Out Come the Long Knives

I have been waiting for this; At Afghan outpost, Marines gone rogue or leading the fight against counterinsurgency.   It was a matter of time before the losers in Washington DC and Kabul took their bureaucratic infighting   public by leaking to the press.  You send in the Marines, ask them to do a job nobody else has been successful doing, and what do they get?  A shank in the back.  My contempt for FOB-bound bureaucrats knows no limit, but at least the reporter presented a fair, easily understood accounting of the debate.   Not so for my boy Dexter “call it in” Filkins of the New York Times, which I will get to in a minute.     Check out this quote from the WaPo article on the Marines:

“We have better operational coherence with virtually all of our NATO allies than we have with the U.S. Marine Corps,” said a senior Obama administration official involved in Afghanistan policy.

Some senior officials at the White House, at the Pentagon and in McChrystal’s headquarters would rather have many of the 20,000 Marines who will be in Afghanistan by summer deploy around Kandahar, the country’s second-largest city, to assist in a U.S. campaign to wrest the area from Taliban control instead of concentrating in neighboring Helmand province and points west. According to an analysis conducted by the National Security Council, fewer than 1 percent of the country’s population lives in the Marine area of operations.”

Are you kidding me?   Better operational coherence with NATO allies than our own Marine Corps?   ISAF would rather have the Marines redeploy to assist in the upcoming campaign for Kandahar?  Senior Obama Administration official airing out our dirty laundry to the press?   Stand by for a rant:

The Marines like the new ATV MRAP which have been purchased for them by congress.  It is cool looking, powerful and able to move off road.  Of course it is not as safe as their 7 ton trucks, can't carry the payload or neavigate off road as the Marine 7 tons.  It costs about 4 times more than a 7 ton truck but if congress is going to give these things away the Marines will take them.
The Marines like the new ATV MRAP which has been purchased for them by congress. It is cool looking, powerful and is better off road than the original MRAPs. Of course it is not as safe as their 7 ton trucks, can't carry the payload or navigate off road as well and costs about 4 times more than a Marine truck. But you get that from congress, and besides, they look cool.

The 36 or so NATO countries operating in Afghanistan have in combination some 83 “caveats” which allow them to say “no” to any request from ISAF they do not feel like complying with.   Most of these “caveats” involve active combat and they read something like, “If you ask us to go outside the FOB and fight Taliban (especially at night) we will say no.”   This is why you have a NATO-staffed air base in Kandahar with over 20,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen, yet still not enough “boots on the ground” to deal with a growing insurgent threat.   The idea that the Marines have to move into the Kandahar area “because that is where the population is” makes as much sense as the Vietnam era debate about forcing the Marines into the Da Nang “rocket belt”.  It was a stupid idea then, and it is a stupid idea now.   Kandahar is the second largest city in Afghanistan and if there is to be a fight for the city, it is best done with Afghan forces in the lead, not the Marines.   The Afghan Security Forces launched a huge operation over the winter of 2008 to bring the rule of law into Kandahar, which seemed to calm the place down for a bit.   All they need to do now is replay that operation and stay on the ground when the operation is over.

The Marines have demonstrated that it is possible to do COIN in Afghanistan and they have a huge advantage.  They own all the aircraft, armor, and combat service support they need to operate.  When they work in areas where tanks or AAV’s are not effective, they dismount the Marines from those units and use them as infantry.  The Marines were forced to operate as independent battalions working for the Army back in 2004/2005 in the Kunar Province.  That story is told in the excellent book Victory Point by Ed Darack.  I encourage you to read it.  Pay particular attention to the loss of the SEAL team during operation Red Wings.  Had the SEALs let the Marines handle the mission they had planned, or executed the mission the way the Marines planned it, they would have avoided losing almost  an entire team (the surviving team member wrote the book Lone Survivor).    The men from SEAL Team 10 were compromised on insert that day – clearly lady luck turned her head on these guys.  But when you read how and why  that mission came about you will learn why the Marines will not allow themselves to be parcelled out and left to the tender mercies of other services.  So, they are executing their assigned missions like Marines do, and it is making the other services look bad.  To which I say too bad.

