America’s Monster in Afghanistan

The New York Times Introduces Agitprop as History just in time for Memorial Day

Last week New York Times foreign correspondent Matthieu Aikins released a two part series that examined the career of Afghan Lieutenant General Abdul Raziq. The Times spent over a year tracking down hundreds of Afghans who had family members “disappeared under Raziq, the police chief responsible for security across Kandahar Province”. Aikins interviewed only one of the eighteen four star generals who commanded in Afghanistan, Marine General John R. Allen who commanded from 2011 – 2013 and claimed;  “it was a mistake to “keep a really bad criminal because he was helpful in fighting worse criminals”.

General Abdul Raziq

I corresponded with Mattieu Aikins when he arrived in Afghanistan in 09, and I respect and admire his work because he is one of the few Americans who knew the country better than I do. I worked for John Allen when he oversaw the infantry officer course, so I know him well, and respect him immensely. As the three star deputy commandeer of CENTCOM General Allen played a pivotal role in sheltering me from fallout from a New York Times series of hit pieces on the Eclipse Group. I am not happy to find myself harshly criticizing men I honestly admire but these two articles: How the U.S. Backed Kidnapping, Torture and Murder in Afghanistan and Who was Abdul Raziq? are so ridiculously wrong that I am mystified. Nobody who cares about honest reporting believes the New York Times but what was it trying to accomplish with articles pinning our many and manifest failures in Afghanistan on the back of one man?

Kandahar district 3 in 2024 photograph from Bryan Denton of the NYT
Kandahar’s district 3 in 2009

The articles claim Raziq was behind the disappearances of thousands of Afghans in and around Kandahar while he was the police chief, and before that when he headed the Border Police in Spin Boldak on the border with Pakistan. There is only one sentence aboutTaliban war crimes: “The Taliban committed countless atrocities of their own against civilians, including suicide attacks, assassinations and kidnappings for ransom.” which directly contradicts this earlier sentence “What is clear, however, is who was responsible: Only the American-backed government consistently engaged in forced disappearances in Kandahar, former officials, combatants, and families of the victims said”.

Let’s start with the obvious; people routinely disappeared in Taliban IED and VBIED attacks. Afghans do not the ability to forensically identify every charred lump of meat found inside the blast radius of a large explosive attack and accurate reports of who was near the explosion from eye witnesses are always unreliable. Not every kidnapping victim of the Taliban was released, especially if the ransom was unpaid, everybody knows this. But that’s not the point, both Matthieu Aikins and General Allen (but not you unless you’re a former Intel weenie) know about other organizations like the Destagiri Group, who were guilty of ‘disappearing’ people and they were mostly government-connected Noorzai. Raziq was from the Achakzai tribe; the Noorzai and Achakzai are the Hatfields and McCoys of Kandahar and have been fighting for generations.

Canadian Army moving through Kandahar summer of 2009

Off the top of my head I could think of dozens of documentaries depicting Afghan security forces in other provinces kidnapping civilians and holding them in horrendous conditions. This one, This is What Winning Looks Like from Vice media shows a patrol of Marines at an Afghan National Police checkpoint holding illegal prisoners training the Afghans on how to use toilet paper (I’m not making this up) while the head cop threatens to shoot the Marines is they try to free his prisoners. The Times contends “The culture of lawlessness and impunity he (Raziq) created flew in the face of endless promises by American presidents, generals and ambassadors to uphold human rights and build a better Afghanistan. And it helps explain why the United States lost the war ‘. But Raziq did not create that culture, it was organic to Afghanistan, it was the war lord culture that we solidified with Special Forces teams in 2001.

Ambassador Zalmay Khalizad with some tier 1 dudes in 2005 – I’m guessing from the hair these are Dev Group SEALs

The Times is correct that the more Afghans were exposed to the incompetent, bribe demanding, thugs from the Karzai government the more they hated America for inflicting that loser on them. This had nothing to do with Raziq and everything to do with President Karzai and American Ambassador Zalmay Khalizad the man responsible for inflicting Karzai on the Afghans as well as saddling them with the Single Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV) electoral system that guarantees corruption and fragmented political parties. It was Mattieu Aikins who broke the story about Khalizad’s behind-the-scene machinations for the SNTV system and it was he who explained its significance. So why is he now focused on Raziq? I have a theory.

