There’s Fire

Fighting season is now on. This year the villains strategy appears to involve deliberate attacks on aid projects and let me tell you something we (the outside the wire aid community) are getting hammered. In the last week a majority of us have had to deal with murders, intimidation, shootings, IED’s, kidnappings and attacks on vendors in all areas of the country. I took some serious casualties on two of my projects and I’m pissed about it but not about to quit. There are more men and women outside the wire doing good deeds then any of you suspect; most are smart enough to keep a low profile and I now wish I were one of them.

It didn't take long for the incident stats to shoot right back up there did it?
It didn’t take long for the incident stats in the south to shoot right back up

This will be my last post for awhile.  I’m afraid the blog has become too popular thus raising my personal profile too high. We have had to change up in order to continue working. How we move, how we live, our security methodology;  all of it has been fine tuned. Part of that change is allowing the FRI blog to go dark. I have no choice; my colleagues and I signed contracts, gave our word, and have thousands of Afghan families who have bet their futures on our promises. If we are going to remain on the job we have to maintain a low profile and that is hard to do with this blog.

his is what a kidnapping set up or Taliban check point looks like. A bunch of guys looking at a flat tire which happened to occur in a lonely choke point far away from prying eyes. Of course these guys may be regular folk who had a flat tire (which they were) but these days we take no chances. We stop well back and check behind the berms, and have one of them walk to us if they need help.
This is what a kidnapping set up or Taliban checkpoint looks like. A bunch of guys looking at a mechanical problem which happened to occur in a choke point far away from prying eyes. These guys turned out to be stranded motorists. When I popped out on the road in front of them with the flame stick at the ready  (having worked the flanks) they were terrified – but quickly made me as an American and went for terrified to happy to see me in a blink of an eye.

As is always the case the outside the wire internationals are catching it from all sides. In Kabul the Afghans have jailed the country manager of Global Security over having four unregistered weapons in the company armory. When the endemic corruption in Afghanistan makes the news or the pressure about it is applied diplomatically to the central government they always respond by throwing a few Expat security contractors in jail. Remember that the next time our legacy media tries to spin a yarn about “unaccountable” security companies and the “1000 dollar a day” security contractor business both of which are products of the liberal media imagination.

We depend on our two fixed wing planes for transportation around the country. Sometimes we are forced to overnight on one of the big box FOB’s where random searches for contraband in contractor billeting is routine.  All electronic recording equipment; cell phones, PDA’s laptops, cameras, etc… are all supposed to be registered on base with the security departments. But we aren’t assigned to these bases and cannot register our equipment. Being caught with it means it could be confiscated, being caught with a weapon would result in arrest by base MP’s. Weapons license’s from the Government of Afghanistan aren’t recognized by ISAF. So when we are forced to land on Bastion or Kandahar myself and the other PM’s have to stay on the plane or risk losing our guns.

This is typical - I foolishly decided to help supervise the movement of 11 excavators across 100 kilometers of the Dasht-e margo (desert of death). Our first mobility kill occurred 5 kilometers outside Zarnaj. It was downhill from there. 110 degrees, bright sunshine, heavy equipment stalled on old prime movers as far as the eye could see. 3 cups of tea my ass
This is typical – I foolishly decided to help supervise the movement of 11 excavators across 100 kilometers of the Dasht-e Margo (desert of death). Our first mobility kill occurred 5 kilometers outside Zarnaj. It was downhill from there.

I’m not bitching because I understand why things are the way they are. Both the British and Americans have armed contractors working for them who have gone through specified pre-deployment  training and have official “arming authority”.  Afghan based international security types may or may not have any training and they certainly do not have DoD or MoD arming authority.  A legally licensed and registered weapon is no more welcomed on a military base in Afghanistan then it would be on a base in America. What is true back home is now true here; remember these bases are crammed full of tens of thousands of people so all sorts of problems crop up with such a large population confined to a small area.  It is what it is and for us it is much harder to operate.  But not impossible.

I guess we're going the right way;35 kilometers into the desert, temp now around 120 and another mobiity kill. What are the chances these guys have water and a tarp for shade? Around zero
I guess we’re going the right way; 35 kilometers into the desert, temp around 110 and another broken truck. What are the chances these guys have water and a tarp for shade? Around zero. This is Afghanistan and these guys were back on the road in about an hour – nobody can fix old broken trucks like Afghans do.