I need to add this; the Marines are not alone in the Helmand.  They have plenty of American Army, Air Force, Navy, Brits, Canadians, and a French infantry officer who snuck over with the 2nd Marines (he is apparently an exceptional talent and the de facto S3 alpha for RCT 2) working with them.  Col Kennedy told me he has a couple of Army SF A teams in his AO and both of them are absolutely first rate, constantly outside the wire, constantly working with the locals, and frequently involved in big fights where they are always outnumbered and out-gunned yet they never lose.  He loves his SF teams and, therefore, I love them too.   I am sorry Lara Logan did not spend 3 months with them, because  her story on 60 minutes would not have been so damn embarrassing for the SF community, and I would not have gotten so much hate mail for blogging it.

The Marines are in the Helmand because that is where the Army leadership who runs the war sent them.   The Marines are sitting in Marjah because that is the key terrain for the drug trade, which fuels a good portion of the conflict.   They are sitting on the goose which lays the golden poppy eggs and “anonymous sources” now want them to move into the Kandahar area because the 20,000 troops they have there cannot manage to get off their asses and outside the wire?   Nothing brings out the long knives like success… here is another example.

New York Times ace reporter  Dexter Filkins assisted by one Mark Mazzetti came out with a piece titled “Contractors tied to effort to track and kill militants“. The story is about two of the biggest anti-military   jackasses produced by the war on terror – Canadian “journalist” Robert Pelton and former CNN executive Eason Jordon.  They apparently lost a DoD contract due to total lack of performance.   I took the piss out of Pelton last year while reinforcing Old Blue at Afghan Quest because of the completely uncalled for ridicule Pelton dumped on a Lieutenant who did not measure up to Pelton’s “man of action” paradigm.   Now that whining shitbird is complaining that, We were providing information so they could better understand the situation in Afghanistan, and it was being used to kill people.   Bullshit – that is complete nonsense.   Why would anyone in their right mind give Pelton millions of dollars to set up a web site?  If he did set up a website (I don’t think that he did – that part is unclear) how would he know who was doing what with the crap information he put on it?  And if he somehow did come up with anything of worth, why did his contract get cancelled?   But the story gets better,  Filkins did not rely exclusively on Pelton – he got lots of collaboration from the CIA station chief in Kabul who apparently is feeling serious heat from some sort of “contractor” run program.   My favorite action/thriller author Brad Thor took apart this bogus story today on the Big Journalism site – read it here – sour grapes of wrath indeed.

Dexter and his NYT chums need to start doing real reporting and stop phoning in bullshit from malcontents like Pelton and some loser CIA station chief.   Here is an example; On Afghan Road Scenes of Beauty and Death, which Dexter wrote last month.   I let this one pass when it was published, but now I am pissed so let me perform a 30 second critique.   I have driven that road maybe 500 times in the last five years.   I drove it before it was even paved and feel I am in the position to correct some of the crap phoned in from by our celebrity reporter… ready?  Well hold on a second, you have to read the article linked above so my hasty critique makes sense.   OK.   Ready?

  1. The “Kabul Gorge” is west of Sarobi, centered on the Mahpar Pass; what you labeled as the gorge is in reality the Tangi valley.   Tangi is Dari for “dam” and every valley downstream of a dam is called the “Tangi Valley” which is why there are about 30 of them around the country.
  2. When the British Army withdrew from Kabul in 1842 they went through the Latabad Pass, which is about 7 miles west of the Mahipar Pass.   The current Jbad to Kabul road did not exist back in the 1800’s.
  3. It is impossible for vehicles to reach high rates of speed required to “sail through the air”  when driving through the town of Sarobi.   It is too crowded, with too many turns, and the ANP would not tolerate that kind of recklessness anyway.   I have seen plenty of bad accidents on the Jbad to Kabul road, but never seen or heard of one inside the village limits of Sarobi.

