A New Way Forward?

We were under UN restricted movement routine last week (for the first time in five years) which provided the opportunity to digest a report from The Afghanistan Study Group entitled A New Way Forward. This report was great news for me because if think tanks are paying big bucks to people who write so poorly and know so little then maybe I can get a job in America and stop spending 11 of every 12 months out of the country. Any think tankers out there who have an opening drop me a line – I’ll be your huckleberry.

Fortunately I don’t have to take this report apart as a genuine regional expert, the formidable Joshua Foust, has already done that over at Registan.net.  Take the time to read his post here; it is, as usual, well written and spot on. With the heavy lifting already done I wanted to focus on the one part of the Study Group report which I find alarming and that is the amount of money being spent.  This is from the summary of the Afghanistan Study Group report:

The U.S. war in Afghanistan is now the longest in our history, and is costing the U.S. taxpayers nearly $100 billion per year, roughly seven times more than Afghanistan’s annual gross national product (GNP) of $14 billion.

100 Billion US dollars per year. That level of expenditure will not be sustainable for much longer so in the spirit of offering solutions instead of highlighting problems I am going to try and articulate a real New Way Forward.  The first step to limiting the amount of money being spent while reducing the number of troops deployed in theater is to eliminate the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT)  program.  PRT’s are based on FOB’s, staffed by hundreds of personnel and completely focused internally.  The commander of a PRT who is often an officer from the Navy or Air Force will get one fitness report (FitRep) in his/her career where they are commanding troops in combat.  The problems that would prevent these commanders from getting a superior fitness report (which is the only way they will be promoted and retained in the service) are all things that happen inside the wire. Sloppy admin, poor vehicle maintenance, problems with CMS (classified material storage and handling) lost gear or (heaven forbid) lost weapons, excessive boy/girl drama, failure to conduct required annual training like suicide prevention, sexual harassment, AIDS awareness (to name just a few) and problems getting mid to senior level NCO’s to professional schools….all these things and many more will ruin a FitRep. What will not ruin a Fitrep is failing to accomplish anything of significance outside the wire which is the primary mission of the PRT’s. The reason that is irrelevant is because there is no way to measure what is happening outside the wire with any precision because to know what is happening outside the wire one has to be outside the wire and riding around in hermetically sealed MRAP’s doesn’t count.

These PRT members are on their way to a village just outside our largest airbase in the region with a IT specalist to try and network computers donated to a local school years agp
Captain Christian Balan, who teaches  digital forensics at Burlington’s Champlain College in civilian life, heading towards a school just outside the massive Bagram airbase to trade his tech skills fixing the computer lab in hopes of generating good will and cooperation.  Photo by Spencer Akerman of the Danger Room blog


This story published last month in the Danger Room blog is a great  example. Nine years into the conflict and a group of soldiers are just now bringing their tech skills to bear in order to gain cooperation from villagers located just outside the wire from Bagram. Captain Balan (pictured above)  is a 55 year old reservist who is trying something new because past experience taught him the regular “Key Leader Engagement” techniques yield nothing. He is using his civilian techie skills to engage the villagers in another way. Read the article and note how after visiting the village he is all psyched up to go back and tune up their computer lab. This is what I mean by letting our troops loose to stay outside the wire and develop the situation using their initiative, drive and skill sets. But again there is a huge problem illustrated in the picture above and that is the body armor, rifles, security team etc… when it is right outside the wire from the biggest base in Afghanistan. Compare and contrast what you read in the article with this:


My son Logan doing the heavy lifting during the intial instal of the Jalalabad Fab Fi network.
My son Logan doing the heavy lifting during the initial install of the Jalalabad Fab Fi network.


25 simultaneous live nodes in Jalalabad. That's a new high. The map can't even keep up!
The Jalalabad Fab Fi network created by the MIT Fab Folk, maintained and expanded by local teenagers. This program does not cost the American taxpayer one dime.