If Afghanistan had produced 20 more Afghan patriots like Abdul Raziq Achakzai there would be no Taliban today. He was the most effective counter insurgent fighter since Ahmad Shah Massoud. General Allen might have thought him a criminal but he, with a little help from his American friends, locked down Kandahar during Obama’s troop surge and that saved an unknown but significant number of American lives. For that reason alone he deserves a little respect especially from our senior military leaders but instead they sully his name in the name of their peculiar interpretation of honor.

American Army convoy heading towards Spin Boldak

There was a time when America produced military leaders who understood the purpose of war was to win. Winning requires the total defeat of your enemy which requires killing enough of them that you break their will to fight. You know when your effective at this when you are sitting in the heartland of your enemy, safe and sound, while every province around you explodes in violence as the Taliban sortie out to meet the American invaders. Raziq accomplished that at a time when most Afghans hated the government in Kabul and the Americans who were propping it up. That was a remarkable achievement.

Abdul Raziq was obviously an accomplished killer and that made some of our senior generals uncomfortable. Our military commanders believe that the process they use to nominate and prosecute targets immunizes them against repercussions when they target and kill innocent women and children. Here’s a footnote from the upcoming best seller Free Ranging Afghanistan that highlights the downside of drone warfare.

“The first targeted assassination in Afghanistan by ISAF was on 31 October 2003 using a B-1 bomber and AC 130 gunship to attack a cluster of buildings on the side of the Waygil valley in Kunar province known as Aranas. The CIA was certain the compounds contained Taliban leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, but it was the home of a wealthy clan headed by Zabiullah Rabbani. The number of women and children killed in this attack is unknown.  The last targeted assassination was the drone strike in Kabul during the cut and run NEO that killed an NGO worker and his family. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Miley swore it was a “righteous strike” that killed an ISIS suicide bomber adding that the military had followed the same iron tight process they always used when targeting bad Afghans. That might be the only true statement made by that obese incompetent during our chaotic abandonment of Afghanistan”.

For the record nobody ever accused Abdul Raziq of killing women or children. We killed plenty as did the Taliban, but Raziq used dirt naps as a tool while successfully exercising armed governance over a hostile population in the midst of a Civil War. There is a logic to the violence in Civil Wars; indiscriminate violence, like collateral damage from drone strikes, is counterproductive, but targeted violence against individuals can be very productive as Raziq proved in Kandahar. Mattieu Aikins does an excellent job explaining exactly how that worked in Panjai district in his second article and it was there I found the article linked above on the logic of violence. Aikins is a phenomenally good foreign correspondent who always has great links in his articles so why he’s declared a jihad on Raziq is a mystery.

Memorial Day is the perfect day to reflect on the cost of our 20 year long beef with Afghanistan. There would be dozens if not hundreds more soldiers interned in our national cemeteries had it not been for the effectiveness of one ( some would say ruthless, others motivated) Afghan in his fight against the Taliban. He deserves our thanks, not a New York Times hit piece.

Apocalypse Not: The Fear of COVID-19 is Unwarranted

I started the Apocalypse Not series with this post on March 18, 2020 because I suspected the COVID 19 pandemic was total bullshit. The lack of bodies was the clue. If the disease had the IFR (infection fatality rate) that our “experts” said it had then our number one problem would have been the disposal of bodies, just like every other pandemic in history. Instead the homeless populations on the west coast were thriving while the main stream media focused on horror stories concocted byTony Fauci and Deborah Birx. My reward for alerting people to the COVID fraud was to loose friends, members of my family, and a book agent (I have yet to find another). I then doubled down and went on writing to point out the measures instituted to mitigate this non threat were in fact the threat. That resulted in the loss of more friends and family but I got to be this guy for a few months.

I’m re-posting the first post in preparation for revisiting the issue and the lessons learned from the disastrously incompetent reaction to the COVID 19 virus. My guess at the end of this post that there would be hell to pay when the public discovered they were duped has not happened yet but inshallah some day somebody will be held to account.