Do you see how easy it is to recognize BS when you are not confined to FOB’s or luxury hotels Dexter?   The reason I am so upset about the reckless CIA article is it describes operators with backgrounds and experience similar to the several thousand of us internationals who work and live outside the wire.   Everyone of us now has a big bulls-eye on our backs.   Guess what happened yesterday?   An international NGO compound in Lashkar Gah was attacked by two gunmen who had a slew of hand grenades, AK 47’s and one well-designed and constructed suicide vest.   The NGO in this compound ran a popular agriculture project and were not involved in poppy eradication or road building – two activities which normally run afoul of the Taliban.   Let me make this perfectly clear: it is highly probable that one or more innocent internationals who works outside the wire is going to be targeted and killed because Dexter is carrying water for dumb-as-dirt CIA man and a Canadian shitbird.   If I sound like I am pissed off, I am – we now have to dedicate scarce resources which should be going to Afghan reconstruction for counter-surveillance, we need to switch up cars, we now need to vary our movement patterns, and we need to avoid the FOB’s.   No more workouts, no more pecan pie and ice cream and a lot more risk because some New York slimy dirtbag is phoning in horseshit in his quest for Pulitzer dust.

Floods like the one which hit Kandahar Province late last month are fast and cause a ton of damge to the fragile irrigation infrastrucutre
Floods like the one which hit Kandahar Province late last month are sudden, fast, and cause a ton of damge to the fragile irrigation infrastructure. That is a ANA truck being rescued from the mud

Now for an interesting outside the wire story.   On 24 February Panjawaii Tim was called to the Kandahar PRT to see if he could help mitigate the damage caused by flooding to the irrigation system of northern Kandahar Province.   Knowing why he was going, he called the USAID official in Kabul who adminsters the cash for work program Tim and company are implementing to see if he could free up some cash for a massive emergency project.   The AID official immediately gave him permission – to the credit of USAID they do work with incredible speed when they have a vehicle in place which is proving successful.   Tim arrived at the PRT and was asked how soon he could get workers to clear 36 canals of an estimated 600,00 cubic meters of silt and debris.   The conversation went  something like this:

PRT SgtMaj (Canadian Army):  “When can you get started, eh?”

Tim: “Tomorrow, eh?”

SgtMaj: “No, Tim, I mean when can you really get started, eh?”

Tim: “Tomorrow SgtMaj no shit, eh?”

The day after being asked to help out
Three days after being asked to help out Team Canada had 1700 men on the job. That number has increased to over 5600 men working seven days a week.

As promised Team Canada was on the job the next day. Yet they still had to deal with senior guys from other agencies who seemed to be upset by the speed at which they got a massive project off the ground.   Every day Team Canada expats are out in the bad lands performing the time intensive task of monitoring and evaluation.   As usual, they travel in local garb without armored vehicles or armed PSC escorts (PSC gunmen raise your profile, which increases risk for very little gain in security).   They did not have to do this job, they are not paid more cash for taking this additional risk, they could have said no and saved themselves hundreds of man hours of additional work for which (I need to stress this point) they receive not one penny of additional compensation.  Team Canada is comprised of mission-focused former Canadian soldiers who look upon these dangerous tasks as yet another opportunity to perform.  That is what military men are raised to do – accomplish any and all assigned missions to the best of their ability.  You would think for doing this they would receive at least a hearty handshake and an ata boy, not a ration of shit from senior bureaucrats who could not manage to do the same no matter how much time and money is thrown at them.

Irrigation projects are massive undertakings which require constent supervision
Irrigation projects are massive undertakings which require constant supervison

The Marines have found a way to do COIN while avoiding the increasing threat from IED’s by getting off the FOB’s, out of the MRAP’s and patrolling on foot the areas they have cleared.   A senior DOD official has found a way to provide critical intelligence which our 16 or so national intelligence agencies cannot get from their FOB-bound operatives. Team Canada, ably assisted by USAID managers in Kabul, are able to immediately start work on restoring a critical irrigation system in the dangerous Kandahar Province while putting 5,600 military aged unemployed males to work.   What is the common thread in these stories?   The long knives coming out to stab these able, hard-working, mission-focused guys right in the back.  Mission-focused people and organizations specialize in getting things done with speed and efficiency.  Bureaucrats focus on process, procedures, their individual careers and guarding rice bowls.  Nothing upsets bureaucrats more than success by anti-bureaucrats who work the system to achieve the results they are unable to deliver.