The boys at the Jalalabad Fab Lab came up with their own design to meet the growing demand created by the International Fab surge last September. As usual all surge participants who came from the US, South Africa, Iceland and Englad paid their own way. Somebody needs to sponser these people.
The local Fab Fi club members at the Jalalabad Fab Lab came up with their own design to expand the Fab Fi network using US AID cooking oil cans (or “found objects” in geek talk)

In August of 2010 American soldiers are taking baby steps within a stones throw of the Bagram Airfield but two years ago a bunch of grad student volunteers created a wi fi network which now envelops Jalalabad.  What do you think soldiers like Captain Balan could do if they too had the freedom of movement that we have?  I am willing to bet you would see massive amounts of projects like the one he is attempting all over the country which, in turn, would bring cooperation from the local people while letting the modernity genie out of the bottle.

Here is another example of spending massive amounts of money while bringing zero benefit to the local population:

The local airfield has about a dozen Federal Firefighters to augment the Air Force crash and rescue crew
The local airfield has about a dozen Federal Firefighters to augment the Air Force crash and rescue crew

In the past expeditionary base fire fighting was a collateral duty assigned to base troops just like it is with the crew on Navy ships.  Now we deploy federal firefighters to perform this task which is fine; federal fire fighters are useful individuals who attend multiple schools where they receive first rate training.  If we are going to spend over a million a year to deploy each firefighter we could get much more return on investment by letting these guys spend their days with the local Afghan fire and rescue crews. They don’t need some sort of high speed mission to accomplish daily – they could drive around and look for places where they can help out. They could be busy all day every day teaching people all sorts of useful things while spreading goodwill and good karma. Every night they could return to base where they would be available when needed in the event of a conflagration. They don’t need to be armed, they don’t need body armor, they don’t need a powerpoint mission brief, they just need to drive off the base and do it. If they needed experienced guides to make them feel more comfortable they could ask the ladies from the La Jolla Rotary Club who are here right now supporting the San Diego Sister City program.

This ultra sound machine was donated to the Jalabad Teaching Hospital some years back and like most of the machines we have donated was broken. A grad student from the Synergy Strike Force who here with the La Jolla Rotary club sister city program got the directions, figured out what was wrong and fixed it in about 3 hours. She was then presented with a list of broken machines which she started repairing. Using the internet and a large support network of geeks from America she was able to repair about 90% of the machines in less than a month. What do you think a crew of federal firefighters could do given similar circumstances? I know exactly what they could do - fix 100% of the machines while finding all sorts of other things to improve. We're paying these guys six figure salaries to work out in the gym everyday - they get bored and we get no return on investment.
This ultra sound machine was donated to the Jalalabad Teaching Hospital some years back and like most of the donated machines it was broken.  Kate, a grad student sponsored by the Synergy Strike Force who is here with the La Jolla Rotary Club which is the driving force behind the San Diego Sister City Program got the manual, figured out what was wrong and fixed it in about 3 hours. She was then presented with a list of broken machines which she started repairing. Using the internet and a large support network of geeks back in America she was able to repair about 90% of the machines in less than a month. What do you think a crew of federal firefighters could do in similar circumstances? I know exactly what they could do – fix 100% of the machines while finding all sorts of other things to improve. We’re paying these guys six figure salaries to workout in the gym everyday. They get bored and we get no return on investment while the people we are supposed to be protecting only see American military forces when they tie up traffic and force them off the road.

There is nothing hard about finding “A New Way Forward” all that is needed is the application of common sense while allowing simple principals to guide the deployment of forces on the ground. I spent twenty years in the Marines preparing for contingencies like the one we face in Afghanistan. At no time did anyone ever suggest the way to fight them was to build FOB’s – store 90% of your deployed forces on those FOB’s and put those people to work slaving over powerpoint slides for the daily commanders update brief. Nor did we ever consider something as patently stupid as putting ship drivers or C-130 pilots in charge of reconstruction teams which have more equipment, personnel, money and a larger tactical area of operations then an infantry battalion. When you do that kind of thing you end up with The Helmand Food Zone Fiasco. Its time to send the PRT’s home and to give that mission to Ghost Team and other outside the wire contractors who operate in similar fashion. They are  accomplishing more while costing a fraction of a penny when compared to the PRT dollar.