Our  safety has always come from local people in the communities where we are active. Being armed would be of little value were this not so. Last week when Afghan supervisors from an aid project in the East were kidnapped the local elders commandeered vehicles and took off in hot pursuit of the villains. In my area of responsibility, which covers several provinces, we have around a 90%  rate of return for kidnapped personnel from internationally sponsored aid programs (still a rare occurrence in the South unlike the East). Village elders go and get them back with no prodding from us. They do this to keep their end of the bargain and we’re keeping our end too; we’re not stopping projects.

But who, aside from the people directly benefiting cares about our performance?  I have spent three years writing poorly edited posts in an effort to describe a way forward that did not cost billions. But our political leaders and military officers would rather be told they could achieve results drinking three cups of tea from a con man peddling news too good to be true.  Shura’s are how Afghans solve problems; few of us internationals have the language skill, patience, or reputations required to get things done with a Shura. Sitting down to drink tea while being humble means nothing to Afghans; they have seen enough good intentions and are now only interested in results. When we move into an area, get the lay of the land and then open shop to accept project requests we don’t sit around drinking tea. We need to de-conflict our project requests between the MRRD, local district government, local elders, Marines (if we are in their AO) and USAID. That can’t be done by hours of tea drinking it takes days and days of us traveling to villages or district centers to hammer out compromises. We don’t spend any more time drinking tea than local customs demand.

So now it is time for me to go from blogsphere for a bit. After this contract it will be time for me to physically go. I have a childlike faith in the ability of Gen Allen to come in and make the best of the situation he finds on the ground. Maybe I’ll stick around to see it for myself – we have a long summer ahead and much can change. But staying here means going back to Ghost Team mode.

I want to thank all of the folks who have participated in the comments section, bloggers Matt from Feral Jundi, Old Blue from Afghan Quest, Michael Yon, Joshua Foust from, Herschel Smith from The Captains Journal and Kanani from The Kitchen Dispatch for their support and kind email exchanges.   Baba Ken of the Synergy Strike Force for hosting me, Jules who recently stepped in to provide much needed editing, and Amy Sun from the MIT Fab Lab for getting me started and encouraging me along the way.  Your support meant everything to me; I’m going to miss not being part of the conversation.

67 Replies to “There’s Fire”

  1. Sorry to see you go, but it is understandable. Good luck and keep up the good work!

  2. Coming soon, “Outside the Wire, Inside the Loop” – a book with all of babaTims posts, once we figure out how to do that.. 😉 / stay safe brother, ill see you soon ! Let me know when you want me to turn out the lights of FRI.

  3. Sorry to see you go. Enjoyed commentary that made sense. Watch your sixes close.
    Sempre Fi

  4. Babatim,

    Been a long time reader of you. I just wanted you to know this:
    1. your example has inspired me and dozens important military people.
    2. your assessments, data, and opinions have changed the way I look at the world–even as a fellow veteran.
    3. you are by far the best news source on Afghan I have know.

    I wish I could more in depth as to the influence you’ve had, but I’m sure you know why I can’t 🙂

    I am praying for you and am grateful to Jesus for who you are, what you do, and what you’ve said.


  5. Too bad that you are going. I have looked forward to reading your views and will miss them, but fully understand the reasons.
    Keep up the good work. Stay safe.

  6. I knew this was inevitable. Going to miss your candor and concise reporting on what is really happening back there. Thank you Col. and God bless you – Jim

  7. Thank you Tim, for everything, every word, every picture, and every minute spent.

    Stay frosty, there will always be a place on the blogroll for you when the time is right.


  8. Best of luck to a year of chaotic craziness that is about to go down. Stay strong and keep up the good work mate 🙂

  9. This is by far the best Afghanistan blog ive ever seen. I check for new updates every day (Freerangeinternational is right next to in my bookmarks) and have always read them with great interest. Sorry to see it end, but I completely understand. Godspeed Tim.

  10. Thanks for all the lessons and the voice of reason. All the best to you in the future.

  11. BabbaTim; I have greatly enjoyed your up front and personal accounts of things in country. I fully understand your decision and wish you the best. Stay safe and good luck.

