Poppy Time

It is Saturday, the 9th of April here in the sunny paradise of Afghanistan and both Kandahar and Kabul are in a UN declared “White City” status as the locals brace for another round of anti-American protests in response to the Koran burning in Florida.  I’m in Kandahar where all is quiet after Thursday’s  spectacular attack on an ANP compound.  Once again the Taliban used an ambulance VBIED to get through police and ISAF cordons, then detonated it inside the incident scene. The Taliban still suck at fighting, but they are getting pretty slick with the tactical planning as of late.

We aren’t too worried about protests in the South – a look at last week’s stats from Sami the Finn at Indicium Consulting shows why:

When the incident rate in the south drops like this there is only explanation; Poppy time
When the incident rate drops like this in the south there is only explanation; Poppy Time

When the poppy is being harvested all other activity around the poppy belt, including Taliban attacks, grind to a halt. Opium prices are at an all time high after last years crop failure and we hear this year the opium sap harvesters will keep 1 man (4.5 kilos) for every 6 man they milk out of the poppy bulbs. A man sells (at current prices) for around US $6000. That is a ton of money in these parts, however gathering up that much wet opium takes the average 4 man team two weeks of backbreaking, dawn to dusk effort. Still every able bodied male in the region is hard at work trying to get a man worth of Opium because when you have 6k in your pocket you can get married. That’s right – sex not only sells but it’s also is a great motivator for unmarried men in societies where the only way to get it is through marriage.

With most of the international press trying to figure out what Obama and Hillary are up to in Africa confusion regarding what’s happening here has reached new levels of strangeness.  Are things going well, or are they going  down the tubes? Is a resurgent al Qaeda a problem, or, (as I have long maintained) is this never going to be happen again in Afghanistan? Is the President of the United States really an inexperienced, doctrinaire, ignoramus, or is he rope-a-doping the whole world by pretending to be incompetent while hatching a wickedly genius plan to bring Americans a healthy economy coupled to a foreign policy which is easily understood to benefit the interests of our country?

One of the things about Marines which irritates the other services to no end is their propensity for festooning their cars with the Eagle Globe and Anchor. In time every ANA vehicle in the Helmand Province will have a Marine sticker on it.
One of the things about Marines (which irritates the other services to no end) is our propensity for festooning personal vehicles and most vertical surfaces with Eagle Globe and Anchor stickers. In time every ANA vehicle in the Helmand Province will have a Marine sticker on it.

Allow me to answers my questions in reverse order: Our POTUS is not rope-a-doping, his crisis management performance  is typical for a man who has been promoted way beyond his level of incompetence for reasons other than experience or consistent superior performance. But that is a lesson we cannot acknowledge because it remains fashionable among our cultural and business elite to emphatically believe affirmative action is a good thing. They want to believe that diversity makes us stronger when everyone who has to deal with “diversity” knows the only way it makes anything stronger is when diverse peoples meet the same standards and compete on a level playing field.

The Taliban are resurgent now, have been for the past two years and will be gaining and holding more terrain, will be inflicting more casualties on ISAF and ANSF, will grow stronger and stronger with each passing year. Worse, it appears al-Qaeda is back which I thought would never happen but then again I thought we’d be making progress by now.

And finally I have no idea what in the name of God we are doing bombing Libya but can guarantee you that when it’s all said and done we’re going to discover this was “doing stupid shit”. Let’s just hope we don’t lose too many people in the process.

In the Eastern portion of Afghanistan we have withdrawn from most of Kunar Province because the military geniuses in Kabul have decided that our presence in the isolated valleys was a provocation, so we declared victory and are packing up to head home. The Hillbillies of Kunar didn’t see it that way and thought our withdraw from their turf was a win for them.  Commanders who are victorious against the Americans seem to attract attention, money, recruits, and (this is new) al Qaeda training camps.  Who would have guessed that????????