There is something about the current Wuhan virus response that is not adding up. The first case appeared in America on 17th of January, we then stopped direct flights from China on the 31st of January. From the time this pathogen surfaced in China last November until the end of January, there were daily flights from the Wuhan area to Seattle, LA, San Francisco, New York and Toledo, Ohio. This flu strain is unusually virulent and if that is true (which is not in doubt), by the time it surfaced in America it had already spread across the land.

Farr’s Law, named for British epidemiologist William Farr in 1840, states that epidemics, develop and recede according to a bell-shaped curve. This happens with or without human intervention. Farr’s Law undoubtedly is in play for the Wuhan virus.

Last Christmas my wife and several neighbors had a horrible flu bug that mimicked the Wuhan virus symptoms exactly.  She was miserable and did not respond to a Z-pack or a course of Levaquin our family doctor prescribed. The bug she had was no joke, and when she mentioned my theory that the Wuhan had already washed through the population last Christmas her friends saw it immediately. She started hearing other stories about the Christmas bug that ravaged the Rio Grande Valley for a good four weeks. The stories all matched up to the symptoms for Wuhan virus.

The President’s early attempts to calm the situation were ridiculed as was his suspension of air travel to China. Then the narrative changed on a dime and the cancelations started with the Ivy League Universities cancelling their basketball seasons. Once they did that every other major sports league (with the exception of the UFC) did the same. 

The Ivy League’s role in starting the current chain reaction of closing public venues is not a coincidence. The experts managing this crisis had just  attended a Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, World Economic Forum and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation sponsored Virtual Exercise Called Event 201 described as:

“a 3.5-hour pandemic tabletop exercise that simulated a series of dramatic, scenario-based facilitated discussions, confronting difficult, true-to-life dilemmas associated with response to a hypothetical, but scientifically plausible, pandemic”.

The pathogen used for the exercise was a COVID virus with properties similar to COVID-19. The exercise predicted that the virus would overwhelm the medical systems in North America resulting in catastrophic loss of life. Tabletop exercises like Event 201 happen all the time, the fact that this one was played out a month before COVID-19 surfaced in Wuhan China is not that significant. What is significant is how different the current crisis is playing out compared to the one our experts war-gamed.

There were a seven recommendations made following the exercise (they can be found here). Every recommendation focused on the need for international cooperation with the free flow of information and people across national borders which is consistent with the ethos and vision of globalists like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other major donors, like Open Philanthropy .

But our response to the Wuhan virus has been the exact opposite of the “viruses know no borders” narrative of Event 201.  Instead we (and the rest of the world) have closed the borders, rebuffed international offers of help and turned to the private sector to fight the virus ourselves.

The Centers for Disease Control was not up to the task of testing for or tracking the Wuhan virus and they were rapidly sidelined by the President. This was the exact opposite of  Event 201 in which the CDC and every other similar international organization performed flawlessly. The ‘experts” may have been surprised the CDC failed so spectacularly but this is expected from those of us who know and understand government bureaucracies.

When the CDC failed the President  went straight to the private sector, suspended regulations inhibiting the development and production of test kits and protective wear, and solved the testing problem rapidly. He then held a press conference with these Titans of industry and did a good job of calming frayed nerves. After his poor start briefing the nation last Wednesday night watching him get back into the grove was gratifying.

This is not playing out as the experts who ran Event 201 thought. Then, in another move a blatant dishonesty, on the same day that China launches an IO campaign to deflect criticism from them our legacy media decides the Wuhan virus is now to be called COVID-19.  Any mention of the word Wuhan was now racist and news anchors were getting apoplectic about this new muh racism.

As events across the land started to close. Governors and DC mandarins ran to the TV cameras to announce the draconian measures they were going to take. These pronouncements have to moldy scent of Virtue Signalling. The men and women making these decisions have themselves, no skin in the game.  Regardless of how long this lasts or how bad it gets the people running Ivy League institutions, the federal legislatures, state governors and the media infotainment complex insiders – all of them will weather the storm just fine. In fact, most of them will make millions off  low interest rates while buying blue chip stock at a significant markdown.

You and your family? Not so much.

