Lazy Friday

Fridays are always laid back as it is the one day off we get each week. We had our normal compliment of French and German aid workers come by for drinks and a dip in the pool.

If you can’t tell my French friend Pierre is in flagrant violation of the Taj no Speedo rule. Every time we try to explain the rule to him he pretends not to understand us. But he and his crew are great folks who pay in Euros which makes them especially popular with me so we let him slide on the speedo thing.

The interesting tidbit of the day comes from the lady all to way in the right. She is German, works for GIZ and asked for our assessment of the attack last night on the Dih Bala district center which is 300 meters away from one of her offices. Like many IGO workers she has a high tolerance for risk. She has been here a long time, knows Dih Bala and the surrounding area well and is completely freaked out because there have been no problems with Taliban before.

Dih Bala is about 10 miles to the east of us and the home of many large clans of Brigands. They never molest the NGO’s or IGO’s as reconstruction makes it easier for them to smuggle stuff across the frontier which is how they have earned their living for the past 2 to 3 thousand years. The Governor of Nangarhar Province has successfully eliminated the cultivation opium poppy in the area but there are still tons of the stuff here because of the smuggling expertise of peoples like those in the Dih Bala district. So the fact that Taliban (armed criminal gangs do not attack district centers) is reportedly active and attacking the district center means something.

It could be the elders posturing with weapons to get the governors attention. The Governor, Gul Agha Sherzai, is from Khandahar Province and the local tribal chiefs have a tenuous working relationship with him. One way to get the attention and a little love from the big man is to have your district center attacked and then say you drove the bad guys out when the Afghan Army arrives to investigate. Or it could be the Taliban has moved into the district and that is always bad news for the elders. The Taliban normally removes the local power structure in order to dominate an area. Removal could be in the form of a pledge not to interfere with Taliban efforts to assassination. If the Taliban are not strong enough or if they miscalculate when dealing with certain elders the villagers will grab their rifles and fight. Intimidation of an armed population is a dangerous game – the Taliban screw it up sometimes.

Our assessment of Din Bala district is that the Taliban are back and strong enough to challenge the central government for the district center. Our German friend agreed which is a bitter thing for her to do because with the Taliban back her work here is at an end.

 As the security situation continues to deteriorate we have been making it point to look at every tanker and police check post attacked by the Taliban.

This truck was attacked by the Taliban note the local kid who has walked about 3 miles from Surobi to drain some of the remaining diesel.

The tanker pictured above was attacked from across the river and took a good 60 to 70 rounds into the cab and front right aspect. It also took an RPG round into the cab. The RPG shot was either beginners luck or we have one hell of a pro RPG gunner working the area. The closest probable ambush site is 400 meters away and 200 meters above the truck.

This truck was not attacked by the Taliban; it was torched to cover up fuel theft. I’m with my buddy Special K who visits from time to time and wanted a picture in the blog.

The tanker pictured above had 10 bullet and one RPG hit; all the rounds came in from the left rear or road side of the river. There are ANP checkposts 500 meters behind us and 500 meters to the front – it is impossible for an ambushing party to cross the river or set up on the side of the road without being detected.  All the Taliban attacks come from across the river and include enough firepower to fix the checkposts while they got after fuel tankers. That didn’t happen this time and there is also little fuel left in the tanker. Our guess is that it was emptied in Laghman Province and then shot up in exactly the same spot as the previous two Taliban attacks. The criminals were probably mounted in local vehicles, and they and driver escaped after paying off the cops. Just a guess but it is the simplest explanation.

Two trucks on the same road and attacked in almost the same spot and reported as Taliban attacks. This is why we spend so much time getting out and about.

9/11

It has been seven years since the events of 9/11. The war of terror or the Long War which is a better term is the reason I am here. I’m in Jalalabad Afghanistan where I’ve been living for the past year. I spent a few years living in Kabul and free ranging the country having found a reason to visit every province in Afghanistan. I’m a security contractor; outside the wire type and the crew I run with use low profile, local vehicles and are very good at talking their way past checkpoints.