The poppy turns up everywhere to include the vegetable garden in our compound. Our gardener grows some pretty decent looking weed too. I don’t think he’s a smoker and bet he sells the weed – the three poppy plants out back aren’t enough to produce squat and are there because they look cool

This report in the Wall Street Journal was a nasty surprise to those of us paying attention but not for long. Within 24 hours the MSM was spinning a counter story that included this statement: “Petraeus also said he did not agree with reports that al-Qaida was making a comeback in Afghanistan”.  Well, I guess that’s that but hold on the WSJ story was written by Mathew Rosenberg. I know Matt gets outside the security bubble to dig up his own facts having given him a ride from Jalalabad to Kabul a few years ago.  If Rosenberg is reporting there is a resurgent al Qaeda infesting Afghanistan then I’m going to admit I was wrong about the possibility of that happening. General Petraeus can say whatever he likes but we know he doesn’t know because he has no human intelligence capacity with which to know.  That is the price he must pay for having unlimited funds with which to build little islands of America all over the country, isolating most of the forces completely from the Afghans.

Another classic example of  inside the security bubble propaganda  versus  real outside the wire atmospherics can be found in this April Fools article . Written by James Dobbins, and reprinted by the RAND people for some reason  (I am certain protecting their billions in FOB based contracts has nothing to do with it) Mr Dobbins, a DC insider with a vested interest in blowing sunshine up the rectums of other insiders, tells us that “irrational optimism” is the word of the day for your ordinary Afghan. You see, as bad as things are, they have been so much worse over the past 30 years that, from the perspective of the abused populace, everything is now peachy!

Let me paste in graph from one of the few organizations that actually gets out on the ground (with expat led teams) to do their own polling. Check this out:

When you get off the FOB and ask people questions face to face you get an idea about how badly things are going
When you get off the FOB and ask people questions face to face, you get an idea why the Afghans are clueless about our motives for being and staying here.

The pie chart above is based on a report by the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS).  ICOS is the only policy analysis organization in Afghanistan with expatriate headed assessment teams. They are led by the formidable Norine MacDonald: I ran into them last January while they were in the Helmand Province doing research for this report on the dangers of a draw-down in forces this summer.

I personally don’t think the maneuver units are going anywhere this summer. The United States could easily send half the people deployed to Afghanistan home without diminishing a bit of combat power. Simply clear out all the Equal Opportunity Officers, the Sexual Harassment Officers, career jammers, the jerks who monitor base gyms to make sure nobody wears a sleeveless shirt and the military policemen who make life on the FOB’s such a drag. You could easily cut the intelligence effort in half because Afghan intel is an echo chamber of endemic circular reporting.  And you can close the COIN Academy; setting up a new “innovative” school house is a loser move designed to cover over the fact we have no traction with the Afghan people.  The COIN Academy will never answer that question because you can’t do COIN in six month increments which isn’t really the problem either; the Karzai administration is the problem. But I’ve only been saying that for five years now and am sick of repeating myself.

We’re spending too much money and blood in Afghanistan while achieving very little besides beating the dog shit out of the Southern Taliban. That is something which the Marines in Helmand and the ISAF units in Kandahar can be proud of but it’s not enough. When I look at the train wreck that is the United States economy coupled with the unwillingness of our elected leaders to deal with the mess they made I am reminded (yet again) of the Roman Empire.  Contemplate this quote (hat tip Dan Carlin’s Hard Corps History) from historian Michael Crawford who wrote in  The Roman Republic:

The dangerous developments of the second century BC were then in large measure the result of growth of the Roman Empire providing the oligarchy with wealth which had to be invested making it easy for them to acquire extra land, providing them with slaves to work it and offering no alternative land elsewhere to those dispossessed.  A part time peasant army conquers the Mediterranean and that conquest facilitates its destitution.

The level of debt being generated by our political masters is unsustainable, the amount of spending on the war in Afghanistan is unsustainable, the financial obligations of the democratic run blue states are unsustainable.  Yet our political class continues to demagogue, evade, reward themselves with benefits regular Americans can only dream of, while our military leaders focus on marginal issues like women on submarines or the acceptance of homosexuals (as if they have not always been in the military anyway). Our government leaders focus on everything except the fact we have no money. Our military leaders focus on everything except the fact that we’re losing in Afghanistan. The American people work hard to support their families while sending their children off to fight for a military that is rapidly adopting the liberal cultural mores of the ruling class at the expense of traditional martial virtue.  The men and women fighting here and elsewhere will return to a country where only the elite prosper, where the rules for the political class and the working class are different. They are going to fight like lions to support our constitution while the administration shreds that constitution and  leaves the common folk destitute.

