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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
I’m glad I live in Jalalabad – this level of excitement is bad on the digestion.
As the elections approach there has been much in the news on Afghanistan and most of it is not terribly accurate. Yesterday’s VBIED in Kabul is a good example. Most news outlets are connecting this attack to a countrywide effort by Taliban groups to interfere with the Presidential election scheduled for Thursday. I’m not buying that and I don’t think the Taliban view this upcoming election as a significant event. Some groups have publicly stated they will not interfere, other groups say they will disrupt the process, but we are not seeing any real attempts to do that.
This Washington Post story is typical of the MSM reporting on the Kabul blast with the title of “Pre Vote Blast in Kabul Signal Taliban Intent.” That is bullshit – what the blast signals is that somebody was able to bribe their way past the ANP check-posts and get right up to the U.S. Embassy checkpoint without being detected. This is the first successful Taliban attack in Kabul since last winter and although the execution was better than average the Taliban once again managed to kill or wound innocent Afghan civilians most of whom were undoubtedly children. I was interviewed for my take on the bombing by the Christian Science Monitor and remarked that it seemed this attack was executed better than the average Taliban lash up but after seeing the picture above I take it back. Poor bomb making with typically poor execution – there would be nothing left of the vehicle or that poor bike rider had this been a Baghdad VBIED.
This blast in Kabul needs to be investigated with both forensics and interviews with every guard at every post around ISAF being grilled by counter intelligence specialists in an effort to determine how that little as vehicle with all the explosives on board made it to the front of ISAF Headquarters. But that is not going to happen. Take a moment to read this article from CSM and to see why. The ANP general in charge of conducting criminal investigations is denied access to the scene and run off by ISAF HQ troops who would not know an Afghan general from the Easter Bunny. What kind of an investigation do you think we will have now? The Afghans have done a good job at securing Kabul and this was a serious breach but we (ISAF we) will never know how it happened because we do not embed with the police – we have meetings and PowerPoint briefs and drink a little tea with them and call that “mentoring.”
Gen. Sayed Abdul Ghafar Sayed Zada is not going to be inclined to help us when he is treated so poorly during a routine bombing investigation and who can blame him? But it gets worse. In Jalalabad the city is emptying of civilian internationals who are being forced to spend the week in Kabul or out of the country as election day nears. The Army Brigade in Jalalabad has nightly meetings to go over and over and over the plans for placing Afghan security forces in concentric rings to screen all the traffic coming into the city. An officer I chatted with today was very proud telling me how they have the Afghans in on the planning and everything is going just perfectly. But there is one problem; there are no security checkpoints going up around Jalalabad. The officer was stunned when I told him that I have seen only one extra checkpoint and that was up for 3 hours several night ago. No I was told “they are up all night and have been for weeks.” I swear you cannot make this stuff up…they are no extra check posts up and I drive frequently from the Taj to the Shem Bot’s house at night and know exactly which check posts are working, how many men are manning them and who the men are. This is what happens when you live on a FOB and your daily reality is defined by PowerPoint briefs and classified(read closed loop) reporting. Just because a bunch of guys sitting in a conference room say something is happening doesn’t mean it is happening – whatever happened to the old troop leading steps?
Military officers are not the only ones with a warped perception about how things are going in Afghanistan big time foreign policy wonks are capable of making fools of themselves too. This article in Foreign Policy by Anna Husarska is full of the kind of lunacy which can only come from classified reports and briefing with senior officers. In the article Anna states that ANSO – the Afghanistan NGO security office has stated NGO’s “were generally attacked for being perceived as intrinsic to the military and political objectives.” ANSO has said no such thing. NGO’s are targeted by criminals because they are easy targets and the Taliban because they are foreigners or work for foreigners. Ms Husaraska goes on to bitch about ISAF using white SUV’s saying that NGO’s use white SUV’s and the military shouldn’t so that the bad guys don’t get confused about which SUV’s to attack. Pick your own cuss word for a response – the NGO’s in Afghanistan do not all have white SUV’s (very few do) and the military is not about to change the color of the white trucks they have finally gotten around to procuring …why should they? The final interesting tidbit in this article is the description of her ride from the Jalalabad Airport to downtown Jbad. That is a drive I do almost daily and I promise tell you she is not describing Jalalabad in her article. Maybe the military flew her into Ghor Province and told her she was in Jalalabad…who knows?
There was also this article from USA Today concerning the counter IED program in Nangarhar Province. It covers a call made to the local Army FOB concerning an IED and the soldiers response with a 4 MRAP flying squad. The mission unquestionably went down as described but there is a problem with the whole story line and that is 95% of the ordinance recovered and 99% of the calls for EOD support go to a single American contractor who lives outside the wire and has a team of Afghan EOD techs in training. The reason he gets all the calls and most of the recoveries is that he responds within 5 minutes of notification 24 hours a day 7 days a week. The FOB bound Army cannot run to their vehicles and respond – they take at least 3 hours to get organized, make a patrol plan, file and brief the plan before even drawing their weapons. A retired Navy Chief who travels in unarmored low profile vehicles – exactly as most of us do can often be on scene, disarm and secure the device, and be back home in bed before the ISAF team can even clear the base. That is the price of fighting a counterinsurgency off of big box FOB’s. The lone American also has the time and ability to rent a backhoe and dig out reported missile hits from farmers fields – just like the one above which impacted right outside the Army base in Jalalabad. It is important to know why missiles fail to function which is the whole point in having highly trained EOD techs in country. The Army guys locked down on their FOB in Jbad can do this work too but they have to be given the freedom of movement to allow them to work like their lone out side the wire contractor does.
