Collateral Damage

It is time to turn the ole gimlet eye onto the news, cut through the clutter, provide a little ground truth, and introduce another obscure military concept to the FRI family and their informed friends. The start point is this article concerning the killing of a little girl by the Italian army ISAF contingent in Herat which I want to compare to the current civilian casualty flap in Farah Province where over 100 people are reported to have been killed in ISAF air strikes. In my opinion one these incidents should result in a murder charge and the other is the way things have to be but we are not managing that message well at all.

The facts as reported about the Italian shooting seem very clear. They overtook a civilian vehicle but reported it to be driving at high speed they claim to have fired warning shots but TV footage of the car shows it was hit repeatedly in the left rear quarter panel area indicating the shooter was behind the vehicle. The shooting resulted in the death of a 12 year old girl and the Italians drove right past after shooting this car load of people without even stopping. That is murder. There is no way to justify it as anything else based on the facts presented in the news article. Most civilian traffic will attempt to stay in front of convoys because once overtaken you’ll join 100’s of other vehicles in a miles long 20 mph rat line. Which of course is point #1 how can the Italians overtake a racing car in their armored troop carriers? They can’t.

It is a common technique for suicide bombers to slow down and wait for a convoy to draw close and then detonate their vehicles. It is also common for the slow moving traffic to allow convoys to overtake them too. These convoys pass vehicles all the time so that fact that this car slowed to allow the convoy to draw near and pass was also very typical behavior. I have mentioned this whole convoy procedure thing so many times that my Dad will send emails sounding like this; oh great son another post about convoysif I didn’t know better I’d mistake you for a whiner. At risk of receiving yet another email of this nature let me again attempt to point out the problem with convoys who shoot at vehicles they think to be VBIED’s.

His Excellency Gul Agha Shirzai, Governor of Nangarhar Proince the day after he withdrew from the presidential race.  Mr W and I were bringing him good news - very good news about but the Govenor was clearly both exhausted and pre-occupied.  Gov Shirzai is a very powerful, respected, experienced leader and stepped aside for a damn good reason.  More on this towards the end of the post
His Excellency Gul Agha Shirzai, Governor of Nangarhar Proince the day after he withdrew from the presidential race. Mr W and I were bringing him good news - very good news about but the Govenor was clearly both exhausted and pre-occupied. Gov Shirzai is a very powerful, respected, experienced leader and stepped aside for a damn good reason. More on this towards the end of the post

John Boyd, who I had the pleasure of meeting once, is one of those eccentric’s often found behind the scenes in military history. He was a Colonel in the Air Force with the reputation as a strategist and unorthodox reformer. One of his greater contributions to military science was the Observe Orient Decide Act (OODA) Loop. Here is the Wikipedia entry on the subject:

According to Boyd, decision-making occurs in a recurring cycle of observe-orient-decide-act. An entity (whether an individual or an organization) that can process this cycle quickly, observing and reacting to unfolding events more rapidly than an opponent, can thereby “get inside” the opponent’s decision cycle and gain the advantage. Frans Osinga argues that Boyd’s own views on the OODA loop are much deeper, richer, and more comprehensive than the common interpretation of the ‘rapid OODA loop’ idea

Boyd developed this theory after an analysis of enemy tactics during air to air engagements over Korea during the conflict there. At the time the Soviet MiG-15 was faster than the American F-86 Sabre and they were operating from Chinese airfields close to the fight while the American jets would arrive with maybe 15 minutes of fuel. The MiG could out-climb the Sabre at all altitudes, and it had a greater operational ceiling.   But the MiG had design flaws resulting in poor control at high speeds, a low rate of roll and directional instability at high altitudes. Boyd recognized that the way of taking advantage of these flaws was to enter a series of intricate turns designed to make the MiG react to the Sabre. Once the MiG was committed it just a matter of time before the Sabre was able convert his high speed maneuver advantage to get a gun solution using the K14 radar gun-sight, which was designed to use derivative movement information for the firing solution. This is why there is a Top Gun course and whatever the Air Force calls their jet fighter school which obviously lacks cool factor or we’d have seen a movie about it.

Confusing techie version of the Boyd OODA loop
Confusing techie version of the Boyd OODA loop

For earthbound gunfighters the OODA loop also has great utility. The best example would be the famous (in my circles anyway) Tueller drill. Named after Salt Lake City Police Sergeant Dennis Tueller (he was a Gunsight instructor too) it is a simple demonstration of perceived vs actual risk. The drill assumes an assailant armed with an edged weapon is being uncooperative and is designed to show how close is too close in that situation. The assailant stands back to back with a shooter who has a holstered pistol and is facing a target 7 yards away. On cue the assailant starts to run and stops when he hears the pistol report the shooter presents his weapon to the target and delivers a controlled pair center mass. A well trained shooter using a good rig and pistol can deliver a controlled pair from the holster in 1.1 to 1.3 seconds – about the time it takes a young adult male to cover the 21 feet.

Twenty one feet is about three car parking spaces or the length of a slightly bigger than average room.   Most people feel safe with that much room between them and a stranger.   If an assailant starts at you full speed from that distance only the best trained top tier shooters in the world have a chance of presenting a pistol and firing two effective shots. And that is only if they have already decided to shoot;   the step in the OODA loop model which takes the longest to work through.   The Tueller drill is a perfect example of training designed to improve OODA loop decision making. By illustrating how close is too close and reinforcing the concept with dynamic training the students learn how to make the critical shoot don’t shoot decision faster based off legitimate state of the art training.

Which brings us to ISAF convoys and machinegunners;   ISAF convoys over take civilian traffic and pass on coming civilian traffic as a matter of routine. Convoy gunners are responsible for recognizing potential threats, warning them to keep their distance, and firing on them when that warning is ignored. Although ISAF convoys are slow they will still close with on coming traffic at a rate of 60 feet per second which is 3.5 car lengths.   On a flat road with perfect visibility a convoy gunner has about 60 seconds – the time it takes a vehicle to reach him from just outside the max effective range of his machine gun – to determine if a vehicle is a threat.   There are very few places in Afghanistan with that much flat terrain – my guess would be that the average civilian car to ISAF convoy encounter is around 10 to 15 seconds long.   What do you think it would take to get your attention, have you orient your weapon, then make the critical friend or foe decision before firing into an oncoming car?

To distinguish potential threats in the normal chaotic local traffic clutter requires gunners with enough knowledge to apply the rule of opposites. Suicide vehicle drivers tend to have a signature, they tend to behave erratically, and in order to detect one in time to warn and engage him you would have to detect him a long way off. If you think through this process – especially while driving so you can do a little real time war gaming – you will come to the same conclusion I have. And that is our counter VBIED measures will never work because it is not possible for a soldier to complete the OODA loop and reach an informed firing solution given the small amount of time, short distances, and number of innocent people who drive like lunatics in Afghanistan.   You cannot recognize a VBIED that fast – not possible – so why the hell are we still shooting 12 year old girls in this country? Because we have the wrong troops here.   Killing people is serious business best left to professionals.

Then there is the story of the 100 dead civilians, victim of an ISAF air strike. Apparently the Afghan Army responded in support of a police post which had been repeatedly attacked by fighters who disappeared into some small hamlet in Farah Province. The Taliban continued to fight from that hamlet and ISAF air was called in to deal with them. ISAF air is not controlled by the Afghan army which means American trainers or an SF team was with them to handle the tac air. The Taliban starts a fight, kills a few of the local cops, goes to ground in a local compound which we blast causing the deaths of all inside you tell me who is the asshat? Not us this is what happens when you allow the Taliban to operate out of your village. And don’t tell me the poor villagers are defenseless in the face of these swarms of Taliban which just appear out of nowhere in their midst. They are anything but defenseless and the last time I checked there was the Kharan Desert just south of Farah province so where are all these Taliban fighters coming from anyway?

The people in Farah are rioting over this incident; the politicians are making hay with it. Time magazine is outraged (I know I could give a rats ass too about what Time thinks) and the newly rehabilitated President Karzai has chimed in to declare the incident unacceptable. This is not the same as all the previous incidents where we acted based on false intelligence because we are not smart enough to confirm targets with ground based assets this was hot pursuit and they have to end the same way every time with a bang not a whimper. Body counts are irrelevant we will never kill enough Taliban to win what we need to do is bring security to the people.     Do the reconstruction we said we would do, and go home. But to do that we must deal with armed assaults by putting a hurting on those doing the assaulting.   You cannot let these guys ambush you time and time again with impunity.   They want to fight? fine we fight and when that happens they die.   That is how it has to be.