Holy shit I sound like a commie!  Time to pack up the laptop and fly to Dubai where I need to score another visa and a beer or two.  Maybe a few days of sleeping in a real bed will improve the mood a bit but I doubt it.  I see a bad moon rising.

24 Replies to “Poppy Time”

  1. Dear Tim Lynch, once again thank you!

    I know a little something about life in other war zones, and the distinction between the media and life on spot. I know too little about Afghanistan. Since I read your blog I know that I did not lie entirely with much so wrong. War is war. Development aid is development aid. Many things remind me of Africa (less the Balkans – this is more like Iraq).

    Thank you for the work and dedication on this blog. Very appreciated here in the comfort zone. Michael Yon is right, always a worthwhile read.

    Stay safe … take good care!


  2. 1. Numerous memorable quotes.
    2. You are going up on your lines.
    3. Take care.
    V/R JWest

  3. Thanks for outstanding analysis of the Afghan situation. But could I make a comment about some of the other stuff? The US isn’t running out of money.. we can make as much as we like- we print it! With all the dollars the Chinese are saving, we haven’t even been printing enough- that is why the financial industry suddenly found itself with its pants down. It had pushed so much money on no-doc, no-hope borrowers that the situation had to blow up eventually.

    But the government.. a totally different situation. The US debt has *never* gone down. It has gone up slower or faster over time, but it is really savings that people like to hold. As we become richer, we hold more savings. So the debt is not a problem, doesn’t have to be “paid off”, etc. Our deficits should be larger right now to reduce unemployment, and then they will naturally decline as the economy picks up, revenues rise, and expenses fall. Eventually, some spending discipline would be nice, but given the savings desires of the Chinese and many others foreign and domestic, we will be running net deficits for a very long time, and it still won’t cause inflation.. it will be fine.

    The real question is.. do we have the real capacity to make the bombs, man the FOBs, provide the health care, repair the bridges, teach the kids, and do everything else we want done? If we do, then we will be OK, and find some way to sprinkle the money around to make it happen. Employing the unemployed would be an excellent way to start, for instance.

    Lastly, I would suggest that the episode from Roman history that you point to has one overarching villain, which is economic inequality. This was far more severe in Roman times than in our own, but the lesson is the same… the middle class is the engine of economic productivity and civic engagement. Laissez faire on its own tends, as in Roman days, to make the rich richer, and the poor poorer, especially when they own the political system as well. We need to continue to find ways to counteract that natural and destructive process- that is the progressive program… commie, if you will!

  4. Tim,
    Are you saying Rosenberg needed that ride so bad that he sucked it up? Maybe he drives the same way you do and didn’t notice. Maybe he is very polite (to a fault) and didn’t want to insult his driver.

  5. After giving us 1000 cuts, Obama-Mao will decide to keep…cutting.

    We are being bled to death. Many American citizens are joining Obama-Mao, grand metrosexual, true beta male, maybe a natural born citizen, in his destruction of as much of America as possible.

    They come at you with smiles and sneers and of course those smirks of smugness.

    Wait till you see the smiles before firing…hold steady, they will come at you for sure! Stay five yards apart…as you know who used to say!

  6. Gentlemen,
    Thank you for this intelligent, critical post. I would be crying laughing if I wasn’t so upset about your insights. All the same, I hope that you will consider a lounge act upon your return to the USA. Keep writing!

  7. Tim,

    No need for depressed talk – the liberals have met their zenith and are in decline. Obama seems nearly unelectable in 2012 to all the rest of us outside DC, and whoever gets in on the Republican side will have the House and Senate also. Anybody else think Obama is going to take Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia, Iowa, Florida, Colorado, Ohio, and Minnesota in 2012? Now that the public sector unions are fighting for their lives, are they going to have the resources to put into the upper Midwestern campaigns like they did in 2008, especially in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio?