It would be safer for an EOD flying squad to be in armored SUV’s like the cats in Kabul pictured earlier in the post. The belief that MRAP’s will protect you from the bad guys is just not true. They have saved many lives so far in Afghanistan but that will not last. It is always, in all times and in all places, easier and cheaper to defeat a new technology than it is to field it.
It appears that Taliban fighters are moving out of the “Southern Triangle” of Nangarhar Province and attempting to interdict the road to Kabul. The latest attack (August 6th) occurred closer to Jalalabad then attacks targeting fuel tankers last summer. The talented RPG gunner we nicknamed “The Mechanic” was working the Tangi valley closer to Surobi last summer shooting up scores of fuel tankers but we are not seeing evidence of the Mechanic this year and have been told French Special Forces whacked him last winter.
The most recent attack happened in broad daylight around 0800 and the ambush team stayed on scene to fight with the ANP/ANA for around an hour; pulling out only after American soldiers arrived on scene. This is a new (not cool) milestone for the Taliban.
I was in Kabul when this ambush went down so Shem Bot and Mullah John went out to have a look and reported the following:
20 or so bad guys moved into a refugee settlement from the ridge line of the Tor Ghar mountains (Black Mountains). They dug hasty fighting positions and whacked a fuel tanker then stayed around to fight with the ANP. The villains kept up a sustained rate of fire for 45 minutes and broke contact when the Americans got SA (situational awareness) and got their 81’s (81mm mortars) in action.
When the Taliban attack a major road it brings traffic to a halt which blocks the road and isolates the fight. Afghans always fill all lanes and road shoulders to push up as close as humanly possible to a road blockage knowing full well that by doing so they will extend the length and time of the blockage. I have seen Afghans jumping a 100 person line at the Dubai airport look mystified when they are forced to go to the back of the line to wait their turn. They just do not like to que up so when the road clears it takes hours to unblock the east/west travel lanes and get moving. An ambush like this will normally make the movement of reinforcements into the fight impossible but the Americans made it through in 45 minutes winning an official Mention in Dispatches from the staff of FRI.
Our question remains how did a squad of Taliban move over the Tor Ghar mountains, dig in and ambush a fuel tanker to draw all the local ANP units into a sustained firefight. Break contact after the Americans show up yet make it back over the mountains without being hit by 300 to 400 rounds of 30mm cannon fire by an Apache, or a Kiowa or maybe even a fast mover (jet)? I think I found the answer to that question when I was down south with the Marines last week. The Marines are shooting rockets – a lot of them and I was chatting up the Operations Officer who told me he has been coordinating with some Geo Space type agency in DC.
It turns out the new generation of the Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) goes so high that they have to de-conflict the missile track with satellites and other stuff hanging out in space. When I asked why they shot so many he said the new ROE makes getting clearance to use Tac Air difficult to do in a timely manner. He added that they’ll fix that in due time when they’ve been in theater a bit longer but for now have to tolerate ISAF micromanagement.
It seems that the Taliban understand the ROE has changed enough that they now operate near local villages knowing we will not shoot when they go to ground around civilians. A year ago there would have been so many attack birds stacked over those deadbeats they would have needed an airborne controller to keep them from hitting each other. There is no vegetation or cover in this area of the country so men moving across the countryside are easy prey for attack pilots. But not anymore apparently – drop the rifles and you’re no longer a PID (positive ID) candidate.
Changing the Rules of Engagement (ROE) based on pressure over civilian casualties would be one thing if the civilian casualty statistics were solid but they’re not. For example; a convoy of fuel trucks is attacked by the villains and in that attack 20 PSC guards and 15 tanker drivers are killed. Under current polices (which are not standardized among the UN, military, ANSO or the Afghan Security Forces) they are civilians. Another example; A local land owner hosts a war party of Villains in his Qalat providing them food, shelter, safe haven and weapons storage. Those fighters later attack an Afghan police checkpoint and a predator follows them back to the Qalat allowing it’s controllers to call in fast movers and light the place up. The compound owner, his wife and kids are killed in the ensuing air strike….are they civilians or fighters?
I have been a consistent and harsh critic of the way we have used air strikes which have resulted in the killing of innocent civilians and only innocent civilians because the target was nominated by intel that in-evidently involves a walk-in HumInt asset. The over reliance on technology and “trusted” government officials resulted in dropping ordinance on people we don’t know to be Taliban. Their crime was getting on the wrong side of “trusted government assets” and are then whacked based on intel provided by these them to the spooks. That’s bad tactics and bad tactics rarely provide good opportunists for lasting results. The Captains Journal, using excerpts from Vampire Six and the FRI blog has the best write up on the topic I have seen right here.