I had a dream – in that dream my Commander in Chief gets President Karzai into the oval office and leans on him like he does the lawyers representing the secure debt holders of Chrysler Motors. He tells Karazi in no uncertain terms how things are going to be and to stop the pissing and moaning over civilians who give sanctuary to Taliban fighters. He’ll allow him to continue to get upset over random acts of stupidity like the Italian shooting, which I think to be murder anyway but would make him toe the line on civilian casualties which were taken when we flew in SUPPORT OF HIS ARMY WHO WAS IN CONTACT AT THE TIME. If he doesn’t like it then the Chief of Staff Rahim “Boom Boom” Emanual might just take him for a ride and give him some truck music Chicago style.   Just like we do to hard working honest Americans who attempt to discharge their fiduciary obligations in accordance with our laws and blessed constitution. If the President can bully them why not our allies too?

Yeah it is a dream but if the President of the United States can attack private citizens engaged in the execution of their fiduciary obligations to clients and expose them to harassment and ridicule for refusing to sell their clients out in order to benefit the auto unions than why can’t he do a little arm bending to benefit all the citizens of this country? Isn’t that his job now? Well.Chris Matthews leg says he is executing all duties flawlessly so what do I know?

I mentioned a rehabilitated President Karazi because by my calculations August’s presidential election was decided about five days ago and Karzai is the winner. The day after Nangarhar Provincial Governor Gul Agha Shirzai withdrew from the presidential race I had the following conversation with my local fixer/manager/man of influence Mr. W.

Me: what is going on the President Karzai and why is the Governor so down?

Mr. W: He is the leader of our country and a great man. His Excellency Governor Shirzai is tired is all he too is very happy for our country

I thought Karzai was just the mayor of Kabul who cannot even stop his ministries from preying upon the citizens let alone govern?

When he first started he was just Kabul mayor but he had no one below who knew about government and it was bad. But he now learn how to govern and how to work with the Americans and this is the most important thing to work with Americans.

What about Marshall Fahim? Isn’t he a warlord from the north?

No he is great Mujahedeen leader from the north and also a great man

What? When did all this happen? How long have you been thinking that Marshall Fahim and the President are the future of your country?

Ohfor five maybe six days now.

Ole Mr. W – demonstrating a text book use of one of most potent tools of the Scots Irish tribe irony. This from a man who as child worked on an NGO project in Jalalabad during the Taliban times carried a flag for escorting female NGO sponsored health awareness workers.   His job was to escort them in public and then stand outside the compound during their home visits so that all knew the woman was out and about on official government business and should not be beaten on sight. For this he earned 5 kilos of wheat per day and now Mr. W, who is the driving force behind many aid programs which target the female population because he believes their education and empowerment is key to the future of his country, is mastering irony too.

Scout is getting bigger but has started wondering out of the room and pretending to be asleep when I try to read my posts back to her.  Is it me or is that not a familar female coping mechinism?
Scout is getting bigger but has started wondering out of the room and pretending to be asleep when I try to read my posts back to her. Is it me or is that not a familar female coping mechinism?

It would appear that President Karzai has quietly built a capable coalition during these last 100 days despite snubs from both VP Biden and President Obama. It was rumored that Speaker of the House Pelosi commissioned a hand crafted Haitian-American Karzai voodoo doll for just 375,000 tax payer dollars into which she plunged needles dipped in Newt’s urine. Newt Gingrich urine; not urine from the small amphibian known to all Disney fans as a common witch spell ingredient. Nothing but the best for our speaker and that includes the urine used on hand crafted voodoo dolls. But none of that fazed President Karzai who is off to Washington to deal with Obama with a recently acquired position of strength.   Intuition tells me that Karzai has taken the measure of our bright, handsome, articulate, President and decided to stay in the game despite months of our side (the most talented and honest administration ever) hinting he should collect his chips and go home. I wonder why that is?

Killology

There were a series of news stories which aroused more than a little interest amongst the circle of professional infantrymen I correspond with. One of those stories concerned young lieutenant leading a nighttime ambush patrol with his platoon from the 1st battalion of the 26th infantry. And what a story it is they patrol onto the bad guys side of the mountain, set up a classic linear ambush with all the fixings claymores, hand grenades and machineguns, along a known trail and within hours bag a squad plus of Taliban. There are few things in life more gratifying than going to the enemy’s side of the mountain, kicking his ass like he’s a punk, and with the help of Rotary CAS (gunships) hunting down and killing all the leakers just so everyone in the area understands who the apex predators are. Classic infantry tactics executed by proficient, aggressive infantrymen; I’d donate a kidney for the opportunity to do a mission like that as would several thousand of my good friends. As you’ll note in the story all involved say this bold move has sent shock waves through the Korangal Valley because the Taliban are not used to having the Americans snooping around their neck of the woods at night annihilating all the bad guys unlucky enough to cross their path.

Megan Ortagus from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies spent so time outside the wire on her last embed.  This has nothing to do with the post but I thought ...well it is a good picture.
Megan Ortagus from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies spent some time with the Freerange crew outside the wire on her last embed. This has nothing to do with the post but I thought ...well it is a good picture.

Then there was this story about an American army convoy getting ambushed repeatedly as they exited the small hamlet called Doab in Nuristan Province. There was nothing unusual about this tale. The Army went in with a large convoy for an overnight stay in a remote Nuristan valley and on the way out had to run a gauntlet of ambushes. They suspect the local village elders were complicit in the attacks and they are without question correct. Nuristan is a province where the people are linguistically and ethnically distinct from other Afghans. They have a long history of feuding with their neighbors, all of them mind you, and their women are highly prized as wives among other Afghan tribes because they have a reputation for delivering many children and enjoying sex. I doubt that is 100% true but who knows? What is a fact is that there is no way armed opposition groups made their way into this remote valley without the permission and support of the local village leaders. These are a remote clannish people who have spent the last 2,000 years defending their wives and daughters from raiding parties by horny teenagers from the rest of the country. I have no idea why we would venture into Nuristan in the first place those people want to be left alone and I’m all for that. If we are there because our National Intelligence Assets think that Al Qaeda will infiltrate through Chitral and destabilize the government than I say those assets should actually get off the FOB’s and try to infiltrate into Kabul through Nuristan. There are no less than 1,473 routes into Kabul from Pakistan that are easier and do not involve tangling with Nuristani’s.

Upon reflection I take that back – it is probably easier to move through Nuristan now that we have built all those roads in there.   My point is that we don’t need to be in every remote valley or hamlet to do what needs to be done in this country.   If the remote villagers don’t want our help concentrate on the vast majority of the country who does.   The only enemies operating in Nuristan pay through the nose to operate there and the only reason they do that is to get at Americans who they mistakenly think are isolated and vulnerable. That was what the fight in Wanat was about last year and it cost us 9 KIA. The villagers and their paymaster guests from Pakistan got a chance to experience consequences of trying to overrun and American position but putting an ass whooping on them was small consolation given the cost.

I am straying way off the story line again anyway there was nothing unusual about this ambush except that Chim Chim was along for the ride and he told me something fascinating. He said the fight from beginning to end was controlled by the BCT (Brigade Combat Team) headquarters in Jalalabad via drone feeds. That surprised me, there is no way a Marine regimental commander would reach around a battalion commander to control a fight. Ever it is just not done and this news seemed to validate the grave concern my peers and I had in the 80’s and 90’s as technology evolved allowing commanders from on high to micromanage units under contact. After thinking it through I have come up with an interesting angle. I know a few guys from that BCT and they are first rate.   They have a solid commanding officer and the brigade chief of staff is well known, well liked and much respected by the local politicians and leaders in Nangarhar Province and no doubt Kunar Province too. It takes a ton of time, patience, and ability to accomplish as much as that Lieutenant Colonel has during his short time here. The current BCT has done as much as they can possibly be done give the constraints they must deal with to engage and support the government which is critical in counterinsurgency operations.

out-the-hill-main-st-dow-ad
Downtown Doab, Nuristan Province Afghanistan

These two enemy contacts explain a lot about what kind of forces we have in country, what kind we need in country, and why the move made by the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Conway, to take over operations in Afghanistan was brilliant (although DOA due to inter-service rivalry.) To help illustrate my point for those of you who are not military professionals I am going to introduce a topic most have never heard of or thought about. It is time to talk about Killology.