Which brings us to a topic many of you have been asking me about and that is Koran burning threat by an obscure pastor who has a 50 member flock. Obviously the ruckus raised by our main stream media over this threat caused those of us in Afghanistan a lot of problems. However it is hard to take the Secretary of Defense or General Petraus seriously when they warn how inappropriate it is to burn this book when last year our military burned boxes of Dari and Pashtun translations of the Bible which had been sent to Afghanistan by a Christian organization. Why is it OK to burn the Bible and not the Koran?  The only person of prominence to address the Koran burning issue in a clear honest fashion was Sarah Palin who said this:

People have a constitutional right to burn a Koran if they want to, but doing so is insensitive and an unnecessary provocation much like building a mosque at Ground Zero.

As I listened to the response by our dinosaur media, military leaders, and President to the Koran burning threat I longed to hear them address this topic in clear honest language. This they cannot do and I am left with  just one conclusion. Our elites think the American people are stupid. They insult us with their Quisling like knee jerk reactions and selective outrage when talking about sensitive matters concerning Islam. Nobody needs to tell me how dangerous it is to burn the Koran in a highly publicized manner – my colleagues and I are at much greater risk from the fallout of that act than any military person stationed in Afghanistan.  But I’m an American citizen; I do not knuckle my brow, bend my knee or bow before any man for any reason at any time.

Obama breaks his neck for America

Nor do I selectively apply the freedoms granted to me by God and enshrined in our constitution. We are a free people but freedom requires eternal vigilance with the steadfast devotion to principle. All men are equal under American law, all religions are equal too so none deserves nor can be granted special status or consideration. Why is it our ruling class elites and their henchmen in the media have forgotten this basic component of the American way? When I explain my view to the Afghans I work with they understand exactly what I am saying and why…and they respect the message. I’m with Sarah Palin on this one; at least she isn’t treating the American people like a bunch of know-nothing bumpkins.

30 Replies to “A New Way Forward?”

  1. 1. Most of the ills you complain of stem from two sources: careerism and behavior of the elites.
    2. I were a careerist. Too much enlisted time and a handful of unfortunate circumstances resulted in an early trip to the showers for me. Anyway, I know about this.
    3. Point: careerists make decisions based on their effects upon promotion prospects and retention.
    4. Leaders make decisions based on the mission and troop welfare.
    5. The effects of career management are not dire enough to mandate good leadership. This is not a hot war -nor was Irag.
    6. Plenty of battle scared young veterans would disagree.
    7. Simple fact: we aren’t going down the toilet even if we’re chased out of both places with tail between legs.
    8. You might say the GWT is a management exercise for careerists.
    9. Topic two: the elites.
    10. They fall into two categories: youngsters being kissed up to and their elders who are kissed up to.
    11. The youngsters usually have some tag like an Ivy League education or Academy Ring, and are treated with appropriate deference pertaining thereto.
    12. The elders have staffs. One of the unwritten duties of staff officers is to affirm the principal.
    13. With the passage of time, these people buy into the message sent by their staff.
    14. Being of notoriously weak character, am certain I would cave instantly.
    15. Have seen strong capable colonels become delusional as general officers.
    16. Congress no different.
    17. The elitists tend to be arrogant and condescending. Those attitudes cause a near instinctive desire to kiss ass in a good careerist.
    18. The “system” supports careerists and elites. Why should it not, having been in large part created by them.
    19. It amazes me that our military is as good as it is….
    V/R JWest

  2. Pardon me, but this bears repeating…

    “…But I’m an American citizen; I do not knuckle my brow, bend my knee or bow before any man for any reason at any time.”

    “Nor do I selectively apply the freedoms granted to me by God and enshrined in our constitution. We are a free people but freedom requires eternal vigilance with the steadfast devotion to principle. All men are equal under American law, all religions are equal too and none deserves nor can be granted special status or consideration.”


  3. Yanno, if they would hold to one basic idea it should be this: “KISS.” Keep it simple stupid.

    I really like this article. You gave lots of good examples of people doing what needs to be done. Civilians going over there without gear, and far less protection than an MRAP. Obviously, you’re not saying do without any security, but I think the false sense of security that an MRAP or an FOB has been our (expensive) undoing.