And let me insert a word about “contractors”.  Team Canada, Mullah John, Raybo and their colleagues are the Marines of the current reconstruction effort.  There are a few thousand men and women outside the wire getting the job done, despite the myriad of difficulties which all of us work through everyday.  But to mainstream media and the do-nothing bureaucrats who infest the FOBs and Kabul Embassies, “contractors” are de facto scum bags.  Let me insert this cool paragraph from a column posted by Ed Gillespie today on National Review online which has nothing to do with what  I’m ranting about but is connected to the targets of my scorn:

“Thus, it should come as no surprise that in films and on television, trial lawyers are cast as virtuous crusaders while American soldiers are bloodthirsty villains or hapless victims. University professors are almost always noble and underpaid, corporate CEOs corrupt and overpaid. Wealth is only inherited, never created, and people are poor only because they were born that way, never because of bad decisions or behavior. Conservative politicians are usually unbearable hypocrites, people of faith are for comic relief, and our environment is under constant assault by capitalism’s wantonly wasteful ways.”

The legacy media, just like their elitist fellow travelers in Hollywood have constructed a preferred narrative about contractors based on a few bad examples and their own inherently biased world view.  Their callous disregard for those of us who accept the risk to get important work done is disgusting.  They could give a shit if their agenda-driven screeds lead directly to the deaths of brave men and women who demonstrate more courage and commitment daily than they will in a lifetime.  Do you believe that Pelton or Filkins, or Eason Jordon (what the hell kind of name is Eason anyway?) or that fat ass know-nothing CIA station chief would double their work load and triple their level of risk for no additional compensation?  Would they even consider it?  Of course not…they probably think Team Canada is a bunch of rubes … and in turn I think they are a crew of elitist scumbags who lack courage, commitment, and personal honor.

I remain optimistic about our chances for success in Afghanistan, but as Mullah John remarked after reading my post about the 2nd Marines, “Optimism is a sign that you are not fully aware of the situation.”   He said that in jest (I think) because he likes being clever.  The three stories above lead me to believe John isn’t clever, he is clairvoyant.

16 Replies to “Out Come the Long Knives”

  1. When I first seen this posted on MSN,on 3-14 then posted it in “violence of action” My one thought was, this will whined up Tim. 🙂 And he did not disappoint me. Well done babatim. But moving the marines should be a no go.

  2. Great post Tim. You had me riveted at “stand by for a rant”… I had read some of the recent news about the Pelton and Jordan fiasco, and wondered if you had crossed paths with either. Nice to hear you took the piss out of Pelton…

    Great report on the Team Canada effort. 5,600 military aged unemployed males working 7 days a week… That’s what nations are built on.

    As for the bigger picture regarding our so called “leadership”; We must find a way to remove politics and policy making from the achievement of military objectives. I know you have been cited in the past for being partial to the abilities and accomplishments of the Marines. Most have attributed that to your past association. I disagree. I believe it is based on your personal experiences and observations about their ability to execute any mission that they are given. All anyone needs to do is pick up a book and read it. They will agree too.

    I’ll close with this quote that was recently brought to my attention by a mutual friend. Stay safe and keep up the great work that you do.

    “The Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale, and the lowest morals of any group I have ever seen. Thank God for the United States Marine Corps.” Eleanor Roosevelt – 1945


  3. Hey, if you fear winning, don’t send in the Marines. Unfortunately, the accomplishments of Team Canada and other NGOs are not bleed/lead material like Blackwater. Hence, no PR. On the other hand, no PR means low profile. Maybe Lara could embed with you??? Nah…bad idea on many fronts.