“I don’t claim to know what’s motivating the media, but, my God, their reporting is absolutely reprehensible. They should be ashamed of themselves. They are creating a panic that is far worse than the viral outbreak. The bottom line, everybody, is to listen to Dr. Anthony Fauci of the CDC [Centers of Disease Control and Prevention]. Do what he tells you, and go about your business.… Stop listening to journalists! They don’t know what they are talking about!” Dr. Drew Pinsky commenting on the media yesterday (17 March 2020)

An anonymous  source quoted in The Spectator points out the only salient (and obvious) fact now which is:  “We know the numerator (the number of deaths), but we don’t know the denominator, which is the number of people who have been infected by COVID-19. And without the denominator, we have no way of estimating either the spread or the fatality rate of COVID-19.”

That bothers me and it should bother you too, but at the moment there is nothing to be done except hunker down, avoid panic shopping, and wait to see what happens. How long Americans will tolerate these measures will be interesting to see.

There is no reason to think that this time the experts warnings about a catastrophic event are correct. They have a perfect record of being wrong with every prediction in the past because their models are incapable of predicting complex events reliably.

When the people discover that once again, they were manipulated by a partisan press, compromised academic shills, and virtue signalling politicians there is going to be hell to pay.  When the dust settles maybe we will de-couple science from politics and even dismantle the narrative driving legacy media.

It is time to keep your head down, and your powder dry. Courage and cowardice are contagions and few of our elected leaders seem to operate with an abundance of courage. Their default is finger pointing, name calling, and blame shifting. The rest of us should refrain from that behavior and focus on helping, not panicking our neighbors. When this emergency passes we may be able to hold incompetents to account but for now all we can do is what we do best; refuse to panic.

Life Behind the Lines in America’s New Culture War

This morning I saw an X from Tucker Carlson about an interview with my good friend Michael Yon. The first sentence stated “America is being invaded and destroyed with the help of our leaders”. That sounded ominous and with Michael being a friend I went to the Tucker website to watch the interview. Only I couldn’t because I’m not a member so I coughed up nine bucks to watch the Yon interview. It occurred to me that what Michael is warning against – an invasion of mostly Hispanic foreigners that will change our towns and communities forever, already happened in the Rio Grande Valley where I settled almost ten years back. Thus a boots on the ground report from the tropical portion of the southern border with Mexico where the whites comprise around 5% of the population.

The Rio Grande Valley

The Rio Grande Valley (RGV) borders Mexico and consists of Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, and Willacy counties. The official statistics claim the valley is over 91% Hispanic which isn’t accurate because that count includes thousands of Winter Texans who only reside here from October through May. Our population distribution represents the future according to the great replacement theory. I don’t believe anyone outside the media, academia, or dysfunctional federal agencies believe this ridiculous theory and I offer as proof this NPR article which claims it has gone mainstream with the Whites whites. Over 25% of the 1.3 million Hispanic Texans in the RGV are immigrants, but not the kind of immigrants found in NPR programing because many of these immigrants, like the majority of Hispanic voters in the RGV, are Trump supporters.

Your typical Trump RGV supporter turning out to welcome the President to McAllen back in 2019.

President Trump won the RGV in 2020 election and his popularity with Hispanic voters continues to increase with each passing month of FJB incompetence at the border. But nobody who lives here categorizes people by bureaucratically created terms like “Hispanic” for many practical reasons. Take the young man in the photograph above, he looks Hispanic but he’s not, he’s Native American, and doesn’t speak Spanish. Most of the second and third generation Hispanic kids in the RGV also don’t speak Spanish, but there are plenty of Gringo’s around the valley who are fluent Spanish speakers. Add the inconvenient fact that humans (regardless of racial classification) segregate by class in America, not race, and you’ll understand why every strata of the social hierarchy here is dominated by Hispanics. And the degree to which one is or is not Hispanic has nothing to do with skin color; it’s determined by fluency with the Spanish language.

My buddy Cody Elmore is so white that after six months in the Helmand Province he looked like he spent the winter in Minnesota. But Cody is the son of diplomats who went to school in Europe and speaks perfect Castilian Spanish so when out and about in RGV he’s so Hispanic that real Hispanic’s buy him drinks when they hear him speak Spanish. Competency with upper caste European Spanish is admired in Tex Mex social circles.