    Unfortunately, the MSM has given contractors a bad rap. Contractors of all stripes are seen as bad without any regard to what they’re doing, who they’re helping, and the results. Hence, Barbara Lee D-Oakland has:
    ” ….introduced H.R. 6045, the Responsible End to the War in Afghanistan Act, which would end combat operations in Afghanistan and limit funding for the safe and orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops and military contractors.”
    Ugh. I think it’s an uphill battle. There’s nothing orderly about giving a battle to the enemy.
    I just want to know: if none of the FOB, MRAP, PRTs and PowerPoint scenario was in any of your training, what factions (whether within the military or industries) dreamed up the current military landscape? And more to the point, why was it upheld?

  4. Good to hear from you Tim.New way forward? I read there five-point approach. What a steaming pile of pant load.

  5. You know what? It’s a little out there, but here’s my five step plan for the way forward:

    1. Partition the Pashtun belt from the rest of the country. Guess what Pakistan? If you’re going to keep screwing with internal Afghan affairs, then you can deal with the Pashtun belt.
    2. Karzai, you are now the president of Afghan Pashtunistan. All aid money is henceforth cut off. Have fun.
    3. And what goes with #2, ISAF is pulling out of the south.
    4. Use money and assets no longer needed for the south/east on proper re-building and development efforts in the North. Needless to say, the North will need a strong Army.
    5. Continue drone strikes in the Pashtun belt, as needed.

  6. hooah babatim! Amen!Any time it seems government gets involved it costs 3X as much as it should and pisses off the locals.All good ideas.

  7. DMZ idea…brilliant! Greens will love it; we can reintroduce the snow leopard or something to the DMZ area, where they’ll be free to frolic in the human parasite-free environment – they just have to learn to stay away from the land mines.

  8. Nice post Tim, my favorite in a while. What’s with the Japanese couple and lack of quote in the last pic?

    1. Thanks brother and drop me a line on the gmail so we can catch up – knowing you to be a fluent Japanese speaker I am guessing you are joking on my last pic in the post – it is a blank slate allowing all to make their own interpretation. Mine would require the use of excessive foul language.

  9. Kanani: I too like the KISS term. That should apply to all aspects of life as well.
    FormerlyFNGDave. I believe Tim is referring to the sentence above the photo….”But I’m an American citizen; I do not knuckle my brow, bend my knee or bow before any man for any reason at any time.”
    Bowing, although still a courtesy in some cultures, is rather old-fashioned and out-dated. Similarly I would not curtsy to any man for any reason at any time.

  10. perhaps Afghanistan might be able to use something like the MotoMan system for internet access like they use in Cambodia. 20 villages each have a computer but of course no internet access. so a computer on a motorbike drives by 1 each day and wifi s all its internet bound data to the computer on the bike as bike makes its daily rounds to the 20 villages Bike then returns to city where it dumps off all the data into/onto the internet. And also picks up all data going back out to the villages Next day bike comes by again and transfers all searches, emails, whatever to each of the 20 village computers. The computers are used most often for teaching or simple research/search but also used to transfer medical data on cases that need care beyond what the village “nurse” can undertake this brings down the cost of internet access to the cost of running 1 motorbike split between a bunch of 20 computers. this system also came out of MIT We must fight those evil social conservative insurgents using the greatest strengths of Western culture and that means using the internet AND PORN when I was over there in 76 and 77 the most valuable things I had for barter were Playboy pics and the one bottle Imperial Quart of Johnny Walker Black that I was allowed to enter with

  11. FNG: Obiously the “couple” in the pic is the Japanese emperor and his wife and bowing in this case is probably the accepted form of being polite (in Afg that would be Timbaba and the hearty smile plus the mullah joke in pashtu 🙂 . Which is certainly not “breaking his neck for America”.
    Love the blog though.

  12. Tim, LOVED the article(s) – you are absolutely correct (and everybody loves an unapologetic, articulate American!). Is there any talk of expanding the Fab Lab in country ??? I’ll be back – in Ghazni – in October for another year (at one of those slow moving archaic PRT’s). The gouge from Ghazni is that the Hazaras west/NW of HWY 1 are real easy to work with, historically persecuted by all, and have a quite defensive mindset as a result. PRT gets flown in, drops kit, and “maneuvers” about the space in toyota corollas…perfect. East of hwy1 is Indian country. Just thinking ahead… can you give contact information for Amy? The Fab Lab concept is “outside the box”. The PRT leadership at Ghazni is also “outside the box” as well (Naval SPECWAR)… I want to give this more thought and go on from there. Thanks and stay safe. CPT O’D (Nangarhar 2008)