The security contracting business in Afghanistan is tough. The American firms Blackwater, and DynCorp have all the good paying DoD and DoS contracts locked up and the rest of the market here consists of British PSC’s and a growing number of Afghan companies who employ Expats. Tight competition for lucrative reconstruction work drove the compensation rates into the basement.

Our State Department and US AID have established ridiculously heavy security standards that far exceed the UN MOSS (minimum operational security standard.) These stringent standards slow projects and drain millions from building infrastructure to paying for fleets of armored vehicles and large secure compounds. Other donor countries abide by the UN standards and their operating costs are a fraction of what the US spends on security and life support for their Aid implementers.

Tonight I am sitting behind the bar of the world famous Tajmahal Guesthouse (Taj) of Jalalabad. Check out the high speed hat;

Today we had a very pleasant surprise. They guys from LaRue Tactical in Texas sent us some candy, cool hats, and Dillo Dust which we immediately put to good use on our meat pie. Our cook Khan has been pissing and moaning about cooking during Ramadan and came up with a dozen very crappy meat pies and then took off for his home village to prepare for Eid. We were getting ready to go buy some chickens to cook up but tried dillo dusting the meat pies. It’s Thurday night which is the night the Tiki Bar hosts all the NGO folks and who wants to fuss with dressing out a skinny chicken during happy hour?

Here is the other expat IMOA guy working out of the Taj me best mate Shem Klimiuk, a former paratrooper from Oz.

So it is Poppy Eradication Program Bob’s birthday tonight. He’s former Army SF and loves to sing all the old crappy high rotation FM hair band songs from his misspent youth. His singing is horrible but he’s a “good bloke” in contractor speak so we tolerate the noise with grace and humor.

It is about 2200 here now and we have the usual mix of European NGO, American NGO and a sprinkling of outside the wire security types. Outside the wire guys are the ones who live in villas with the population where most of our military should be but is not.

The price we are paying for not having enough troops outside the wire is increased instability and more and more Taliban attacks. It is not yet a problem in Jbad city but the Jalalabad to Kabul road which is essential to the ISAF and US supply efforts and also for our weekly booze runs has been hit with all sorts of ambushes this summer. We go out to look at most of them in order to get a handle on just how bad the attacks are getting and the tactics they are using.

Here is a photo of the whole team from this summer when we were fortunate enough to have Amy Sun a PhD grad student from MIT who is a no kidding missile engineer. She was pretty sharp about figuring out what happened from the forensics and amount of fuel left in the tankers. She wasn’t bad at reading bullet and RPG strikes too in fact she was smarter about all this than we are which was annoying but handy.

Here we are checking out an ANP checkpost that claimed they were attacked and repulsed a force of 30 Taliban expending all their ammo in the process. Did you know 7.62×39 mm ammo (Ak 47 bullets) sells for in Afghanistan? 75 cents round. We suspect that most of these “attacks” are really done to cover ammo sales on the black market. The Taliban humping in over the mountains are not doing so with 800 rounds of ball (that is grunt speak for full metal jacket rifle bullets) on their backs.

So it is 7 years since 9/11 and I have been out here for almost four of them. We work for the Japan International Cooperation Agency . Unlike US AID the JICA people work in the countryside or in Kabul with their Afghan counterparts. Every yen the Japanese people send here to help the Afghans gets spent exactly as it is supposed to because the Japanese JICA staff is in the offices with the Afghans ensuring they know where every yen goes. We’d be in much better shape if US AID did the same.

This will be a long war which my children will fight, if they chose to serve, and their children will too. There is no way to understand this place or fight effectively here unless you understand the people and their culture. Eventually we have to figure out how to keep more people like me in country for long duration so that they too know how to operate in the tribal districts. I havbe lots of ideas on how to do that which I will share in future posts.