    Starting in 18 months we are not only going to turn the screws on spending, but also change the way these big entitlement programs are delivered, starting with Medicare and Medicaid. The old days of cradle/grave big government have been numbered since the day they began, and now the tune is ending. Just don’t count on the media or anybody in DC to say so.

    Keep up the good work over there, and we’ll keep up the fight over here good buddy!

    1. I don’t think Obama will win in 2012 for the simple reason he doesn’t want to. What he wants to be is an ex-president so he can fly around the world, running his soup cooler, making millions every year just for being Obama. He’ll be treated like a rock star while being guarded (at our expense) like a King for the rest of his life. The question is what follows? As soon as he departs the Oval office the revisionism will start so that within our life time his gross incompetence and unsuitability for high office will disappear down the memory hole. The Dems and The Stupid Party will spend and spend and spend because it doesn’t matter to them. They get full salary retirement after serving one 2 year term. They and their families get gold plated medical and dental care for life with no deductibles. They leave government to feed at the public trough while we work until the day we drop to fund the trough. Shit I’m sounding like a commie again – but its true. We can only hope the Tea Party catches fire because if they don’t who is left to stop the cockroaches in DC from ruining us?

  8. Tim,
    I can assure you you do not sound like a commie.
    Though I support tolerance and would like to think there may be peace in the world at some point,it sure is not happening any time soon. I will continue to be thankful for people like you that make up the 1%~ or so of those that actually choose to protect us with their lives on the line, even when the reason for anyone having to be involved in our current fights is questionable. I don’t even mind reading the opinions that differ vastly from my own, as first hand information makes it worthwhile. I did 12 year in the military when the draft made everyone in the USA very aware of our military (but not so much contractors) and the fights they were in. I also changed my view during that period. I will continue to balance my daily dose of the NYT with your and the Captain’s blogs.
    Keep up the good work. I think you are happier where you are at than if you were here with us and the daily mundane tasks.

    1. Thanks Gary – It is heartening to realize how many people who don’t agree with my political rantings still read this blog and others in order to be better informed. I do that same thing – it can be calming you know.


  9. The easiest way to get US government spending under control is to cut defense. Until the majority of Republicans start to question why the USAF has a fighter wing stationed in England, why there are still four army BCTs in Europe or what 2500 F-35s are for nothing substantive will get done.

    The US should cut defence significantly. A 50% cut would be a good start and still leave the US defence budget larger than the next countries 10 combined.

    1. That is true but the military is the only government agency performing in Afghanistan. Why not just eliminate the CIA or USAID while cutting State 50%. Those federal workers make a lot more then your average enlisted guy while accomplishing not much.

  10. As the budget charade unfolds I wonder (not really I’ve decided)who has the more effective leadership- the US or the Taliban?

  11. Tim,

    keep sounding the alarm, no matter how bad it gets. It is desperately needed.

    You are not even close to sounding “commie” themes. Just the opposite.

    Think about every commie burg in history: USSR, Cuba, Warsaw Pact, China… In every, single one, the so-called worker’s paradise is a mind-numbing hell of privations, thought-control, religious oppression and zero opportunity for the common people. At the same time, the nomenklatura, the communist party elite enjoy the best of everything, special privileges, dictatorial powers and live a lie of being patriotic heroes of the republic.

    Your post is simply your gut recognition that the American republic is beginning to look increasingly like those commie hell holes. The average person is subject to punishment, for example, if he does not pay every penny of his taxes, but Obama can pick cabinet member after cabinet member who snub the IRS for tens of thousands in unpaid taxes with impunity; they get away with it. You or me would face jail time for perjury — hell, even Scotter Libby got sent up– but the elite can lie their asses off (Mr. Clinton) and be held up as a tragic hero. For the last (?) years, Congress has increasingly resembled a politburo that does whatever the hell it wants to do regardless of the consequences because they are untouchable. When was the last time a Democrat got booted out of office for corruption? Rangel hiding millions? No punishment. Maxine Waters funneling tax money to her husband’s insolvent bank? No consequences. Heck, already have the commies’ newspapers, Izvestia and Pravda when all the news outlets bend over backwards to print the Obama Party Line, filled with half-truths and outright lies. Even the virtual monopoly of media isn’t enough for the Democrats– they are coming after sites like this with the FCC net neutrality rules and Fairness Doctrine.