Quinceañera parties in the RGV are more lavish than Afghan weddings but the sexes aren’t segregated and the adult males smuggle in coolers full of cerveza’s so they’re much more fun. illustration curtsey of

What’s it like living in the future America where the whites are a distinct minority? It’s fantastic, like living in the America of my childhood but with rare tropical bird species, and Ocelots. This is due to the high level of civic trust found in communities that share the same values, beliefs, and culture. Granted the culture here is more Mex than Tex, but who cares when you live in a town with dozens of large parks that fill on Easter Sunday with extended families picnicking, their kids hunting for colorful cascarones (painted eggshells full of confetti) while the adults fire up the pit and grill stuff. Easter celebrations extend through the entire day as the kids’ band together and have cascarones wars while the adults relax in the only portion of America considered  tropical.  

Unfortunately, adult relaxation in the RGV invariably involves drinking cerveza’s which contributes to the region’s designation (by as the fattest city in the nation. I think the local tortillas contribute more because they come doubled up and deep fried in with queso cheese in-between them making local taco’s addictive as crack. But beer drinking is endemic to local culture so watching families arrive at a Quinceañera, the women dressed in fantastically elaborate ball gowns, the men in coat and tie each dragging a cooler of full of beer is totally normal. There is no Bowling Alone style collapse inside the local communities here because Hispanic people are serious about their religion and their extended families, even the ones with sneaky Gringo’s in the family tree. There are no Roof Dogs in the Rio Grande Valley despite their prevalence in Mexico, because America ain’t Mexico, and the RGV is populated by Americans.

Roof dogs are no bueno .

What kind of Americans you ask? The RGV is to Texas what the Helmand province was to Afghanistan; it’s Marineistan – full of Marines and Marine Corps history. Weslaco native Corporal Harlan Block, one of the six Marines to raise the flag on Iwo Jima is buried at the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen. Marine Corps Sergeant Alfredo Gonzalez, a native Edinburg won the Medal of Honor at Hue City during the Vietnam war. There are murals of Marines who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan painted on the underground electrical junction boxes around Edinburg and I’ve heard there is more of them in Brownsville. The Valley is home to one of the best historians who ever lived; T. R. Fehrenbach who was an Army officer, but his best selling book, This Kind of War, was about the awesomeness of the United States Marine Corps in Korean War. The Army get’s no love in the Valley for some reason and I have no idea why.

There are more of these tributes to dead Marines in the RGV than there should be from the 20 year long war against terror. Why are there only tributes to Marines? Because the RGV is Marinestan
A picture of Sgt. Gonzales’s mother accepting his Medal of Honor from the South Texas Museum in Edinburg, Texas. I am almost certain the last Marine on the left is GySgt John Canley who also won the Medal of Honor during the battle of Hue.

The Tucker Carlson interview with Michael Yon focused on the international NGO’s who facilitate the massive migrant movements through Central America into the United States. The lead agency organizing and paying for this illegal migration is the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) who have a posh office in Panama inside former Southern Command headquarters building in Fort Clayton. From Clayton IOM coordinates with the federal government contractors like Catholic Relief Charities and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) to care, feed and move migrants to and through the US border. These contractors self-identify as NGO’s but any organization funded by the government that moves thousands of people across the border and then disperses them throughout the United States every month needs military-contractor grade accounting departments and former Feds in upper management. That is how the game is played.

In October of 1981 sculptor Dr. Felix W. de Weldon donated this full sized working model of the Iwo Jima Monument to the Marine Military Academy. Prior to that it was disassembled and stored in his garage in Newport, R.I. where my friends and I would try to get a glimpse of it because the garage was close to a main road and accessible to sneaky teenagers.

Did you know Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas is a Jewish immigrant from Cuba? His parents fled Havana after the revolution and that background made him perfect for the board of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) prior to his government appointment. Michael Yon uncovered the HIAS connection when he noted that the HIAS Panama offices were next to the IOM HQ building in the Darien Gap. Which might explain why Mayorkas flew into the Darien Gap back in 2022 to meet with both the IOM and HIAS about funding improvements of what Yon describes as “the China Camp”. A camp with superior accommodations where Chinese migrants are housed but segregated from the other migrants. Why is our Secretary of Homeland Security funding illegal migration? Why is he dumping millions of no-bid federal contracting dollars on a “NGO” he once managed? What is the end game here?