  12. Tim,

    You have always been an inspiration to me. Who knows what is down the road. “Conflicts come and conflicts go.”


  13. I’m really going to miss your posts!!! I love your insight, opinions, and sense of humor. I’m so sad you can’t post anymore but it’s completely understandable. Take care and be safe. There will definitely be a hole where your no-nonsense reports from Afghanistan and great pictures used to be. 🙁 God Speed!

  14. Thank you, Tim. I have learned ALL I know about outside the wire from your posts. I have benefited from your analysis of what’s going on inside the wire as well. You have performed a service far beyond what you might think. Could you please suggest another source we could go to?

    Be safe, Marine.

  15. 1. Thanks for your many insightful postings and the great commentaries that ensued.
    2. Learned much.
    3. Smart move.
    4. God Bless.
    V/R JWest

  16. Thank you for your work here big fella. God speed and return home to us safely!

  17. I’ll be sorry to see you go, but given the situation, not much else you can do. I’d like to hear your take on what “the end game” looks like, but guess that’s off the table. Watch your back. If fortune bites you in the ass and you ever find yourself in Manhattan, KS, send me an e-mail. I’ll stand you to a great steak and some local brew. Least I can do for your service both in and out of the military.

  18. Tim, longtime reader here, since before my 1st deployment in Zharey in 2009.

    I just wanted to say how much I’ve appreciated everything you’ve written here and how much I’ve learned from it. It’s a shame you’re closing the blog — because I wish the kind of attitude you have towards your occupation was more prevalent. The internal focus bureacratic machine of the army

  19. Tim, longtime reader here, since before my 1st deployment in Zharey in 2009.

    I just wanted to say how much I’ve appreciated everything you’ve written here and how much I’ve learned from it. It’s a shame you’re closing the blog, because I wish the kind of attitude you have working in Afghanistan was more prevalent among everyone else here. I’ve always found the military and Afghanistan to be like oil and water — doing the right thing for one, will never work with the other. It seems like you’ve managed to bridge both worlds and thrive here, which (to me) seems a rare gift. I will admit I’m a bit jealous of it, though I still have a few years to catch up with you.

    Keep yourself and your employees safe, and if you ever have any advice on how to get started in the kind of work you’re doing, please let me know. Godspeed and good luck out there Babatim.

  20. Tim,

    You may be ‘going dark’, but the legacy and archives of this blog will live on. Free Range International has been the best blog out there on Afghanistan and contracting that I have ever read. FRI is in the tool bar of my browser, it is that good. lol
    But I also realize that the mission and contract comes first. As does your personal safety, and the safety of your teammates. Definitely keep taking notes, because like purpleslog mentioned, the book or autobiography would be awesome. Semper Fi Marine. -matt

  21. Thank you for eyes on the ground.There is only so much time that can be used and you have and will continue to use that time wisely.Stay safe until we can hear from you again.

  22. I’m sorry to read this news Tim, but completely understand. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading each and every post. Good luck with your projects, and as always, stay safe.

  23. I hope that you can at some point keep up with some of us, Tim. It’s been a hell of a ride and your insights have been invaluable in helping myself and all of your readers gain a different perspective on what’s been going on. There are far too few good resources on the ground.

    Hopefully I will see for myself in the Fall.

    Stay safe, and come home in one piece.

  24. Thanks Tim for your hard work,straight talking and insight. Go well and come home safe.

  25. I sure enjoyed your posts and I’m sorry to see you go dark. However, your motives are entirely understandable and I am grateful for all that we did get from you. Take good care of yourself.

  26. Book! Book!

    (anyone out there know how to get a publisher to take a look at Baba Tim?)

  27. Tim, I’ve always valued your insights from the other side of the wire. I’m glad that I’ve had the opportunity to meet you, and something tells me that our paths will cross again somehow. But, I completely understand that the blog is not your job, your job is your job and you are great at it! You’re making a difference, and the hope that I have always had for Afghanistan has more to do with all of those great people you know who are out there doing great things in little areas. You touch a lot of those people and bring them hope through your actions and what you bring to the table.

    Please stay in touch, man. Stay safe out there and keep up the good work!