In war people die; that’s why it is in everyone’s best interest to get this shit over quickly and to beat the enemy decisively. It’s not important how wars start but how they end is critical. When the enemy is beaten and knows he’s beaten wars end. Until we reach that point we will spend blood, our blood, their blood and the blood of innocents. The longer this is allowed to continue the more we are going to bleed which is why we need to finish it. And the only way to finish it is to kill the Big T Taliban when and where we find them even when there might be innocents around them.
The pending Afghanistan election is heating up. The main challenger Abdullah Abdullah has suffered three attacks in three days on different offices around the country and one of his senior aides claimed that if Karzai won they would take up their rifles and fight in the streets of Kabul. The other serious challenger, Ashraf Ghani (a Columbia graduate and a dual citizen of Afghanistan and America) has hired on the Little Dog James Carvelle (he whines too much to be a big dog and no Afghan understands a word he says due to speed, pitch, volume and ludicrous content) over here working for him. The Raging Cajun has been babbling something about change, or it’s the economy, or whatever the locals have no idea what he is trying to say so the TV anchors smile politely and say the foreigner said interesting things and he helped elect Bill Clinton. Afghans are mesmerized by Bill Clinton they cannot believe he got on international TV and cried over something as trivial as forcing a subordinate to perform a sex act on him. The public crying thing is what they cannot get over but then he remained in office acting as if the whole thing had never happened.that is a very Afghan thing to do. The MSM was dead wrong to call him our first Black President he was our first Afghan president and the fire sale of presidential pardons he had at the end of his term (aided and abetted by our current Attorney General) proves it.
ISAF is focused on election security which is what the mini surge brigades have also been tasked to facilitate. The UN and many of the local NGO’s are also focused on the election and are spring loaded to immediately displace to Dubai at the first sign of instability or general unrest. Wild rumors swirl around the clusters of outside the wire expats about potential problems, advancing Taliban, the cutting off of the booze supply (we’re good at the Taj) riots at the polls etc.. and they are very nervous. The Afghans are not, in fact they are more concerned with the coming summertime Ramadan. Ramadan is something in which the boys take great pride in enduring but they get surly and bitchy about it. I think it is going cold turkey with the cigarettes that gets to them the most but the length of the day and heat it’s going to suck and the smart expat goes home for a month if he can.
I have never claimed to be smart so I am sticking it out to the bitter end like a man. Good thing too because it is turning out to be an interesting summer. This week the press reported that the Taliban have released their very own rules of engagement which when you read them appear quite sensible. Thirteen chapters, containing 67 articles with pearls of wisdom like; “Every Muslim can invite anyone working for the slave government in Kabul to leave their job, and cut their relationship with this corrupt administration. If the person accepts, then with the permission of the provincial and district leadership, a guarantee of safety can be given.” If Mullah Omar and his Shura actually controlled the various groups of armed combatants who operate under the Taliban flag I would be worried. But he doesn’t and the new Taliban ROE is just another demonstration that the Taliban can do Information Warfare much better than ISAF can.
There are also press reports from the new Commanding Generals soon to be released assessment of what needs to be done to win in Afghanistan. Here are the money quotes.
The biggest change urged in McChrystal’s report is a “cultural shift” in how U.S. and foreign troops operate â€” ranging from how they live and travel among the Afghan population to where and how they fight, a senior military official in Kabul said Friday.
Using intelligence less to hunt insurgents and more to understand local, tribal and social power structures in the areas where they operate. McChrystal is considering concentrating troops around populated areas rather than going after sparsely populated mountain areas where Taliban hide.
Getting troops more active in fighting corruption. U.S. forces will need to take care in their dealings with local Afghan leaders to ensure that they are not perceived by the Afghan population to be empowering corrupt officials.
This sounds familiar and people like me who have been saying this for years would be heartened were it not for the fact that it is complete nonsense. Based on years of “effects based” observations (actions speak louder than words) the priorities of the US Armed Forces in Afghanistan are as follows;
Health, comfort and welfare of the troops
Protecting the careers and reputations of senior officers
Getting ahead of the curve in submitting documentation for awards and medals
Accounting for all the extra money and equipment every unit receives to accomplish their mission here.
There is no way one General officer can conduct a cultural shift in the American military. Especially when it comes to how they live and travel amongst the Afghan population. And Gen McChrystal has admitted as much check out the quote from him I found on the Abu Muqawama blog;
Q. Is the lonely fire base in the mountains fighting Taliban a thing of the past? Are you pulling out to get . . .
McChrystal: In some cases it might be — in some cases. Some it might not be. If the population is in the valley, sometimes putting the small fire base in the mountains accomplished the ability to accomplish security for the population. What I don’t think you will see as much of is big unit sweeps or operations where you sweep them, then come out. Historically it doesn’t work, but almost every counterinsurgency tries it and relearns the lesson.
I suspect that after rigorous analysis and thousands of PowerPoint slides it will turnout that in all cases the fire base on the hill, isolated from the population, will be the way we accomplish security for the population. the price for separating our forces from the people is that we must deal through the Afghan political leaders, all of whom are Karzai appointees, which means we are perceived by the Afghan population to be empowering corrupt officials because we are empowering corrupt officials. I don’t even want to think about the “fighting corruption” comment. Given the way our current administration is running if we wanted to “fight corruption” the place to begin would be back in Washington DC (using the ballot box as our constitution mandates.)