Who know’s? But I know the southern border, which is supposed to be under the control of our Homeland Security Department, is instead controlled by narcotraficantes. The reason narcotraficantes control the entire southern border is they own the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador who prefers to be called AMLO because he just a humble public servant who, despite the conspicuous accumulation of massive personal wealth, is a man of the people.

The Riverside Dreamer still does a booming business hauling tourists for one or two hours tours of the Rio Grande River. The operator told me she has been giving boat tours for 20 years and never had a problem.

Last fall a ProPublica investigative reporter named Tim Golden published a long detailed story about the DEA’s effort to hold Senior AMLO accountable for taking millions of dollars from the Sinaloa drug cartel in 2010 in return for the names and addresses of his own State Police. But in 2010 Obama was in office and Obama made decisions based on what was best for Obama not for the citizens of the United States or Mexico. Holding Mexican officials responsible for their many and manifest crimes was not part of the Obama hagiography so the millions spent by the DEA investigation went right down the sewer next to the Marine Corps excellent study on the dreadful consequences of putting females in the infantry.

The RGV, known as Tropical Texas, is home to several exotic tropical bird species and home to the last remaining Ocelots in America. Photo from NatGeo.

The New York Times published a long form piece based in part on Tim Golden’s work which caused Senior AMLO so much consternation he doxxed the NYT reporter by giving out her name and cell phone number at a press conference. Mexico is the worlds leader in many unsavory categories including murdered journalists so one would suspect the New York Times and FJB’s administration would protest this blatant intimidate of an American reporter, but they have said nothing. Instead AMLO has demanded 20 Billion Dollars from FJB to open talks about the border he does not control.

It’s not just people sneaking into the RGV from Mexico but Ocelots too. Last week one was killed by a car up in Jim Hogg county which was bad, but the DNA test showed the cat to be Mexican which was good. The RGV Ocelot population will need many more Mexican Ocelots sneaking across the border to bring much needed genetic diversity to their American cousins. Photo from San

Mexican drug cartels are not a benign presence in the RGV given their history of corrupting local law enforcement. Every county in the RGV has had sheriff’s arrested for taking narcotraficantes money. The sad case of Hidalgo County Sheriff Guadalupe “Lupe” Treviño from ten years back is typical. He was arrested and convicted for money laundering which is a growth industry with Mexican Cartels. What is amazing isn’t the number of local law enforcement officers arrested for being in bed with traffickers, it’s number who aren’t being arrested given the ridiculous amounts of money involved in narco bribes. The avergage Rio Grande Valley police officer appears to be honest, conscientious, and professional. They tend to be fluent Spanish speakers who can instantly recognize Venezuelans, Colombians, Guatemalans, etc. . . and give them the extra scrutiny they deserve without worrying about profiling beefs from federal prosecutors.

Great Kiskadee’s are one of a many tropical birds found exclusively in the Rio Grande Valley (and points south). Birding is big business in the valley. Photo from my backyard where this male Kissadee chases off all Kissadee competitors while terrorizing the House Sparrows.

Yet the corrupting influence of the enormous hordes of cash money Cartels deploy cannot be ignored. It is inconceivable that they have not penetrated local law enforcement agencies with the millions of dollars they have to spend. There is too much money involved for corruption not to impact local governments which makes eliminating the power and influence of Mexican drug cartels a time sensitive issue that is being ignored by the FJB administration. Federal politicians can ignore the spreading cancer of narcotraficante war lordism corrupting Texas border communities but we can’t which is why Donald Trump is going to win here in a landslide.

We rarely see the illegals who are processed daily and then dropped off at the McAllen bus station by the Border Patrol. The Catholic Relief Charities has a building across from the bus station where they feed, and house the migrants before sending them on their way with free bus tickets, or airline tickets out of state. In fact, the invasion of illegal immigrants benefits the RGV economically due to the resulting deployment of troops, flight crews and federal agencies, keeping our hotels occupied and restaurants full of well paid feds on per diem who tip well.

The migrants don’t stay here because the Cartels don’t want them here trashing the place up because they invest and vacation here. I see well dressed, fit, friendly Mexican men driving late model sports cars with Tamaulipas license plates all the time in McAllen. It is impossible for a non cartel connected Mexican to own and drive a late model European sports car on the highways of Tamaulipas and not get it stolen by one of the cartels. Everybody knows that is the reality of contemporary Mexico but we’re not rude about it down here because everybody is armed and an armed society is a polite society. Yet I yearn for the day when I see Mexicans driving late model cars with Tamaulipas plates in McAllen and not immediately suspect them to be well dressed, violent narco thugs.