    1. Hey OD – nice to hear from you. The Jalalabad fablab is, as I understand it, the only one in the world which has failed to thrive. It limps along but funding and internet problems continue to plague the effort. I’ll pass your email onto Amy and I’m sure she’ll get back to you but I think she is grounded for a while as it is soon to be thesis defense time for her. I have always used the same two terps in country for the past five years and they are both Hazara’s who were raised in Ghazni and I can confirm that they are not only completely on our side of this conflict but also hungry for any and all education opportunities they can find for their children. It would be a great move to provide both a fab lab and enhanced security to that hard pressed community – I hope you guys are able to do that.

  13. Tim, great article. I loved the link to the PowerPoint’s R Us article. All of us in the Army live that nightmare. I have asked you before… do you know anything about the ADT’s? (Agribusiness Development Team) They are all National Guard with some Air National Guard drawing from the civilian skill-set of the the guardsmen. Great idea but again limited to the PRT’s way of business in MRAP’s and on FOB’s. The Army is stating it is doing a COIN fight but half-halfheartedly in my opinion.

  14. The town of Jogorhri (sic) in Ghazni now Daikondi had a town web site in 2003 and ran girls education all through the Taliban time. Daikondi is an example of a province that should not have a PRT. Nimroz is another good example.

    NGOs and low profile development corps should be encouraged to help the local government but the military and high maintenance development corps should be kept out. Imagine what a PRT actually costs and how that would translate if even 10% was given to local communities through a low profile USAID partner.

  15. I should have added this caveat. I think the entire campaign is a waste of US resources but if you insist in being here then every effort must be made to reduce the cost. If that means NGOs instead of PRTs good. If it means ANSF instead of ISAF good. If it means sending all the rinky dink 300 man ISAF contingents the US pays for home fine. If it means fewer HQs even better. If it means reversing the military and civilian “surges” better still.

    Nation building here was a mistake and the sooner we stop the better. BTW why are any US troops hanging around Iraq for another 18 months? They should all be home for this XMas.

  16. Hmm.The Christian Science Monitor has a item up,to better Afghanistan boot all contractors out.Do they have a think tank?

  17. All religion is poison as far as I’m concerned. Both Christianity and Islam are based on the scribblings of medieval era middle eastern tribes. i do think its funny when people talk about how horrible the Koran is though. For one they’ve never read it and for another if you want to see sick, twisted, insane savagery try the old testament.

    Snow billy grifter Palin is not treating people like bumpkins? You have gotta be kidding me.

  18. Darwin – Religion is merely the oldest form of politics. Nothing more, nothing less.

    I find extremely little of amusement value in the Koran (and I have read it in its English form).

    Yes, all of the medieval and pre-medieval era religious books were/are filled with things that modern civilization would (or should) find to be sick, twisted, and downright insane. The difference is a significant number of Islam’s most dedicated followers (at least 10% of 1.2 billion) still take those sick, twisted, and quite insane ideas quite seriously today. You might even say they take those things as gospel…

    No, I’m certain beyond any shadow of a doubt that BabaTim is not kidding you, and I agree with him regarding Sarah Palin. Especially in comparison to our current crop of elected leaders.

    OF THE

  19. Thats honestly the first time I saw the now legendary photo of Obama meeting the Japanese Emperor.

    I can understand the outrage in America of one head of state bowing to another but in Japan the level at which you bow denotes the level of respect you give. Thus, if he had just bobbed his head a bit that would cause immense offense to the head of state of what is a vital American ally. In a way therefore you can’t have it both ways although I understand where you’re coming from.

    If you want REAL awkwardness, try when the Obamas met the Queen and Michele put her arm around Her Majesty’s waist! That was pretty awkward.

    Then there was the time Obama first met French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his then wife Marie-Dominique and after watching them basically have an argument in front of him had to sit there for ten minutes whilst the Sarkozys sat in stony silence. Eeee-yup, grass isn’t always greener on the other side guys.

  20. You got the wrong army fighting in Afghanistan, the Harvard business school ROTC don’t know squat about goats.

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