But one can hope and for me that hope rests with the United States Marines. I am writing once again from Camp Leatherneck, and at the risk of irritating a few of my loyal readers, feel compelled to make a few observations. The first of which is that there were two brigades sent here as part of the “mini surge” the Marine Brigade and a Stryker Brigade from Fort Lewis Washington. The 5th Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division is trained and ready according to what I can find on the net…just one question? Where the hell are they?
Here is something which most of you probably do not know. Last December there was no 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade. Gen Nicholson and Eric Mellinger found out they were going to form the 2nd Brigade around the 15th of December 2008. The Marine Corps is not big enough to have standing brigades instead they train and fight as task organized units. The Marines will change up their task organization while deployed and in contact as the situation dictates which is something we have been practicing in live fire exercises in 29 Palms California for the past 40 or so years. General Nicholson and Eric had to build their MEB and that involved some serious cherry picking from around the Corps (Eric did a tour as the ground monitor so as a member of the Manpower Mafia he has great insight as to who he could steal and how to get them reassigned.) The maneuver battalions assigned to the MEB come from both the east and west coast and are organic to both the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions which is typical of task organized combat formations – all the senior officers and enlisted SNCO’s know each other anyway – fighting for an East Coast or West Coast MEB makes little difference to them.
We had a mini surge scheduled to help out during the 2009 fighting season and to also help out with security during the Afghan presidential elections. The Marines – who did not even have units assigned to this task until about 8 months ago have stood up, trained, certified, and deployed a 10,000 man brigade. That brigade has arrived in Afghanistan, sorted itself out, and launched into the field a month ago where they took the Helmand River Valley away from the Taliban and where they have stated they intend to stay. The Army contingent who is supposed to be around Spin Boldak is, as far as I can determine, still in the United States. They are a real Brigade which was formed years ago yet have still not made it to the fight – how the hell does that happen?
I do not know how the Marines are setting up in these forward areas they have taken nor how they are interacting with the local population. I suspect that when I do get a chance to see for myself what I will find is not isolated combat outposts (COP’s) from which the troops fight but seldom venture. The reason I say that is because fighting that way is stupid it costs men, material, and lots of money for which nothing is gained.
But that has been how ISAF has been operating. This article covers a recent report from the British House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee about Afghanistan and here is their money quote:
“We conclude that the international effort in Afghanistan since 2001 has delivered much less than it promised and that its impact has been significantly diluted by the absence of a unified vision and strategy grounded in the realities of Afghanistan’s history, culture and politics,”
Writing pithy commentary about where we are going wrong in Afghanistan is the easy part. The hard part is understanding that you have to fundamentally change the way your troops deploy, live and fight. Gen McChrystal has gotten to that point already but the hardest of the hard part is to actually put those pithy words into action. This the Brits are not doing – they are on isolated COP’s from which they patrol regularly and during these patrols they often fight. They are not having any meaningful interaction with the locals, they are not bringing security to the people, and they are not winning the fight. This excellent post by Mike Yon who has been the Brits for the past month describes with great writing and even better pictures that exact phenomenon.
Last week I was in the 2nd MEB operations center waiting to give Mike and Eric a lift to the air head. A squad was in contact down to the south, they had suffered a IED strike, had no casualties, and were aggressively maneuvering to catch the dumb asses who had tried to ambush them. The watch officer told this to Mike who said “let me know if they need anything” and went onto other business. The company commander was running the fight and the platoon commander was en route with reinforcements. I did not hear anyone else from outside the rifle company on the net with the exception of a brief call by (I think) the battalion commander asking if they needed any help. The answer was no – the company could handle this on their own.
This is not the way the Army fights – stories of units being micro managed from on high are legion. Here is my favoriate example from Vampire Six who writes the blog Afghanistan Shrugged. If the US Military and her allies really want to start to fight in the manner Gen McChrystal says he wants to fight then the first step is to immediately stop all micro management of units in contact. What the 2nd MEB is doing when it allows a company to fight its own fight with no interference from on high is developing trust and confidence of all the Marines in that unit for their chain of command. You cannot successfully deploy little detachments of infantry in a large geographical space and expect them to fight and behave within the frame work of their commanders intent unless they know their commander trusts them to do the job. The commander can tell them he trusts them all he wants but actions speak louder than words. If he insists on micro managing units when they are in contact the message he is sending is “I do not trust you and do not think you will make the right calls in combat.” The first step towards being able to fight a proper counterinsurgency is to deploy units in the field whom you trust and do not micromanage. There is no other way and I do not care how many Colonels in Bagram there are who will tell you differently using all sorts of anecdodal stories to illustrate why they are compelled to control fights from on high. In the counterinsurgency fight junior leaders have got to be left alone to do what junior leaders are supposed to do – fight when they have to and figure out how help the local population when they are not fighting.