  28. Wow, I’ve been looking forward to your posts for so long I don’t know what to say. I’ve actually read ever post you’ve ever made! Thanks so much for your insight into the ins and outs in Afghanistan. Stay safe and God Bless.


  29. Sorry to hear you are stopping,

    I have always looked forward to your posts. They have been a ray of clarity & understanding in a very murky area.

    Good Luck & God Speed


  30. Thank you, Tim. May the God’s voice always whisper in your ear.

  31. Although I’m so sad to see you stand down your personal literary mission, I’m relieved that you’ve made that hard choice in light of your increasing vulnerability. I found your blog while deployed to Afghanistan, and always shared your posts with my team members – we eagerly awaited your next submission because yours were always spot-on and gave us an excellent understanding of the complexity that is Afghanistan.

    Be well, be safe, and come back to the blogosphere when you can. I’ll remain subscribed … just in case.

  32. BabaTim,
    While I understand the reasoning for your decision, it saddens me that we’ve lost another voice that needs to be listened to.
    Perhaps if you have time, you could compose a email update to your loyal supporters? Yes, I’d like to be on that list, please.

    Whatever you do, know that your work in Afghanistan is making a dent in the battle for understanding by those of us back here in the states.

    Just keep yourself and your team safe. We’ll keep y’all in our prayers for the continued success of your endeavors.

  33. I am really sorry to hear that, it became a daily routine for me to check for your newest posts, but you have to do what you have to do… Thank You and Good Luck!

  34. Hate to see you wrap it up also, but I sure understand why. Stay safe! As a civilian in Texas trying to keep up with events, I will miss your insight.

  35. Thanks for your insights and service. Stay safe and write that book when you get home. Godspeed!

  36. Wow, sad to see you have to go dark, this is definitely the best blog on Afghanistan I’ve found. Keep up the good work, and I hope you can let us know about it all some day in the future!
    Mike K

  37. Semper Fi Tim. May the good Lord keep you safe.

    -Jesse Brown
    Sgt, USMC 1968 – 72

  38. I’ve been reading your posts for more than two years. I love your candor and B.S. free blog. Your work helping out with Fablab and other projects is super inspiring. I have often thought of offering my experience and skills to teach English at Fablab. I’m a fairly resilient chick who absorbs languages like a sponge. I thought I might be able to pick up enough Pashto to be useful. Probably no longer a good idea. Be safe! I hope some day you’ll be able to return to the blogosphere.

  39. I was damned surprised to see the work here all in the clear. Not surprised it has to stop.

    It is the best primer out there and, frankly, could be applied in the near future to the southren neighbors here…

    Be well, get home.

  40. Been here since the the start. Gosh I’ve just loved your stuff.
    Thank you so much! I’ll continue to come back cause I want to read the fan mail too.

  41. I do not know what I am going to do without you COL. Maybe put more pressure on Michael Yon? Bless you Sir, and thanks for your time and patience with US and our lack of understanding.


    1. Thanks Jason and my thanks to all of you who have been so kind with your comments but for the record I’m a retired Major having spent my first 6 years on active duty as a Navy Corpsman.

      1. Tim;

        a very close friend of mine was an enlisted Marine who left the Corps and became a Catholic priest. He is now on the Vinson. Gotta love mustangs.

  42. Well, my friend. I think you have taught all of us a lot. Yours has been one of the blogs I looked to for clarity, depth and understanding. I loved the rants, and look forward to when you can get back home and write on very long 55,000 word rant that will be a best seller.

    Yes, it is time to depart from the blogosphere. A lot of us have been feeling the tug as of late. I myself, have very little more to share. Tim’s death took the wind out of my sails –but good news, another movie project is in the works.

    See you around. Take care. Go ghost!

  43. It’s been awhile since we met in Now Zad and toured the ville. Like others, I’ve looked forward to keeping up w/ AFG through your posts. We will all be much less informed w/o the benefit of our no bull shit guy on the ground. The honest and hard hitting assessments were worth their weight in gold. Too bad they often didn’t square w/ the Pro’s From Dover. Stay safe and keep the faith brother. See you when I see you. r/ Marty

  44. I will miss reading your view of the country, culture, work you have been involved in and the wider military/political situation. I understand your reasoning and wish you all the best for the future

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