  4. I certainly appreciate your perspectives. However, I find your rant and those others who see what you have seen, to be out of phase with other operating realities. In my opinion, an opinion that begins with being a former combat veteran of that “lost” war some 40 plus years ago, and has travelled through many other life battles since, I see a breakdown at the Pentagon which is driving too many problems into your world, the world at the tip of the spear.

    You are being undermined by those who long ago turned in their warrior uniforms for politician’s clothing. These ratfink reporters who know everything about everything, who have buds that deserve so much undeserved praise for doing so little to effect real change and success for winning this war, only misdirect America’s attention to those goals where former peace corps cowards come to gather.

    They would rather offer up fancy gear than put boots on the ground with winning ROEs as evidenced via some of your pictures.

    However, know that there are many back home who support our brave men and women who are doing the right things in trying to make this world more decent for all…working and dying for the good, stopping the evil when encountered!

    General Casey and Admiral Mullen do not impress me in the least! Perfumed princes as Hack would say!

  5. Great post, Tim! I thought I’d drop in and say, “Howdy,” especially when you are talking about two subjects that I’m on about right now; Marines in Helmand and the Pelton/Jordan Syndicate. They did get a website up, by the way. It was called AfPaxInsider and it was pathetic… almost never updated, one good piece of scoop; the video that Pelton claims led to an assassination. How you do an assassination off of that video is anyone’s guess, but hey, Pelton’s got it all figured out and always has.

    The Marines are doing great things down south, and they are showing the Army how it’s done. Not bad for a bunch of “linear-thinking knuckle-draggers.” The Marine tendency to devolve authority and responsibility to the lowest level possible, operate independently and their intellectual agility as an organization are proving hard to beat. The Marines are grasping COIN/Stability Ops well and applying it. They are also working well with civilian and Afghan counterparts. All integral parts of success.

    Watch them get better.

    We in the Army have learned a lot from the Marines in this war. First we learned that Jessica Lynch and her buddies should have been trained as Soldiers first and whatever else later… and that they needed to maintain those skills. Now we are learning that you can’t stay centralized in a COIN/Stability fight.

    The Marines are going to continually improve. The Army is playing catch-up and the onus is on us to pick up some institutional momentum. But, there are some good things on the horizon. We have a chance. I’ll just let you stay optimistic on that for now. 🙂

    Keep it up, man!! Give my best to your family.



  6. I see where you arecoming from, but I think quite a lot of bias against contractors is based on resentment against people doing work perceived as the military’s responsibility for substantially more money and guilt by association with firms such as the infamous KBR and Halliburton and their various investigations and associations with powerful politicians and/or their wives. I worked in Afghanistan (Kabul, Kunduz, Mazar, Jalalabad) beginning in January 2002 – end of 2006 and while there were quite certainly some contractors for whom I had great respect (of the truly awestruck and grateful kind), quite a few were a bit “off.” I’m not sure if that was a result of the work they did or the work attracted that type of person, but there was an unsettling element to some which I’m sure also did not help, especially for most people in NGO and media-type jobs who only occasionally spoke with real “contractors.”

    Examples include a guy who told me he “didn’t like [his previous position in] Iraq because his friends died, but he did like it because he got to kill the Iraqis” or the numerous men which made me ponder the burqa following pickup lines such as “I haven’t seen a woman without a bag over her head for months,” followed by a gift of a bullet to remember him by* and an invitation to Kabul’s steakhouse when he next reached the city, all within 30 minutes of meeting. I ended up feeling more comfortable semi-hiding by spending time with the Russian-speaking pilots who seemed happy to talk to someone new who knew their language. They seemed focused only on the job and the money, which although not exactly impressive on its own, seemed to help them unwind a little when dealing with everything.

    * I threw it in my bag and forgot about it, where it stayed and ultimately made it through security in Dubai, Austria and JFK before i found it in the US. Go TSA!