Former Army Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman coined the term Killology back in the early 90’s when he published a book of the same name and subtitled The Price and Process of Killing in Battle. One of the topics he covers is the misconception most people have of the fight or flight response. The fight or flight model applies only to extra-species confrontations; for all inter-species conflicts there is a four option model; fight, flight, posture, or submission. When confronted by a rattlesnake you can kill the snake or leave the immediate area; you cannot plead with it, or threaten it, or scare it because it’s just a snake. With humans it is obviously different; the typical confrontation is a rapid escalation of name calling followed by a half ass shoving match and few ineffective roundhouses. Is that fighting? It may be under the eyes of our law but in the law of the jungle that is posturing. Posturing and submission are how animals solve disputes with each other; snakes don’t bite other snakes (of the same species) they wrestle each other. Bucks do not gore other bucks to death they lock horns and push each other around. Inter-species animal fights are a series of posturing moves followed by submission from the loser. In humans it is a small percentage of the population which responds to provocation by immediately fighting really fighting when provoked. Check this out did you know 2% of the fighter pilots in WW II were responsible for downing over 40% of verified enemy kills? Know what trait they had in common? They all had a propensity for and history of fighting when provoked. This is interesting stuff and you should visit the Killology website and read through some of the articles. Better yet buy the Killology book it is the work of a very bright, very talented guy who has created a dedicated following in the international law enforcement community.

As Grossman points out there is a distinct difference, on several levels, between losing a dozen men to an airstrike from an unseen drone and losing them in a point blank ambush by infantrymen who want, more than anything else in life, the chance to close with a destroy and armed enemy. It is the same difference seen in people who have survived critical injuries sustain in an auto accident as opposed to people who sustained similar serious injury at the hands of a violent criminal predator. The auto accident victim will not have to deal with the possibility of post traumatic stress; the assault victim stands a near 100% chance of suffering severe psychological problems during their recovery. This is basic psychology hard wired into all of us bipeds and it is also why having a crew of highly competent American infantrymen tooling around the AO (area of operations) destroying entire units in short, decisive, bloody, contacts has more impact on our enemies than a thousand armed drones. Drone missiles strike out of the blue with no warning and although deadly they just do not have the same psychological impact as a band of infantry who lurking about with only one mission in life which is to hunt you down and kill you. This is why the classic air power theorist Giulio Dohet was proved wrong in World War II. One of the objectives behind the massive bombings of civilian cities in Germany and Japan was to inflict PTSD type symptoms upon them thus rendering the population incapable of supporting war related industry. The law of unintended consequences dictated otherwise it turned out pummeling civilians with air delivered ordinance increased their resolve. The German civilian population didn’t start to fold until the Red Army was on their door step. Bombs don’t terrify humans humans terrify humans.

Here is the connection – sending large armored convoys into remote mountainous hamlets who respond to an ambush by breaking contact is posturing; not fighting. Sending ambush patrols deep into contested territory is fighting; not posturing. A brigade commander who is fighting as part of a larger formation against a uniformed enemy army that is a legitimate threat to world peace and our way of life will routinely probe enemy terrain and positions with ambush patrols knowing full well he will lose some of them. If it costs the lives of 10 or 20 men in the course of an evening so be it if in return you are able to get a good fix on the enemy strength and disposition. That is the grim calculus of war, military commanders deal in the commodity of blood their men’s blood – and although losing men you have trained, personally know, in most cases respect and always care for is never easy but it is the job.

View from behind the Doab Girls School
View from behind the Doab Girls School

So we have two incidents last week; the one in Nuristan fit the typical profile a large armored column travels into a remote valley, they get ambushed repeatedly and expend all their time, energy and resources evacuating wounded and breaking contact while being controlled from on high. In the other we have a platoon allowed to go out into the unknown at night to ambush any and all enemy formations stumbling into their kill zones. Both of these missions were controlled by the same BCT command team who is approaching the end of their tour and very aware of what happened to their predecessors last year in Wanat as they were finishing up their time in the Stan. Ambush patrols are high risk evolutions where a whole host of things can go wrong resulting in a hefty butcher’s bill. So what is going on? A unit with the talent, confidence and ability to launch nighttime ambush patrols should also be able to react with the same intensity and aggressiveness to an ambush. Good infantry does not break contact in an ambush they attack the flanks attempt to fix the enemy and then destroy him with fire and maneuver.

What is going on is that we do not have the right forces on the ground. The difference in the two fights was that one was conducted by professional infantrymen and one was fought with a temporary lash-up of red legs (artillerymen) and National Guard with a bunch of strap hangers from various other organizations. Those were Stability Operations troops in Nuristan not a combat maneuver unit and they are not designed to or capable of operating as a combat maneuver element.

In October of 2007 the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James Conway created one hell of a dust up when he proposed the Marines take over responsibility for Afghanistan and the Army take on sole responsibility for Iraq. Gen Conway was hammered by the other services who pointed out (correctly) that the Marines would still need their help to support them. General Conway is not a foolish man, he was my commanding officer in the early 90’s at The Basic School and is one of the most seasoned and impressive Commandants the Marines have ever had.   He did his homework before floating that trial balloon and he must have had an impressive list of facts supporting his incredibly bold move.

He was right because what last week’s action illustrated perfectly is the need for infantry. The Marines are a small (by American standards) service but they have a lot of infantry. They also have a lot of combat arms and support units who, due to the unique training system, can function as infantry with very little notice or additional training. The Marines field good infantry as does our army and those of many of our allies. We need to bring security to vast swaths of the Afghan countryside and when challenged we need to respond with decisiveness. That takes infantry who know how to close with and destroy their adversaries. Too many Taliban, rent a Taliban, and all the other types of armed opposition groups are taking on ISAF units and escaping unscathed. We can’t have that experience will teach these knuckleheads how to stay on the front sight and hit what they shoot at. If the armed opposition starts to actually master the demanding art of warfighting we are going to have serious problems. Just imagine if the troops in Nuristan had been ambushed by a platoon as proficient as the men from the 26th Infantry? They would have never been able to winch out wounded men, or attempt to recover a downed truck, in fact they probably would not have survived the beating a platoon like that can deliver to a road bound convoy.

typical valley in Nuristan - this is tough terrain and tough terrain requires the right kind of troops
typical valley in Nuristan - this is tough terrain and tough terrain requires the right kind of troops

The ambush by the 26th Infantry indicates that the army, like their Marine comrades down south, have developed the confidence and situational awareness to send small units deep seeking contact. That is great news. Tactics like that allow you to start working on the enemies’ morale and confidence. Gaining that kind of moral ascendancy over your adversaries is worth the risks incurred. But once ground is gained it must be held and that can be done here by small agile teams of reconstruction experts most of them Afghan headed by internationals who know the area, know the people, and are capable of defending themselves. That is exactly what I am doing now as part of a new US AID project. More on that soon.

One Step Forward Two Steps Back

Every now and then one stumbles across a story which illustrates deeply held convictions so well that you just have to share. Here is one of those and it is a sad tale of incompetence, risk aversion and just plain clown like silliness. It is amusing (I guess) but it is also so typical of why we are making little progress in our battle to bring security and infrastructure development to Afghanistan.

The story is written by Ian Pannell of the BBC and describes his visit with Americans from the Embassy in Kabul who flew into Mazar-e-Sharif to drive out to a school opening.   It is a all to familiar tale, the American palm the Brits off on their local hosts and move out in Armored Suburbans with a full security detail.   One of the trucks breaks down and they all turn around, go back to the airport and fly back to Kabul. The Brits arrive and, as the only internationals present, stand in for the Americans.   After being guests of honor at the banquet the Provincial government organized for the occasion, ( and scoring a chapan which is super cool) they are given a car and driver by the governor to get them back to Kabul.

This is a variance chart done by Mullah Todd. The size of the circles indicate the level of violence for 2007 and 2008. The red indicates increases in incidnet rates between those same years. Note the red up north.
This is a variance chart done by Mullah Todd. The size of the circles indicate the level of violence for 2007 and 2008. The red indicates increases in incident rates between those same years. Note the red up north.

I have pointed out time and time again that there is no need for armored vehicles in the north – or in most of Afghanistan. It is safer for all concerned to be in unarmored vehicles with lots of dispersion and preferable locals mixed in among your vehicles. But that is not what bothers me about this article it is the cavalier way something that was obviously important (or why even fly up from Kabul) was dismissed.

We have not been dumping the money, resources or attention in the north like we have in the south. The south is populated with Pashtun people, the north (with the exception of Kunduz City) has no significant Pashtun population – they are Uzbeks, Hazara and Tajik’s. They have for the most part cooperated in the disarmament programs, stopped growing poppy, and cooperated with the central government.  And we treat them like a bunch of irrelevant rubes. The Governor of Balk province and several other important Afghan’s lost a lot of face because the “professionals” from our embassy found it impossible to drive for 2 hours over rough roads or spend the night in the wilds of Mazar-e-Sharif. Mission has priority my ass.