    So, Tim, you are not sounding like a commie, you are reacting against the rising tide of commies. You, like a lot of us, are going through the first stages on the road to recovering our Republic: speaking truth against the lies. The second stage depends on what happens next. We might yet pull back from the brink. I hope so. If not, it will be up to people like you and like-minded people to rebuild America again from the rubble, all the while humming that classic song, “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

  12. Tim- Excellent post. I will be reading more. I’m looking forward to going back to the states for a week long visit(after more than a year away) to see how much things have changed, stayed the same, or continued to circle the lower half of the toilet bowl.

    Often I wonder if and when I will return to live in the US full time, maybe that will be when the rest of the “sheep wake the flock up”. Meanwhile I’ll continue to live outside of my beloved country and spend my money on my family, friends, and myself instead of corrupt officials, illegal aliens on welfare, the dumbest war ever and a national debt that grows like a steroid fed tumorous growth.

    Keep up the good work, pass out the good word, and keep placing USMC stickers on everything.

    Semper fi until I die.

  13. http://www.rand.org/commentary/2011/04/01/WP.html

    Tim after reading the above article you linked to your post and said it was full of idiotic statements I agree with you 100% because after reading only 50% of the article I realized it was a load of fluffy media polling numbers that are not even based in reality. “8 out of 10 Afghans” have faith in the ANA????? This guy has never talked to an Afghan. He has never seen how the ANA, ANP, and ABP operate here. I know of one US company that was building a installation for the ANP and ABP and ended up turning over half of the project to the Afghan Border police while still working on the other half of the project. Several of the Afghan sub-contractors voiced concerns that the Afghan Police forces would try to extort monies from them. then a few days later that actually happened and one contractor and all of his workers vanished never to be seen again. The Afghan police commander was scolded by the US army and has not tried that kind of thuggery again. But has shifted to selling the water and fuel that is paid for and delivered to the commander’s installation by the US Army. Oh and bye the way the US paid for this crook’s Police installation to be built. As I said…its a stupid war.

  14. funny how no one seems to put together the massive poppy crop, the billion dollar heroin industry, and the incredible level of corruption in Af/Pak.

    The irrational exuberance is the $6,000 harvesters will receive for their crop, which will purchase food for the year, 7.62 x 39 ammo, and a couple of dancing boys for a night. Af/Pak are just is much a narco-state as parts of Colombia used to be.The drug lords are the government are the Taliban are the Pakistani oligarchs.

    The on the ground reluctance to deal with the opium trade and general corruption as the primary economic engines of the country only emphasizes the true state of the reconstruction efforts.

    Throwing money at things just doesn’t work, which we as Americans should know by now. Standing by idly while Ahmad Karzai and his buddies load up Airbuses with billions in drug money along with the contents of Kabul Bank is another metric.

    As to the ROW outside Af/Pak, well, it will be what it’s going to be, which isn’t pretty. Financial crises in Ireland, Portugal, Greece, and Spain are growing. The US was just straight edged by S&P, tossing 70 years of AAA credit down the memory hole. The ME is growing murkier and more dangerous daily. No, nothing to worry about at all. I just wish my order for rose colored glasses would arrive soon.

  15. “the devil’s greatest trick is to make you believe he does not exist.”

    it would not be the libs or entitlements that have put us in debt, but the policies of the right wingers who would make us believe that, to retain/or regain power. it was IKE who pointed out that it’s all about the military industrial complex that rules the roost, not community organizers and academicians.

  16. Yes our legion of useless government workers have nothing to do with it…………

  17. “The United States could easily send half the people deployed in Afghanistan home without diminishing combat power. Simply clear out all the Equal Opportunity Officers, the Sexual Harassment Officers, carrier jammers, the jerks who monitor base gyms to make sure nobody wears a sleeveless shirt and the military policemen who make life on the FOB’s such a drag.”

    I’m at LNK now on my way home and couldn’t agree more. Great posts as always keep it up.

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