the French who have gotten better and better at the COIN fight since their embarrassing defeat a year ago in the Uzbin valley outside of Surobi.

We will be out and about later in the day to get some food and ice – the staff is off today and we are forced to fend for ourselves. The extra tight ring of steel securitynever showed in Jalalabad and folded in Gardez the troops folded up their checkpoints at around 2000 local which does not bode well. There is also a ban on reporting of security incidents put on the media from on high according to this article from McClatchy. At the Taj we are tracking the incident levels in real time with software, programming and super tech geek support from Ken and Mullah Todd. The press has picked up on our low budget highly efficient efforts – here is the BBC’s report.  Here is the link to Alive Afghanistan and Mullah Todd’s tracking map….it is smoking right now with live reporting from Afghan’s across the country via SMS text messaging.

The end of a quiet day in Jalalabad as viewed from the Baba Deck of the Taj. The mound in the foreground is a Buddhist Burial Mound dating back to 300 BC
The end of a quiet day in Jalalabad as viewed from the Baba Deck of the Taj. The mound in the foreground is a Buddhist Burial Mound dating back to 300 BC

Although quiet in the city the election day produced some 80+ security incidents in the Eastern Region.   Most of them appear to be minor – only two civilian deaths were reported –   in Paktia Province and they were civilians caught in a cross fire between the ANP and villains of unknown affiliation. It is clear that in many places in both the south, southeast and east the vote did not go well. The entire Province of Nimroz did not participate according to reporting on the Afghan Alive election tracker. In most of the north the vote went as planned.

This is downtown Jalalabad at 1300 this afternoon. The town was deserted and there were a few more ANP troops on the streets than normal. We did not see many kids out and about today either.
This is downtown Jalalabad at 1300 this afternoon. The town was deserted and there were a few more ANP troops on the streets than normal. We did not see many kids out and about today either.

It is hard to predict how today’s vote will turn out. We received a report around 1500 today that females and children were moving in mass from the Panjshir section of Kabul but that is unconfirmed. If true it would be a troubling signal but a dumb move by the Northern Alliance party. They are still well positioned to get a seat at the table and I would doubt they are serious about clearing the decks for action in Kabul.

There was not much evidence of increased security in Jalalabad on election day although the regular ANP checkpoints were checking all traffic which they rarely do
There was not much evidence of increased security in Jalalabad on election day although the regular ANP checkpoints were checking all traffic which they rarely do

In Gardez the ANP detected a suicide bomber on a motorcycle and opened fire on him.   He withdrew about 500 meters away from the checkpoint and detonated his vest.  It would appear that at the price of 2 civilians and open hapless suicide bomber the collective entities operating under the Taliban flag did a sufficient job of disrupting things today.   Accomplishing this without a high body count is pretty impressive and probably proves me wrong on my prediction above that the various Taliban Shura’s did not view the election as a significant event. I’m not adding the three idiot bank robbers in Kabul yesterday to the Taliban ledger – seizing a bank which is empty of money is too stupid even for them. The countrywide death toll for today is in at 26   which is pretty low yesterday we saw 101 dead and 563 wounded in a Baghdad bombing and it seems to me that Iraq is more important to us strategically than Afghanistan.

voters 2
A group of supporters for Karzai heading out of Jalalabad at full throttle. This was just about the only traffic we saw downtown today.

My buddy Gaz sends the following from Kandahar; “at 1915 we have counted 37 explosions in the city.”   That is a lot of rocket fire and one has to wonder how that happens given the counter battery radar, aircraft and other sensors ringing the city. Here are some pics from some of the closer strikes:

Kandahar City as viewed from Gaz's roof
Kandahar City as viewed from Gaz’s roof
More from Gaz
More from Gaz
It is impossible to have a proper barbi when sharp like this is flying around
It is impossible to have a proper barbi when shrap like this is flying around the poop deck

I’m glad I live in Jalalabad – this level of excitement is bad on the digestion.