Mulla Todd spent Spring Break working with some of the boys in the FabLab on all sorts of high tech stuff. The boys gave him the "Mulla" handle because of the long chin whiskers which all the locals never fail to comment on. He's like a rock star in the Bazaar downtown.
Mulla Todd spent Spring Break working with some of the boys in the FabLab on all sorts of high tech stuff. The boys gave him the “Mulla” handle because of the long chin whiskers which all the locals never fail to comment on. He’s like a rock star in the Bazaar downtown.

I have commented in previous posts and several times on Covert Radio the people up north are not amused by how they are being treated. Their old enemies the Pashtun are getting rich on the drug trade and are getting more and more guns and more heavy weapons. The people up north are getting a few crappy schools, ignored or insulted by the American Embassy, preyed upon by a few warlords and more than a few criminal gangs and guess what? I think their patience is nearing the end.

The local school girls got to benefit from Kate - she ran a really popular math class for the boys too
The local school girls got to benefit from Kate – she ran a really popular math class for the boys too

One reason I believe that is the scarcity firearms available on the market. There are international security companies buying and using the old Soviet PSSh 41 submachineguns for jobs in the south.   Ammunition of all calibers has doubled or tripled in price. The weapons market has always been run by northern peoples.   But now they are not selling and that cannot possibly be good news.

It is time to get serious about what we are doing here – define an acceptable endstate, work towards that endstate and get the hell out. One of the sad facts of life is that we really have not figured out why we are here. Conventional wisdom says that if we leave the Taliban will return and with them Al Qaeda and they’ll use Afghanistan as a launching pad for further attacks on the west. That is complete BS.   The Taliban will not come back in power here – not in a million years.   Even if they did they would not be stupid enough to provide shelter or assistance to Al Qaeda. We have reduced Osama and his surviving leaders into walking dead men who freak anytime someone gets near them with a cell phone or a plane flies overhead. They could no more pull off another 9/11 than I could pull a diamond out of a goats ass.

Last fall I wrote in my posts on Shrzad district that the elders said they would return to growing the poppy if they got enough rain in the spring. Guess what kind of weather we have had this past 8 weeks? Rainy and cool - this photo was taken yesterday by Ross McDonnell an independent pro photographer from Dublin.
Last fall I wrote in my posts on Shrzad district that the elders said they would return to growing the poppy if they got enough rain in the spring. Guess what kind of weather we have had this past 8 weeks? Rainy and cool – this photo was taken yesterday by Ross McDonnell an independent pro photographer from Dublin.

What can be done in Afghanistan?  We can bring security – build some infrastructure, and (most importantly) develop the human capitol as best we can. This is being done – the best example being the Afghan Special Forces who enjoy universal respect and appreciation from the local people. SF teams have a model and that model involves living, working, and mentoring their local charges 24/7. If we are going to continue to dump millions into Afghanistan than every program should duplicate that model – there should be an American or Americans at the program level working with the Afghans to ensure whatever they are supposed to do (construction, security, law enforcement etc..) they actually do. And once we finally do what we signed on to do – the roads, the bridges, the dams – once they are done it is time for us to go. Inshallah we will realize this and act accordingly but for now…it will soon be time to worry about the north.

Some Good News from Southeast Afghanistan (after another unfortunate event)

There has been a flood of RFPs (request for proposal’s) hitting the street of Kabul concerning FOB Sharana. Sharana (spelled Sharan on UN AIMS maps) is the capitol of Paktika Province and a relatively small city of some 2,200 people.

FOB Sharana
FOB Sharana

Here is an assessment done in the not too distant past on Sharana: The dominate tribe in the region is the Suleimankhel who are Ghilzai Pashtuns and inhabit all of the eastern districts of the province, from Wor Momay up to Sharan district.  According to former provincial Governor Ghulab Mangal, the Suleimankhel provide the majority of recruits for the Taliban in the province.   As a result, the level of anti-coalition militia activities remains high in areas dominated by Suleimankhel.   In most areas of Afghanistan the Taliban is a collection of indigenous narco-jihadi-tribal guerrilla forces. Around Sharana this is not the case the Armed Opposition Groups (AOG) fighters are dedicated Taliban who are not motivated by financial gain, access to reconstruction projects, or narco money. Aid projects in the Province have stagnated in the face of unrelenting AOG attacks on all non indigenous peoples, projects, and the Afghan security forces. The Paktika PRT has 35 projects authorized and funded to the tune of 6.5 million but has only spent $691,350 to date. There are no high quality paved roads in the Province. The primary roads which do exist are mostly paved and service the Ghazni Sharana Monari corridor with two connecting Sharana to Ghazni and one connecting Sharna to Khost.

FOB Sharana has historically been a bad place to be. This embedded video of the FOB under attack was typical for the area for most of the recent past:

But the situation there has changed and changed radically. An associate of mine recently traveled to Sharana by road something you simply could not have done just a few short months ago. There is little question that the recent deployment of US Army units in the provinces around Kabul have made road travel in the Southeast much safer. When he arrived at FOB Sharana he interviewed several officers in detail about the local situation. It is unbelievably calm. There are now two maintenance battalions in Sharana and they are building that FOB up to be a second and third echelon maintenance facility. Last year, in preparation for significant expansion, the FOB sponsored a series of local workshops on the construction trades and then hired the graduates. The guys he talked with said they have not been attacked in over a year I didn’t’ believe that and spent hours poring over old reports and sure enough I found nothing on FOB Sharana going back to January 2008. That is one impressive accomplishment – if only we could now get some manuer units off that FOB and embeded into the local community we could very well start seeing light at the end of the Afghanistan tunnel.

Ever the pessimist I pointed out to my colleague that it is crazy to have your maintenance depot located in such a volatile area how are you going to evacuate broken armored vehicles over those roads from the south? Going through Zabul Province is still a drama and it pretty much always had been. Of course what the hell would we know about the planning that went into this but I tell you what. The more I think about it the more I like it. The reason why ISAF units are going to be able to evacuate critical vehicles and equipment to Sharana is that they have no choice. They have keep what is their most important MSR (main supply line in milspeak) wide open or else. This is actually a genius move because it forces every unit in the field to focus their attention and resources on opening and maintaining an MSR system which has been problematic since 2004. If it works if the military is able to routinely evacuate damaged equipment to Sharana from the south, southeast and east that would be one hell of an improvement for everyone on our side of the battle (the other side too for that matter but who cares about them?) Open roads mean the free flow of commerce and the tribe who can bring commerce to this strange land will be the strongest tribe. Damn if it does not look like that tribe may well be the Southeastern Afghanistan branch of the American Army.

But with the good comes the bad. On 8 April a Special Forces team conducted a raid at night in the village of Ali Daya which is 5 kilometers south of Khost City. As they prepared for an assault on their target they took fire from a neighboring compound.   They did what they were trained to do attacking the source of fire and eliminating that threat.   Unfortunately they had to quickly admit that the secondary target turned out to be a local family the wife, who was killed, was a well known teacher who worked at at the local girl’s school run by the British NGO Care. The compound belonged to a senior Afghan Army officer who was out in the field fighting the Taliban.   There were two woman wounded, two more killed along with two men and a child. Here is something that I find amazing. I was in Kabul having just finished a marathon trip to Singapore when I started listening to a CNN report and I thought I was hearing things. It was one of the most informed exchanges about the situation in Afghanistan I have ever heard. Here is the not quite verbatim exchange as I remember it:

CNN Kabul reporter The Afghan people are getting very tired of the number of innocent civilians who continued to be killed. But far more are being killed by the Taliban than by ISAF.

CNN Anchor In the past rival tribal leaders would pass on intelligence to the military which was solid enough to be actionable but when we acted it would turn out that they had used us to target their enemies who had nothing to do with the Taliban. Is that still a problem?

CNN Kabul reporter Yes, and the bottom line is that people will support the side they feel will bring them security and protection.Right now there are some in Afghanistan who feel that we are not the ones who will bring them security.

Maybe it is me I do not pay much attention to CNN but that seemed to be an unusually balanced and I think accurate bit of reporting. I never heard anything like that during the prior administration. There is some change for you I guess- straight reporting by CNN of all organizations.