Patrolling out of a COP where you get contact with the enenmy within minutes after leaving the wire is not counterinsurgency warfare it is attrition warfare. A war of attrition is a war we can never win Central Asia, we do not have the manpower, money or time for that. The Marines are poised to be the game changers but they are going to take casualties doing this thing and let us hope that the body count does not allow our political leaders to force them back into the “force protection” mode. If the mission in Afghanistan remains “force protection” than everyone who has made the ultimate sacrifice here have done so in vain and the Afghans have much more to worry about than a summertime Ramadan.
Shem Bot and I rolled out to recon another tanker attack last Thursday. Atmospheric collection is continuous; to get a sense of the 5 W’s (who, what, when, where and why) we often do our own BDA (battle damage assessment.) I am most pleased to report that we do not believe the RPG mechanic had anything to do with this latest attack. Looks to be yet another fuel theft which is a booming business these days in Afghan.
I’m going to give you a story board on the fuel tankers while highlighting something that may be a nasty problem for the U.S. Army concerning battle of Wanat which occurred over a year ago in Nuristan Province.
Tomorrow’s Washington Post will contain an article titled “Army Brass Conduct Before Afghan Attack Is Questioned” by Greg Jaffe. Here is an extract from the article:
A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and an Army historian are raising serious questions about the performance of Army commanders prior to an assault that killed nine U.S. soldiers at a remote outpost in eastern Afghanistan last July.
Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) said he has asked the Pentagon’s inspector general to conduct a formal examination of the Taliban assault and suggested that the Army may have mishandled an investigation of the incident. He also cited the flawed investigation into the death of Army Cpl. Pat Tillman, a well-known football player who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in April 2004.
“The manner in which the Army mishandled the aftermath of Pat Tillman’s tragic death raised serious questions about the integrity of some who held high positions in its leadership structure,” Webb, who saw intense combat as a Marine platoon leader in Vietnam, said in an e-mailed statement. “This incident raises similar questions. Its importance is not merely to provide lessons learned for future operations. It speaks directly about the Army’s ability to speak honestly to itself and to the American public.”
I have met Jim Webb and once saw him give a speech at the Naval Academy which antagonized a Clinton Defense Department official so badly I thought they were going to get into a fist fight right there on stage. He he is no shrinking violet and his interest in this matter is not a good sign for the Army.
Wanat was a minor disaster – the Army lost 9 killed and over 20 wounded out of a force of 42 soldiers and 3 Marines. The only thing which saved the day for these warriors was their own tenacious resistance. Tom Ricks has written extensively on the battle and even has a book out on it. I went back and looked at the intel reports we were receiving back then – primarily from the UN. Wanat is in Bargi Matal District which just fell to the gem smuggling branch of the Taliban last week. Here is a report on that district from the day before the battle for Wanat:
On 12 July, Nuristan Province, Bargi Matal District, unknown time, a group of AGE (approx 600 members) including foreigners has infiltrated into the area. The group is planning to take over the DAC and is currently engaged in an armed clash with the security forces in the area. The district authorities have requested the provincial government to send more reinforcement to help defend the DAC from the insurgents.
DAC stands for District Administrative Center which is the only area under government control in Bargi Matal.
One of the aspects in dispute from this battle is that the senior commanders were not paying attention to the situation in this remote province and sent too small a force on a mission which made little sense. These things happen in war – but it is always the cover up which causes problems and that is clearly what Senator Webb is focused on. One of the reasons the people in Bargi Matal were in no mood to host soldiers had to do with us killing all their doctors and nurses in one very stupid attack. Again I go back to UN reporting from a year ago:
The most notable incident during this reporting period was the killing of three INGO local staff members (along with approximately 13-18 other locals) and the wounding of a fourth by IMF on 4 July. The victims had been warned to evacuate the area by IMF ahead of an imminent operation and were in the process of departing the area when the incident occurred. The NGO staff was travelling in local transport when it was attacked by a helicopter. IMF claimed the victims were AOG, a claim that was subsequently proven incorrect. The security situation in Nuristan has deteriorated rapidly since Governor Nuristani’s removal from office due to his perceived ineffectiveness with dealing with AOG.
AOG = armed opposition groups and IMF = international military forces in UN reporting. This incident was a bad deal, no other way to describe it and the locals were in a state of high agitation about it too. Did you note the name of the Governor who had just been sacked by the Karzai government? Governor Nuristani who was obviously from Nuristan and, given the surname, a man of prominence. Want to bet the locals were steamed about that too? One has to wonder what the plan for Wanat was and why we would send troops there given the amount of bad juju happening in such a remote place. There are no American forces anywhere near this district today – it is now (and should always have been) a problem the Afghans have to deal with.
The Army apparently conducted a very weak investigation into this battle and then tried to put it sown the institutional rabbit hole by removing after action interviews from its Operational Leadership Interview series and issuing well deserved medals for bravery to surviving participants. It is not just ignoring the lessons from this unfortunate incident in question but how the Army fights the counterinsurgency battle. The senior Generals are defending their plan by claiming they were executing current COIN (counterinsurgency) doctrine. Yet it appears they were doing the exact opposite. The troops manning these small combat outposts have limited to no meaningful contact with the local people. They’re too busy defending themselves.