  7. Mullah John’s wisdom notwithstanding, I believe that you and others have a significant advantage over ‘legacy media’ (damn, another great phrase!) in the present day and age.

    In years past you and the rest of the team would have still been actively engaged in reconstruction. However, dissemination of this fact, and the elements that created your success would have been restricted to yourself, and perhaps an ‘insider perspective’ book to be released after you come home. Now, anybody with 10-20 minutes search can find your story and others. Forty years ago, if the story wasn’t in the Press or on the nightly news, it may as well not even exist. The folks who came of age in that environment are now writing our laws and editing the news and wondering why their constitutents/audience are dwindling. They haven’t gone anywhere, they’ve just gotten smarter and better informed!

    This change in the feedback loop takes a generation to play out, because those of us who look first to the internet for quality information, not the press or evening news, are by and large not YET in control of the political apparatus. So I would modify Mullah John’s wisdom “Optimism is a sign you are not fully aware of the situation, even though you see the destination.”

  8. BTW, could you guys get started putting up some hospitals and clinics over there for those of us American soon to be ex-pats who are willing to pay for quality health care. I’d write my Congressional represenatation, but you know the results I’d get already…

  9. I’ve been reading the antics of Pelton, Jordan and co with increasing alarm as what they’re doing is as you say putting anyone from the West who even pops outside of the FOB to do anything at risk. Its stuff like Afpakinsider that could cause a serious breakdown in trust between local and outsider.

    I read about it first on the War is Boring blog and then read about it on Bob Shepherd. As both you and Bob point out, the fact that its the contractors with an ounce of common sense who make the cogs of reconstruction and develop turn against all odds is lost on the lazy journos out for an easy story.

  10. Greetings,

    I am one of those 20,000 who can’t get up off my ass and go outside the wire to help secure Kandahar City. I’m sorry I am not brave enough to go outside the wire. But, you know I am not a Marine, I am a Sailor. Everyone knows the Navy never wins wars.

    But, I do what I can. I help make sure that those braver than myself have the ammo, fuel, food, medicine and air support they need. I have friends who work over in the hospital on base, they’re Sailors too. They’re not brave enough to go outside the wire either. But, we do save the lives of those who get hurt out there.

    You know what though, from reading those words you wrote here. I do now realize that what I do is utterly unimportant. I will stop making sure that our combat power can be sustained, and I will leave tonight to help secure Kandahar.

    Battle Yeoman
    Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan

  11. It’s not the individual service folks or contractors that are the big problem. It is the nature of the bureaucracies they work for that is. The military capacity of the Taliban is so low that a peacetime mindset can flourish in the war zone and Washington. Battles for votes, profit, budget, careers and preparing for jobs post-military service can all merrily proceed with very few organizations or people really selling out to defeat the enemy.

    It’s a quite reasonable response to an optional war that gives every indication of going on for decades- in fact from the public positions of all Coindinistas, and most beltway public intellectuals, pundits and pols it looks like there are substantial numbers of people near the centers of power in DC who want the “Long War” to go on forever.

    No one should complain because a particular mechanic is on a big base making helicopters air worthy. We should however, question how several new division HQs are going to help win in Afghanistan or what exactly are the cost and benefits of making sure the USMC has a two star in Helmand or the Canadian air force gets its own “aviation brigade HQ” for its 14 helicopters.

  12. Battle Yeoman makes me sick. Yes, there are necessary admin things to do, but 20K support personnel for a fighting force probably half that size is a sign that something is out-of-whack with the organization of our forces. When all I hear about in RC East about Kandahar is how marvelous the Boardwalk is while there is nothing about clearing out the viper’s nest that is Kandahar City, one can perceive that the rot is deep.

    Another sign of the rot: go to Bagram’s holding tent for PTSD patients. Nary a Soldier there: it’s filled with Sailors and Airmen. I’ve been in the Navy since the 80s and for the first time in my career I blushed with shame for being a Sailor.

    God bless Free Range International and all the contractors who are bridging the gap between Big Government US-style and “the street” in Afghanistan.

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