But here is the thing I find it hard to believe that we are unable to verify which families in a targeted village are clearly on our side and which are not.   The woman who was killed was not only a prominent citizen but a very brave soul. Khost is a volatile place with a strong local Taliban presence. Female teachers take on a considerable amount of personal risk in areas where the Taliban are active and it is people like her we should bend over backwards to protect. The units who do these kinds of missions are not comprised of amateurs these guys are hard corps professionals who do not like to make mistakes. Somebody on high green-lighted that mission based on what had to be verified (as in not single source) intelligence. They may or may not have been going after a legitimate target but that is now irrelevant.     My problem with this whole situation is that we should be able to verify who the hell is living in a targeted village just outside a main provincial city before we send the apex predators to sort them out. If the FOB in Khost City was doing the same thing the FOB in Sharana was doing they would have (in theory at least) the situational awareness built through relationships – to be able to do target confirmation using trusted locals.

A truck load of ANP stopped for a whicker with the local boys today - that was pretty cool and something I have never seen before
A truck load of ANP stopped for a whicker with the local boys today - that was pretty cool and something I have never seen before

ISAF was very quick this time to admit they had made a terrible mistake and take responsibility for it. That is smart and probably why the incident has disappeared from the local press. But we have got to stop doing this. I understand the constraints of operational security as a good general rule one wants to avoid alerting an enemy you are coming after him least he prepare an unpleasent surprise. But when our varsity SF comes after a high value target it really doesn’t matter too much if the average Taliban leader has been tipped off or not. If he is in the target area he is going to go down and there very little he can do to alter the outcome. There are UAV platforms overhead long before the assault teams move in. If the targeted compound is reinforced with fighters so what? There is a plan for that (think precision air delivered ordinance.) It is not likely the target will try to flee in a vehicle. Everyone is this country knows what a Predator is and a wanted man trying to escape a target by vehicle knows as soon as he is clear of the town Mr. Predator will get him, or maybe an A-10 who is loitering about with some stores to burn, or an AC 130, the end result is the same. As more troops come into the country and duplicate the reported success for FOB Sharana we should be able to leverage those relationships with the local population to help us prevent more incidents of this nature. We own the night and the skies in Afghanistan and should be taking the time and risks to confirm the occupants of targeted compounds, isolate them from the civilian population and then go in and take them down. When the hard boys hit these compounds if the occupants show any resistance, or their neighbors arm themselves and come running over to help their fates are sealed.   Every compound in Southeastern Afghanistan will respond to armed intruders coming through the front gate, or climbing on their compound wall with a hail of AK 47 fire.   We know this to be the case – it is time to incorporate that fact into the mission planning profile and make the appropriate adjustments.

Mr. Reaper flying over the Taj a few days back - he is even better than the Preditor, longer loiter time, better weapons, super cool design.  The bad guys hate them ... for good reason
Mr. Reaper flying over the Taj a few days back - he is even better than the Preditor, longer loiter time, better weapons, super cool design. The bad guys hate them ... for good reason

Want A "Digital" Silk Road in Afghanistan? Let Them Build It

Editors Note:   One of the topics frequently mentioned by ISAF, NATO, and US AID is the need to get Internet and computers into educational facilities, schools, and ultimately homes in Afghanistan.   There is a NATO Virtual Silk Road program which is the closest to actually installing hardware and internet – they have been planning for years now, spent millions, but have yet to install anything (judging from the google search I just did.)   In the post below Amy Sun describes exactly how to get a virtual Silk Road up and running using what is the most efficient model I have ever heard of and one which should be recognized, funded, and expanded not just in Afghanistan but also in Iraq.

The Fab Folk may be academics but as you’ll see below they (like all good academics should) have proven their concepts in the field – specifically in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.   Read the post below – understand how absolutely incredible it is that Afghan kids are designing, building and installing high speed internet hotspots all around the city and then send this post to your congressmen (or the appropriate equivalent for those who live outside the US.)

An additional point – this internet is fast.   It is, in fact, much faster than the systems our military is using – the only way to get a fatter pipe in Afghanistan is to spend 15k a month for your own satellite feed.   Another point   – these people come here on their own dime.   Not one penny of tax payer money has been spent to accomplish in 7 months something which our governments have been unable to do in seven years. Somebody needs to fund the Fab Folk effort in Afghanistan – it is ridiculous that a group of PhD candidates are spending their life savings to come here and do a task they feel to be vital when that exact task in one all the coalition countries agree is a priority.   Also note the frequent use of a key word by the author; “leadership.”   We sure could use more of that around here.

FabFi now has  five fully operating  nodes with two more  coming online in days – they’ve already got the config all down but haven’t done the final strapping down.   That’s  seven, SEVEN, high speed comms “hot spots”  for Afghan use delivered  and working in  about 5 months serving an estimated 500-1,000 users.     Of  those seven,  only the first four were installed with international FabFolk help.   The remainder were  built, configured, and installed, end-to-end, by and for “ordinary people”.

dsc00867

Because the end points are made for and by the users, access is completely based on individual will and merit.   Meaning, you can have it if you do the work.   So while the “usual suspects” continue to propose connecting hospitals, universities, and government buildings, with FabFi, regular people are connecting those places AND a small orphanage, an NGO, and a public school in a small village.   And  they’re doing it now.

dsc00863

I can’t emphasize enough –  the key to FabFi isn’t the technology, it’s the implementation where everything is developed specifically to allow  regular people  the ability  to solve problems.    If  you don’t already know the  tech term “viral“, look it up.     This is the way these projects need to be done,  you have to  involve and employ absolutely everyone you can, especially the very population that you’re targeting. If it’s important to them, they’ll do it.

dsc01274

No caveats. Want to go to the moon? There’s only one way to get there and it’s not handouts or coddling from Vulcans.     Otherwise you’re just a tourist along for the ride, and you still won’t be able to get there on your own. We’re there to guide and make available the collective knowledge and lessons learned of the developed world.   Mentor, not suppress.   Lead, not micromanage.

dsc01277

There does have to be leadership and focus.   Open source projects fail if they are literally open loop frenzied parties of undirected work.   FabFi is not a new idea within the Fabuniverse but you need someone to pull together resources, funding, and a timeline – and hold even volunteers to their word.       To be effective, that  leadership needs “street cred”  –   out there slugging through the heat and mosquitoes, or ice and  snow,  or late night geeking sessions with everyone else.     I said leadership, not finance manager.

Because good leadership and mentoring begets good leadership and mentoring.   South End Boston Fab Lab has a tremendously successful “Learn to Teach / Teach to Learn” program where grad students teach undergrads who teach high schoolers who teach middle schoolers.     They don’t just teach rote skills or what to think, they are teaching young teens how to think.   That program started with a handful of kids and has grown to hundreds, nearly a thousand confident young adults that any parent would be proud of.

And you know what’s just as  wild?   These labs  lead and support each other.   We’re just begininng to foster the relationships in Afghanistan – these kids are shy! – but the Pabal, India (7 years old)  and Soshanguve, South Africa (3.5 years old) labs are reaching out to Afghanistan to share their projects and design files for the things they’ve developed over the past several years.

Their most valuable contributions to each other aren’t the machines or product – those change over time as needs and people change.   It’s the collective mentoring in how to think, how to approach problems.   It’s a slow process because it’s a journey for the user, not an answer to memorize.

dsc_1834

Here’s what’s next: it’s called the thinner client. Basically about $10 in parts, it’s the bare minimum of what you need to connect to the internet for things like email and access to Wikipedia and the like. Two way information stations with crazy low power consumption. A group of Pretoria, South African Fab Folk are heading up the implementation and distribution of these in South Africa, and both projects will trade around August with the South Africans learning and implementing FabFi and the Afghanis learning and implementing Thinner Client, with help from each other.   And the whole rest of the world watching.

dsc_1839

To keep the semantics simple, I’ll describe with the Jbad-appropriate words. Pashto native character map, plugs in to PAL or NTSC TV or any other display device you can find (just load in different software).   Requires 3.3 VDC – 5VDC in pretty much any way you can get it to it (including through the comms, keyboard, etc.).   In Jbad we’ll intentionally promote the text-only or vector-line-drawing-only versions so the units are acceptable for non-chaperone use (no effective net-nanny in Afghanistan!).

They connect to each other, they connect to FabFi. The connect wired or wireless, over RF, IR, and even acoustically. It’s all just different drop in electronic  bits and different software modules, but it’s totally cut-and-paste. Don’t think they can do it? Watch young Valentina of the Ghana Fab Lab make and show you her circuit “Efe”, which means “it’s beautiful!” in Fanti.