Inspirational senior battle leaders are hard to come by. Qualities which the services value in peace time commanders do not always translate well to combat command especially in counterinsurgency warfare. I do not believe Senator Webb is after the brigade commander directly responsible for the deployment of a under equipped platoon to Wanat last July. I think he has much bigger fish to fry. Maybe some good will come of all this, but that is not normally how these things turn out.
Yesterday was one of those days which cause friends and family concern but which have little to no impact on myself, my workers, or the conflict in Afghanistan. There were multiple attacks in Gardez and Jalalabad which are the two cities in which I currently head work for cash projects. The suicide bomber who detonated himself outside of police station 1 in Gardez blew out the windows of my Gardez office which is across the street from the police station but fortunately my guys escaped unscathed. Once I determined we had everyone accounted for I sent terse messages instructing them to go get some damn pictures but they were not up for that saying the police would shoot them unless they a press pass. What a bunch of sissies; these guys are professional smugglers but can’t get me some damn pictures when I need them. The Shem Bot did little better when he went to evacuate his guys from their office which is about ¾ of a mile away from the Jalalabad Air Field. The Afghan Security Forces were still looking for a third active shooter and would not let him through their police cordon. Did the Bot get pictures of that? Nope; “left me camera at work mate” which is like saying the dog ate your homework.
Good help is hard to find but it must be harder for the bad guys because the two complex attacks which they tried to launch yesterday were poorly executed and amateurish. At the cost of eight suicide bombers they killed three NDS intelligence officers and three ANP police officers. That is positive math for attrition warfare enthusiasts; at this rate we will run out of Taliban by 2037 if we can just hold on that long.
Having spent time this morning walking the ground where the Jalalabad attack went down it is hard to come up with any rational thought process which would have put two suicide vest wearing riflemen and an RPG gunner on foot, walking up the busiest road in the region to attack the front gate of the Jalalabad airport. There was a VBIED discovered later in the day further down the road from the airport (not yet reported in the news) which was in an abandoned Alto sedan. It had ten 60mm mortar rounds, four 82mm mortar rounds and fifty pounds of additional explosives all rigged to explode with a typical VBIED trigger system. The vehicle was discovered hours after the attack but it is safe to conclude that it was going to be used in some coordinated manner with the three stooges who attacked up the busiest road in Eastern Afghanistan.
Bill Roggio has the best write up on the incidents and he links these two attacks with a series of assaults against government targets going all the way back to the January 2008 attack on the Sernea Hotel. None of those attacks were carried off in an adroit manner – one of the factors which must be remembered in the dog days ahead is that when it comes to actual fighting the Taliban are just not that good. How six of them were uncovered, wearing Burka’s no less, and gunned down outside of the government compound in Gardez is again perplexing.
There are exceptions of course, and one of them is the RPG mechanic who was working the upper Tangi Valley in Kabul Province last summer. He could put the English on an RPG grenade consistently scoring first round hits on fuel tankers running up the valley to Kabul. Looks like he has found a new hide in the eastern end of the Tangi Valley of Kabul Province. Tangi means dam in the Dari language so every province with a dam has a “Tangi Valley.” On the Jalalabad – Kabul road the Tangi valley feeds you into the town of Surobi which is what we would term a ‘contested area.” Last year there were a series of attacks on fuel tankers east of Surobi by an RPG gunner who was talented so we started calling him The Mechanic. He consistently scored first round hits from a hide in the mountains overlooking the road. Once he started hitting trucks frequently the number of trucks getting hit on the road rose dramatically. Know why? Good cover for fuel thieving which is a cottage industry in Afghanistan.
We hadn’t scene any activity from The Mechanic for many moons and thought the French might have bagged him because they’ve been hard on the Taliban since the ambush.
Last week the auntie of a local girl came from London to assist in her arranged wedding. The bride had little interest in the cousin to whom she had been engaged for the last 15 years but lots of interest in the boy next door so the English Auntie provided the age old remedy for situations like this; poison. It didn’t work but the Auntie made a clean getaway before her involvement was revealed and the young bride has gone missing as has the neighbor kid. The groom is reportedly recovering in Peshawar where the physicians have much experience treating this sort of problem. The crime of passion game is a dangerous one to play in Afghanistan. This kind of thing gets my local guys asking many many questions about us western folk. Tainted love is a bad deal everywhere but here the boys get the poisoning part but the concept of romantic love? That is confusing for them.
If you can’t think in real time you are worthless. That is a quote from a friend of mine who runs his own security company in Kabul. Thinking in real time is becoming a little difficult as we see instability and armed criminality rapidly spreading to parts of the country which were incident free for years. There was an attack last week on and ANA convoy driving the Kabul to Mazar-e-Sharif road. The last time there was an attack up there the the Afghan Army was fighting Soviets. The security situation in all the provinces is trending down; there are many more incidents occurring daily than are being reported. Staying on top of the local state of play has never been harder and to that we can add the upcoming elections which have the people’s attention. There was a helicopter shot down earlier this week in the south and the US Air Force lost an F-15E somewhere in the east of Afghanistan (probably means Kunar Province) and it appears that the crew was lost with the plane… bad news.