She started by making something that was already designed, then she modified it, both the hardware and software. That’s the way “real engineers” learn stuff, start with something that works, understand it, modify it. And that’s basically the  Fab Lab secret power.

Watch for this  to explode – the combination of device and network is like, well, cell phones but without having to wait for the  provider  company to invest millions in the initial infrastructure.   The learning curve is steep – it doesn’t help that the router kernel is in English – but once these things get translated in to local languages and processes, it’s going to go wild.   The interest and requests are already overwhelming.   People are bewildered when they ask who to ask to get an antenna to find that there is not an authority, they simply  “must to do”.   The biggest hurdle at the moment is people actually believing that is true!

It’s not just Afghanistan.   The rate at which  FabFi has spread  is phenomenal.   We released the FabFi 1.0 distribution in mid-March, essentially we got our act together and finally zipped all the files together with a little documentation and threw it up on our website.    Not even a month later,   I’ve heard from folks all over –  from Soshanguve, South Africa  to South Bronx, New  York.    The Heads On Fire Fab Lab in San Diego has  endeavored to  make antenna pairs to connect San Diego with Tijuanna, and I’ve even heard from the GATR folks who just want to connect to their work net from home.

Let me summarize: provide mission  orders and appropriate funding.   Trust  the folks who know  both the tech and understand how  to engage the target population.   Stand out of the way.   Taking credit is optional.

Want A “Digital” Silk Road in Afghanistan? Let Them Build It

Editors Note:   One of the topics frequently mentioned by ISAF, NATO, and US AID is the need to get Internet and computers into educational facilities, schools, and ultimately homes in Afghanistan.   There is a NATO Virtual Silk Road program which is the closest to actually installing hardware and internet – they have been planning for years now, spent millions, but have yet to install anything (judging from the google search I just did.)   In the post below Amy Sun describes exactly how to get a virtual Silk Road up and running using what is the most efficient model I have ever heard of and one which should be recognized, funded, and expanded not just in Afghanistan but also in Iraq.

The Fab Folk may be academics but as you’ll see below they (like all good academics should) have proven their concepts in the field – specifically in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.   Read the post below – understand how absolutely incredible it is that Afghan kids are designing, building and installing high speed internet hotspots all around the city and then send this post to your congressmen (or the appropriate equivalent for those who live outside the US.)

An additional point – this internet is fast.   It is, in fact, much faster than the systems our military is using – the only way to get a fatter pipe in Afghanistan is to spend 15k a month for your own satellite feed.   Another point   – these people come here on their own dime.   Not one penny of tax payer money has been spent to accomplish in 7 months something which our governments have been unable to do in seven years. Somebody needs to fund the Fab Folk effort in Afghanistan – it is ridiculous that a group of PhD candidates are spending their life savings to come here and do a task they feel to be vital when that exact task in one all the coalition countries agree is a priority.   Also note the frequent use of a key word by the author; “leadership.”   We sure could use more of that around here.

FabFi now has  five fully operating  nodes with two more  coming online in days – they’ve already got the config all down but haven’t done the final strapping down.   That’s  seven, SEVEN, high speed comms “hot spots”  for Afghan use delivered  and working in  about 5 months serving an estimated 500-1,000 users.     Of  those seven,  only the first four were installed with international FabFolk help.   The remainder were  built, configured, and installed, end-to-end, by and for “ordinary people”.

dsc00867

Because the end points are made for and by the users, access is completely based on individual will and merit.   Meaning, you can have it if you do the work.   So while the “usual suspects” continue to propose connecting hospitals, universities, and government buildings, with FabFi, regular people are connecting those places AND a small orphanage, an NGO, and a public school in a small village.   And  they’re doing it now.

dsc00863

I can’t emphasize enough –  the key to FabFi isn’t the technology, it’s the implementation where everything is developed specifically to allow  regular people  the ability  to solve problems.    If  you don’t already know the  tech term “viral“, look it up.     This is the way these projects need to be done,  you have to  involve and employ absolutely everyone you can, especially the very population that you’re targeting. If it’s important to them, they’ll do it.

dsc01274

No caveats. Want to go to the moon? There’s only one way to get there and it’s not handouts or coddling from Vulcans.     Otherwise you’re just a tourist along for the ride, and you still won’t be able to get there on your own. We’re there to guide and make available the collective knowledge and lessons learned of the developed world.   Mentor, not suppress.   Lead, not micromanage.

dsc01277

There does have to be leadership and focus.   Open source projects fail if they are literally open loop frenzied parties of undirected work.   FabFi is not a new idea within the Fabuniverse but you need someone to pull together resources, funding, and a timeline – and hold even volunteers to their word.       To be effective, that  leadership needs “street cred”  –   out there slugging through the heat and mosquitoes, or ice and  snow,  or late night geeking sessions with everyone else.     I said leadership, not finance manager.

Because good leadership and mentoring begets good leadership and mentoring.   South End Boston Fab Lab has a tremendously successful “Learn to Teach / Teach to Learn” program where grad students teach undergrads who teach high schoolers who teach middle schoolers.     They don’t just teach rote skills or what to think, they are teaching young teens how to think.   That program started with a handful of kids and has grown to hundreds, nearly a thousand confident young adults that any parent would be proud of.

And you know what’s just as  wild?   These labs  lead and support each other.   We’re just begininng to foster the relationships in Afghanistan – these kids are shy! – but the Pabal, India (7 years old)  and Soshanguve, South Africa (3.5 years old) labs are reaching out to Afghanistan to share their projects and design files for the things they’ve developed over the past several years.

Their most valuable contributions to each other aren’t the machines or product – those change over time as needs and people change.   It’s the collective mentoring in how to think, how to approach problems.   It’s a slow process because it’s a journey for the user, not an answer to memorize.

dsc_1834

Here’s what’s next: it’s called the thinner client. Basically about $10 in parts, it’s the bare minimum of what you need to connect to the internet for things like email and access to Wikipedia and the like. Two way information stations with crazy low power consumption. A group of Pretoria, South African Fab Folk are heading up the implementation and distribution of these in South Africa, and both projects will trade around August with the South Africans learning and implementing FabFi and the Afghanis learning and implementing Thinner Client, with help from each other.   And the whole rest of the world watching.

dsc_1839

To keep the semantics simple, I’ll describe with the Jbad-appropriate words. Pashto native character map, plugs in to PAL or NTSC TV or any other display device you can find (just load in different software).   Requires 3.3 VDC – 5VDC in pretty much any way you can get it to it (including through the comms, keyboard, etc.).   In Jbad we’ll intentionally promote the text-only or vector-line-drawing-only versions so the units are acceptable for non-chaperone use (no effective net-nanny in Afghanistan!).

They connect to each other, they connect to FabFi. The connect wired or wireless, over RF, IR, and even acoustically. It’s all just different drop in electronic  bits and different software modules, but it’s totally cut-and-paste. Don’t think they can do it? Watch young Valentina of the Ghana Fab Lab make and show you her circuit “Efe”, which means “it’s beautiful!” in Fanti.

She started by making something that was already designed, then she modified it, both the hardware and software. That’s the way “real engineers” learn stuff, start with something that works, understand it, modify it. And that’s basically the  Fab Lab secret power.

Watch for this  to explode – the combination of device and network is like, well, cell phones but without having to wait for the  provider  company to invest millions in the initial infrastructure.   The learning curve is steep – it doesn’t help that the router kernel is in English – but once these things get translated in to local languages and processes, it’s going to go wild.   The interest and requests are already overwhelming.   People are bewildered when they ask who to ask to get an antenna to find that there is not an authority, they simply  “must to do”.   The biggest hurdle at the moment is people actually believing that is true!

It’s not just Afghanistan.   The rate at which  FabFi has spread  is phenomenal.   We released the FabFi 1.0 distribution in mid-March, essentially we got our act together and finally zipped all the files together with a little documentation and threw it up on our website.    Not even a month later,   I’ve heard from folks all over –  from Soshanguve, South Africa  to South Bronx, New  York.    The Heads On Fire Fab Lab in San Diego has  endeavored to  make antenna pairs to connect San Diego with Tijuanna, and I’ve even heard from the GATR folks who just want to connect to their work net from home.

Let me summarize: provide mission  orders and appropriate funding.   Trust  the folks who know  both the tech and understand how  to engage the target population.   Stand out of the way.   Taking credit is optional.