There is not much good to report from Afghanistan at the moment. With armed criminality reaching epidemic proportions there is a flood of stories about the dismal state of the Afghan National Police (ANP). The Afghan police are not just ineffective they are despised by rural people who will take the hard tyranny of the Taliban over being preyed upon by the police. This article puts the blame for Afghanistan’s dysfunctional police force on the Germans but that is BS. The Department of State has spent over 10 BILLION on their cookie cutter law enforcement training program which I have written about before. There is only one way to get the police to perform and that is to live with them, mentor them daily, and make them perform. Mentor teams who live on FOB’s and commute to the job become targets because their routine is fixed and predictable. The civilian contractors who work out of the gigantic regional training centers are inflicting death by PowerPoint on their students on subjects Afghan police will never use. What can they teach an Afghan cop about being an Afghan cop? Afghanistan cops are functioning as a paramilitary organization and are trained, armed and deployed as such. But some, perhaps a great many have retained the thuggish ways of warlord sponsored foot soldiers and that is obviously not too good.
The Marines continue to hold all the area they claimed in their massive operation and they too are finding the Afghan security forces to be their biggest problem. But the Marines are serious about staying and are putting out a continuous series of RFP’s (request for proposals) to jump start the build portion of their operation. I was just chatting with Michael Yon about the Marines on Skype last night. He is in Kabul and had been chin wagging with some European journalists who had just returned from a Marine embed. They could not say enough about how much they loved the Marines and how good they were to them and went out of their way to make things easier or more comfortable (very relative concept for Marines in the field). I occasionally pick up journalists at the Kabul airport and drop them off at Bagram Airbase for embeds with the Army. They all absolutely hate embedding with the Army because it is such a pain in the ass and they don’t get the attentive treatment the Marines are so good at providing. The Army should wise up on how they handle journalists – they have a story to tell too and the people back home would like to hear it. In fact here is a cool article about an Army patrol into no mans land and they should and could have more of this type of coverage if they would get a clue.
We had a road trip to Gardez last Thursday and was able to bring the Bot along. We were moving the payroll so bringing all my friends with guns seemed like a good idea. My counterpart from Kandahar Tim of Panjwayi also came along for the same reason and we flew into the airport at around 1300. Gardez is not a happy place these days. The police average 3 to 4 IED finds a day. They don’t report them but instead detonate them with rifle fire. There are frequent attacks on the airport which are also not reported. The pilots seemed to know because we flew over the airport at about 20,000 feet; they pointed the left wing at the runway and spiraled down in about three evolution’s coming over the runway still turning righting the plane and slamming down like we were landing on an aircraft carrier. We felt G- force pushing us into the seats and the three of us were giggling like school kids. Our Afghan manager Hamid wasn’t too happy about the landing and got a little sick which bugged the hell out of him. Being a little slow I failed to have the camera ready. Taking off was pretty cool too we skimmed at rooftop level over the city and then through a notch in the mountains before climbing like a fighter up above 20,000 feet.
The Gardez project is going well. The city is now cleaned up and we are about to kick off a massive phase II which will clean and rehabilitate all the fresh water canals and Karez systems. I have only around 300 workers doing the side canals and picking up garbage but apparently men came from 12 different districts and rented rooms to get on the project for 52 days of pay. Many of the men are ill-numerate and had to get friends to verify their pay as they have never had so much money in their hands at one time. My project is making a positive impact in a critically important area but without follow up it will amount to very little. If you sent in guys like us and our Afghan teams we could start massive cash for work projects ahead of a military operation and tie up thousands of local men with better pay than the Taliban can give them for much less work and risk. But we are not even close to that kind of thought process yet and it might not work anyway – we’d have to recon the area first to determine the feasibility. Worth a shot though and we’d take it if asked.
This is a good deal for the city, its people and the program participants but it is not a long term solution.
We have to come up with a new strategy – better yet and exit strategy for Afghanistan. We are spending billions yet achieving very little. We need to set reasonable goals – meet them and go. The Afghan police problem is a problem which the Afghans must solve – adding more anti corruption PowerPoint classes taught by western contractors who never leave their little FOB’s is producing poor results and it’s expensive. I would bet all the security incidents which are not getting reported are the result of a Kabul initiative to improve reporting because the European mentors there use written reporting as an important benchmark of success. I might be wrong but I bet I’m not.
There is still time to salvage this effort but we have to get off the FOB’s out of the body armor and start working directly with and in the cities and towns we were sent here to protect. It is cheaper and safer to embed directly into the communities than it is to commute to the job. We need to pick the districts and provinces we want to improve – get in them and do the projects and go home. There is no good reason to stay unless the Afghan government starts supporting our efforts and works with us like a partner instead of a client state.
This past Thursday (9 July) the three things which popped up on our local radar. There was an ANP (Afghan National Police) ambush which killed four police and dozens of civilians in Logar Province. Nuristan lost the Bargi Matal district when the Taliban flag went up over the District Administrative Center (DAC). And at 1412 local we had a one round Tinian shot into the American combat outpost (COP) located at the Sirkanay DAC which blew up all their fuel stores and half of their vehicles. These incidents are part of a disturbing set of storm clouds on the horizon; we are heading into heavy weather when the storm breaks we could start losing people and losing them fast.