Technology Development Stemming from 9/11 and the Wars In Afghanistan and Iraq

The title above will be the basis for a series of articles I will write over the coming weeks outlining some cutting-edge technologies that are just being placed in the field, or will soon debut in the next few years. The events surrounding  September 11th 2001 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been the catalyst for major defense research, as well as the development of some interesting and unique technologies. This series will primarily focus on technologies that will assist the soldier or tactical operator on the ground.
The majority of these new technologies are designed to reduce the fog of war by giving better situational awareness, improving the ability to track, designate or hand-off targets to other weapons systems, along with the key benefit of saving soldiers’ lives. The advantages of this research and the new technologies developed from these two wars will permeate into the civilian world at some future date.
Being a former Tactical Police Officer from 1990 through 2002, I’ve personally seen the transfer of military technology into the unit that helped us better carry out our missions to save lives. Off the top of my head, these are examples of some of those technologies introduced over that period: Thermal Imagers, Night Vision Scopes for Sniper and Assault Rifles, Gen II and Gen III Night Vision Goggles, and Digital Radios with encryption.
My first topic in this article focuses on a transformational technology that will penetrate the military, law enforcement and civilian world in a profound way. The most important aspect of this technology is that it is designed to save lives.
Blackhawk's Integrated Tourniquet System

Blackhawk’s Integrated Tourniquet System
THE INTEGRATED TOURNIQUET SYSTEM (ITS)
The ITS system was the brainchild of a Texan surgeon by the name of Dr. Keith Rose. In 2006, Dr. Rose was in Afghanistan conducting a humanitarian medical mission in the field, doing surgery to repair children’s cleft pallets. Upon returning to Kabul from the field, he encountered a US military up-armoured Humvee that had been hit by an RPG round. The vehicle’s damage caused the doors to jam and to trap a soldier inside with a femoral artery bleed. The soldier was finally freed from the vehicle a few minutes later, but died because they weren’t able to reach him or free him in time to save his life. Dr. Rose was very affected by this tragic incident and felt it a senseless loss of life. It sparked an idea that eventually lead to the Integrated Tourniquet System (ITS). To develop the product, he teamed up with Blackhawk, a US based manufacturer of tactical equipment and clothing. Dr. Rose’s invention essentially pre-locates tourniquets within garments to stop blood loss if an extremity suffers from severe bleeding.
With the core of the body and head protected by body armor and a helmet, battlefield injuries to the extremities (arms and legs) have increased significantly. Reports indicate that vascular injuries accounted for 50-70% of all injuries treated during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and that extremity wounds were the leading cause of preventable death on the battlefield. This new technology will go a long way to reduce the incidents of preventable death from basically bleeding Each garment includes a total of four (4) tourniquets, with two (2) for each limb.
With an arterial bleed, time is of the essence. Someone could die in less than four (4) minutes if the bleeding is not stopped. The beauty of the system is that tourniquets are pre-located in the correct medical positions. There is no need to waste time looking for a tourniquet in the first aid kit. The system can be self-administered or, if the victim is unconscious, his/her teammate automatically knows the location of the tourniquets and simply activates them immediately.
This technology has already been adopted by the US Navy Seals, and I suspect other SF teams around the world will want to have access to this technology in their uniforms as well. Although the SF community is an early-adapter of this technology, my prediction is Defense Forces around the world will incorporate the system into their uniforms within the next 3-5 years. Law Enforcement will also adopt this technology, especially within the world’s Tactical Units. To the Australian and New Zealand Defense Forces, talk to me and I can steer you in the right direction regarding this technology I have a line straight to the top!
It’s a simple design invention repackaged into a functional system addressing a specific need on the battlefield. This technology will save lives…. period. This is not only a technology for military and law enforcement tactical teams, but also for the civilian market including extreme sports like hunting, mountain climbing, surfing, skiing, snowboarding and diving. Watch this space.
Blackhawk has a YouTube video demonstrating the technology, which I’ve linked here.  Blackhawk also released their “Warrior Wear” line of clothing. which incorporates the ITS technology. Check out their website for more details.

Women's Resource Center / Work For Cash

Tim invited me to submit some ideas for ways to spend the Work For Cash program he’s administering this spring. There is a focus on getting the money into the hands of women. Many of the traditional WFC programs are things like digging out the sewers or sweeping the streets, and those are inappropriate for burqa clad women who are likely to have small kids they must keep with them.

Tim reminds me that the program is bound by constraints that he doesn’t yet completely know, he’ll find out this week, so he won’t make any promises or plans yet. If the WFC thing doesn’t work out, we’ll still do most of these things but will have to raise funds otherwise and the program will stand up more slowly (ie, we’ll have to sell the product and generate some revenue to reinvest in more raw supplies).   If you have more ideas, please comment!

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In the Work for Cash program, women will be invited to the FabLab to be paid to do the following :

1) Document scanning. Digitize paper records using bed scanner or camera. May be public records such as the mountain of land title deeds or possibly similar types files (we will have to solicit customers).

2) Make flash cards for school children. (Mostly basic arithmetic). Women learn to use the printing press or wood / rubber stamp making.

3) Make educational props. Clocks with movable hands, giant rulers, large painted flash cards with Pashto / English alphabet.

4) Sew book bag / satchel / purses, with custom embroidery or markings or prints.

5) Sew / embroider (by hand, machines, or with computer controlled machines) “A [picture of apple]” kinds of quilts and fabric books in Pashto. May use other machines in the lab to make the objects out of felt or other material instead of embroidering with thread.

6) Make wind lanterns from empty water bottles. (Requires collecting and cleaning bottles). Wind lanterns spin in a breeze causing internal lights to light up. They can be strung up outside doorways or near wells and other hazards.

7) Make and configure FabFi antennas for long range wireless internet connections terminating in umbrella wireless hotspots. Install on site, possibly, depending on mobility of women.

8) Create and perform puppet / shadow puppet theater show on topics of basic health, local fables, IED (Improvised Explosive Device)   and UXO (Baba Tim Comment: unexploded ordinance is a huge problem and they kill hundreds of children per year in Afghanistan – France has the same problem with ordinance left over from World War I.   For those of you schooled under Jimmy Carters Department of Educatuon that happened in the early part of the last centruy and was a very bad war even though mostly white European males were killed in it – by the hundreds of thousands mind you.) awareness or just entertainment.

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In addition to immediate pay for work described, in some cases women will gain a skill that may be employable in the long term. I propose giving away the product to the local schools or selling at a very low cost. These products and services were requested by locals and the Fab Lab mentors can help these women establish small cottage businesses from these activities.

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The Fab Lab is an existent infrastructure at the edge of Jalalabad. In addition to raw supplies for the above projects, the Woman’s Resource Room needs to be fitted out to provide a safe and comfortable place for the women to work and sanctuary when there are users of other genders visiting or using the lab. This room is approximately 25′ x 18′ with windows on two walls and an en suite bathroom with sink and toilet. One set of windows opens onto a small concrete walkway which is up against an interior compound wall. The other set of windows looks out small concrete walkway/porch leading to 1/4-1/2 acre vegetable garden. There is a split air conditioner and heater installed in the room. The room is currently empty but clean and freshly painted.

We need to add: Thick wall to wall carpet, comfortable couches and floor cushions. Some low tables. A computer controlled embroidery machine, a sewing machine, some computers, a bookshelf and whiteboard, a projector or TV for lessons. All the print and video educational material we can find. One wall of open-front cubby holes. A shared supply of sewing and knitting needles, scissors, rulers, and so on. An endless supply of female sanitary products, soap, and general toiletries.

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Women’s Resource Center / Work For Cash

Tim invited me to submit some ideas for ways to spend the Work For Cash program he’s administering this spring. There is a focus on getting the money into the hands of women. Many of the traditional WFC programs are things like digging out the sewers or sweeping the streets, and those are inappropriate for burqa clad women who are likely to have small kids they must keep with them.

Tim reminds me that the program is bound by constraints that he doesn’t yet completely know, he’ll find out this week, so he won’t make any promises or plans yet. If the WFC thing doesn’t work out, we’ll still do most of these things but will have to raise funds otherwise and the program will stand up more slowly (ie, we’ll have to sell the product and generate some revenue to reinvest in more raw supplies).   If you have more ideas, please comment!

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In the Work for Cash program, women will be invited to the FabLab to be paid to do the following :

1) Document scanning. Digitize paper records using bed scanner or camera. May be public records such as the mountain of land title deeds or possibly similar types files (we will have to solicit customers).

2) Make flash cards for school children. (Mostly basic arithmetic). Women learn to use the printing press or wood / rubber stamp making.

3) Make educational props. Clocks with movable hands, giant rulers, large painted flash cards with Pashto / English alphabet.

4) Sew book bag / satchel / purses, with custom embroidery or markings or prints.

5) Sew / embroider (by hand, machines, or with computer controlled machines) “A [picture of apple]” kinds of quilts and fabric books in Pashto. May use other machines in the lab to make the objects out of felt or other material instead of embroidering with thread.

6) Make wind lanterns from empty water bottles. (Requires collecting and cleaning bottles). Wind lanterns spin in a breeze causing internal lights to light up. They can be strung up outside doorways or near wells and other hazards.

7) Make and configure FabFi antennas for long range wireless internet connections terminating in umbrella wireless hotspots. Install on site, possibly, depending on mobility of women.

8) Create and perform puppet / shadow puppet theater show on topics of basic health, local fables, IED (Improvised Explosive Device)   and UXO (Baba Tim Comment: unexploded ordinance is a huge problem and they kill hundreds of children per year in Afghanistan – France has the same problem with ordinance left over from World War I.   For those of you schooled under Jimmy Carters Department of Educatuon that happened in the early part of the last centruy and was a very bad war even though mostly white European males were killed in it – by the hundreds of thousands mind you.) awareness or just entertainment.

img_1563

In addition to immediate pay for work described, in some cases women will gain a skill that may be employable in the long term. I propose giving away the product to the local schools or selling at a very low cost. These products and services were requested by locals and the Fab Lab mentors can help these women establish small cottage businesses from these activities.

dsc_0307

The Fab Lab is an existent infrastructure at the edge of Jalalabad. In addition to raw supplies for the above projects, the Woman’s Resource Room needs to be fitted out to provide a safe and comfortable place for the women to work and sanctuary when there are users of other genders visiting or using the lab. This room is approximately 25′ x 18′ with windows on two walls and an en suite bathroom with sink and toilet. One set of windows opens onto a small concrete walkway which is up against an interior compound wall. The other set of windows looks out small concrete walkway/porch leading to 1/4-1/2 acre vegetable garden. There is a split air conditioner and heater installed in the room. The room is currently empty but clean and freshly painted.

We need to add: Thick wall to wall carpet, comfortable couches and floor cushions. Some low tables. A computer controlled embroidery machine, a sewing machine, some computers, a bookshelf and whiteboard, a projector or TV for lessons. All the print and video educational material we can find. One wall of open-front cubby holes. A shared supply of sewing and knitting needles, scissors, rulers, and so on. An endless supply of female sanitary products, soap, and general toiletries.

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Counterinsurgency 101

I do not think we have the will to really “win” a counterinsurgency fight in Afghanistan. Winning means destroying the Taliban’s ability to excerpt control over the population. There are two ways to do that; by Annihilation of the fighting leadership (and most the rank and file) thus destroying their ability to resist or by Exhaustion which requires the patience to keep fighting until the Taliban tires of war. Exhaustion favors the strength of the Taliban and will not work which leaves the annihilation strategy.

Western armies are not capable of fighting battles of annihilation despite the proven effectiveness of the strategy. Sri Lanka used it to defeat the competent, aggressive and professional insurgents from the Tamil Tigers. We would not consider it because the politically correct military formations of western nations will not take the heat for killing on an industrial scale.  They will be  forced to consider the tactic when international Jihadist attack with a radiation bomb or a bio weapon. The west will not get serious about our war with radical Islam until they inflict another horrific mass casualty event.

Taliban demolition smugglers or low level black market types?

Taliban demolition smugglers or low level black market types?So we are stuck with a battle of exhaustion. We have been at it for eight years and we are the only ones getting exhausted. Nothing about the new “surge” plans seems to indicate a change in how we have been fighting this conflict to date. The Taliban are a movement born of from the Pashtun people and it is, to some extent, embedded inside the Pashtun culture. A simplistic “hearts and minds” approach ignores some basic realities about the Pashtun people best expressed in an excellent paper by Australian General Justin Kelly which I found from a link on a Belmont Club post.

“A hearts-and-minds approach is predicated on the proposition that we foreign, Western, culturally Christian, invaders can persuade a sizable proportion of the Pashtun population to cut themselves off from their cultural roots; subject themselves to an equally foreign and incomprehensible form of government resting largely on the customs of the tribes of pre-Roman Germany; and abandon their cultural birthright of unrivaled hegemony over “Pashtunistan”. To do this we offer some new buildings, some cash and more reliable electricity none of which have been important to them so far in their history. Attendant on these “inducements” of course is the removal of their ability to generate cash by farming poppies and the destruction of cultural mores the subjection of women and the application of traditional law for example that define them as a cultural group.

The evidence from Afghanistan today is that the bargain being offered is being rejected. Peace and prosperity are growing in those areas populated by ethnic minorities for whom the Afghan state provides a shield against Pashtun dominance but is being rejected in those areas in which Pashtuns are predominant. On this basis, “hearts and minds” is bad strategy because the willing acceptance by the Pashtuns, who are the soul of the insurgency, of the governance of a truly foreign state, parliamentary Afghanistan, is unattainable. Apart from it being highly unlikely to work it is also, however, bad strategy because it exposes rather than shields our critical vulnerabilities.”

The first step of any counterinsurgency campaign is to bring security to the population so that infrastructure can be developed. We have not been able to do this in the south, southeast, and eastern regions of Afghanistan. In the remainder of the country we conduct all operations (security and reconstruction) as if we were operating in a war zone. That costs us the respect of local peoples and a ton of money to pay western security contractors. There is no reason to purchase to end armored SUV’s and western security contractors to provide “security” in areas which we know to be secure.

Adding to that problem is our continued backing of a central government which is more a problem than a solution. That too costs us credibility in the eyes of the local people. That is why in my last post I advocated focusing on regional governing capacity, executing the current provincial reconstruction plans and going while leaving behind a robust military training and advising cadre.

American soldiers has been tipped off about a shipment of explosives coming across the Torkham Border crossing and were ready for it
American soldiers has been tipped off about a shipment of explosives coming across the Torkham Border crossing and were ready for it

Here is an example of a serious shortfall in our current approach to counterinsurgency fighting. The vehicle pictured above was stopped by the American army and Afghan border police at the Torkham border crossing. The army had been tipped off about a number of trucks bringing explosives across the border and this was one of them. The truck contained hundreds of pounds of Emulite, a commercial grade (5700m/sec burn rate) bulk emulsion explosive, nonelectric blasting caps, time-fuse and detonation cord. I can tell you with near certainty the explosives were headed to a black market dealer servicing road building or mining contractors.

That is a lot of Emulite which is a powerful commercial explosive - but it is worth much more on the construction black market than it would be if sold to a bomb making syndicate
That is a lot of Emulite which is a powerful commercial explosive – but it is worth much more on the construction black market than it would be if sold to a bomb making syndicate

Good industrial demolition material is impossible to buy and almost impossible to import into Afghanistan. Construction companies who didn’t do the math correctly when they ordered their demolitions will pay a king’s ransom for commercial explosives before taking the time and effort to import more. Requesting emergency authorization to import explosives brings the inevitable risk of daily performance penalties because the Afghan Government then knows you’re not blasting rock. I suspect the family in that Jingle Truck were from a marginalized smuggling tribe trying to break into the black market for construction grade demolition. Those are the kind of people who get dimmed out in Afghanistan. It’s always business – never personal.

But here is the point; Emulite is not the only explosive coming across the Torkham border; there are plenty of these coming across too.

ISAF armored vehicles do not stand up well to mines designed to take out a 60 ton main battle tank.   Note the date stamp – this was found yesterday on the main (still dirt) road to the Ghosta District Administrative Center – a route frequently traveled by American and Afghan military convoys.

The MK 7 anti tank mine is designed to kill tanks; our armored vehicles do not stand up to them well and it seems to me allowing even one across the border is unacceptable. We should have both drug and bomb detection dog teams on the border every day all day. That would take contractors because it would take a lot of dogs but you can set them up in a UN MOSS compliant compound for pennies on the dollar of what we spend on FOB bound units (both civilian and military.) But we don’t and it is impossible to believe that our inability to be proactive on that critical border crossing is not costing us in damaged vehicles and damaged personnel.

The MK 7 mine above was rigged to be command detonated but only with 100 meters of det cord so the trigger man would have had to be very close in to activate it. As I wrote here the best technique for detecting these types of mechanical ambushes is using local scouts on motorcycles. They are not heavy enough to detonate pressure plate triggers on anti tank mines and are able to poke around any areas which appear to offer cover or concealment to trigger men. Using local guys provides a certain amount of protection in insurgent plagued areas because they know the ground and the people.

We need to start thinking through in Afghanistan if we are to have any chance of leaving with our heads held high.