The ANP ambush in Logar Province was noteworthy because it involved a ruse which added to the destructiveness of the bomb creating a very high body count. They bad guys tipped over a Jingo truck full of wood simulating a traffic accident ahead of a large convoy of ANP vehicles. A crowd gathered, wood is the most common fuel for both heating and cooking and is a valuable commodity in Afghanistan and locals will come for miles around if they think there is an arm load of wood to be had for free. When the ANP tried to navigate through this mess the bad guys blew the truck and it apparently contained tons of explosives. With the truck on its side the blast wave shoot out horizontally instead vertically like it would if the truck were upright. It also creates more shrapnel by throwing bits of the engine, transmission, undercarriage etc sideways. The civilians must have been standing on the undercarriage side of the truck which is why so many were killed. This incident an indicator that the bad guys are gaining proficiency at setting up ambushes. It is also typical that most of the casualties are civilians; it seems the Taliban can kill as many civilians as they like without incurring harsh denunciations from the current Afghan President or international press.
A Tinian Shot is an old sea story in the Marines used to describe a single lucky round which takes out something critical to the enemy. One story has it that the 75mm pack howitzer which was used to signal the landing craft to open fire as the first assault wave churned toward Tinian had the good fortune to see its signaling round disappear down an air shaft into a Japanese ammo dump. The term could also be referring to an impressive one shot kill by a U.S. Navy destroyer who caught a Japanese ship trying to slip away off the coast of Tinian. Whatever the origins if you can launch a single mortar round into a base and blow up half the vehicles and all the fuel that’s a Tinian shot. The bad guys in Kunar Province finally scored one on the American COP outside Sirkanay after six years of trying. Was it luck or skill? Who knows but it is bad karma stuff which portends nothing positive.
Then we have something not yet in the press and that is the loss of Bargi Matal district in Nuristan Province. The US Army has been pulling out of eastern Nuristan and had nobody in the area. This is a good thing in my humble opinion we have no business in Nuristan Province and should leave it for the Afghans to deal with. The fight for Bargi Matal was between the ANA and the Taliban (work for pay type Taliban in this case) and the fall of the DAC means the ANA cannot call for or control ISAF close air support. There is no way the Taliban can mass 300 men to take a DAC if our Tac Air is in the fight. Eight years into this war and we do not appear to have ISAF qualified close air support controllers in the Afghan Army. I could care less about the Bargi Matal district of Nuristan Province – it is controlled by gem smuggling syndicates comprised of Pashtun and Punjab families from the Pakistan side of the border. Gem merchants in Afghanistan are taxed at around 51% – in Peshawar 15% and on both sides of the border that percentage is reduced with proper bribes. Our forces cannot be everywhere and should focus on areas and people who want our help and the tribes of Nuristan do not. The Soviets were putting an Afghan Cosmonaut in space eight years into their Afghan adventure yet we cannot train up FAC’s?
Speaking of not good the Bot and I took a little Recee over the back way into Kabul; the bone jarring Latabad Pass. We have not used that route since the main road was repaired and Shem needed to look the route over for his company. It was in good shape and completely deserted. No security forces, no local traffic, nothing – all the way into Kabul. Not one checkpoint – we just drove through like we were in the desert of the American southwest. With all the concern over security during the elections it is hard to believe that the back route from Surobi to Kabul is wide open with no evidence of any security forces monitoring it.
There is a civilian surge of sorts which I understand is mostly going to the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT’s). The PRT concept is a sound theory that is not paying the dividends required to keep this place under control. This article which concerns my local PRT is a good example of what I am talking about. Jalalabad is a moderately safe area with lots of internationals doing good deeds daily but we do not work or coordinate with the PRT. It is not that the people manning the PRT are the problem they aren’t and they want to get out and work. But their ability to do the mission is crippled by stringent force protection rules. Placing more civilians in these bases will do nothing to increase the amount of sorties or assistance. The constraint is the requirement for robust security detachments and MRAP seats and both those are impediments to providing meaningful aid.
Michael Yon has been in country and hanging out in remote Ghor Province and recently wrote a great piece . The Belmont club picked up on the post and Richard Hernandez (one of my personal favorites) wrote this comment:
“The current plan for Afghanistan campaign has implicitly assumed that the goal of creating a society able to resist al-Qaeda like groups can be reached with the time and resources available. There’s no reason to believe why this must be true beyond the assertion that it is. If Michael Yon’s insight is correct, then the assertion is not proved; and we may be trying to solve an problem of exponential complexity with a polynomial time algorithm; that is to say trying to attain a strategic goal unreachable by the tactical means at our disposal.”
We need a polynomial time algorithm to solve a problem of exponential complexity… I like the way it sounds which is why I read the Belmont Club first thing every morning. Michael’s observations are spot on; this is a big country full of people who have not concept of modernity. We do not have the time or resources to fix all that is broken the key is setting reasonable goals in critical areas where the people want our help and then leaving. Just say no to polynominal time algorithms they have no place in our strategic or tactical thinking.