This 35 year old Friendship Fountain between McAllen and our Mexican sister cities Irapuato and Guanajato is falling apart – the perfect metaphor for the condition of our southern border with Mexico.

Nothing good can come from allowing Mexican cartels to control the flow of both illicit drugs and illegal migrants across our border. And nothing good can come from allowing millions of people with limited English or practical skills to flood the country where they have no agency and easily trapped in situations that are worse than slavery.

Any American who actually understands the concept of human rights would demand the immediate closure of our border to cripple the massive human trafficking operation corrupting our communities with mountains of cash. The laws of unintended consequences are brutal reminders to the anointed that reality still rules on planet earth. Nobody wants a prosperous, functional and safe Mexico more than Texans, but that will not happen unless America forces some hard choices on the criminal political class ruling Mexico. When the President of the United States starts treating AMLO like FJB treats Israeli President Netanyahu, we’ll know the border crisis is about to end.

The Sorry Story of the Delaram DAC

The FRI Guide to Dangerous Places: Delaram District, Afghanistan

During the summer of 2011 a unique opportunity presented itself to Abdul Karim Brahui, the governor of Afghanistan’s Nimroz Province, during a meeting with the new Marine Corps RCT commander in Delaram II, Colonel Eric Smith, USMC. Colonel Smith had replaced my good friend Paul Kennedy and although I knew Eric, Paul had given me a warning (in infantry officer code) about dropping in on him saying “he still irons his skivvies Timmy, don’t waste your time with him”.

Colonel Smith had come to Zaranj to complain to the provincial governor about the Khash Rod district governor who was an ineffective crook. Governor Brahui had nothing to do with the appointment of district governors, Karzai’s government appointed them but recognizing opportunity Governor Brahui turned to one of his trusted aids, Engineer Khodaidad and told him to accompany the Colonel back to Delaram and then move to assume the duties of the district governor. Col Smith, being new to the game, didn’t think twice about accepting the governors kind offer. He forgot or didn’t know those appointments were made in Kabul. The Colonels apparent complicity in this unusual arrangement stayed Karzai’s hand thus preventing Khodaidad’s immediate removal by the heavy handed Kabul Government.

Coming in for a morning meeting in Zaranj

My provincial manager in Nimroz was an Afghan national from Kabul named Bashir. Well educated Kabuli’s able to speak and write English fluently are normally connected to powerful people in the government making their utility in remote, sparsely populated areas of Afghanistan about zero. The tribes on the fringes of the Dasht-e Margo (desert of death) were more likely to shoot Kabul elites than cooperate with them. Bashir was well educated, a fluent English speaker who was from Kabul but not connected to anyone in the Kabul government. He was, without question the most honest, competent Afghan I knew, and I knew more than a few good men in Afghanistan. He and Governor Brahui became good friends over the years Bashir and his family lived in Zaranj.

 When Governor Brahui told Engineer Khodaidad to go to Delaram, Bashir turned to his assistant provincial manager, Boris, and told him to accompany Engineer Khodaidad to Delaram II. Engineer Khodaidad left with Col Smith with just the clothes on his back but Boris, a Russian Jew who was raised in New York City and a former Army Signal Intelligence operator, had the presence of mind to get his overnight bag and a change of clothes before departing for Delaram II. Boris had learned about working the Nimroz Province from the FRI blog and had contacted me asking if he could work out of Zaranj. He had an intense interest in Central Asian history and was all about supervising projects among the ruins of the Ghurid Sultanate. He turned out to be a hard worker, fluent Dari speaker, and the best field supervisor I ever had.

Bashir is to my left amd Governor Brahui to my right in this picture from on of our project openings

Engineer Khodaidad spoke fluent Russian having received his engineer training in a Russian school in Mazar-i-Sharif in the 1960’s. Like Governor Brahui he was a respected former Nimroz Front Mujahidin leader who had fought out of the Kang District during the Soviet War. Boris and Engineer Khodaidad became instant friends which was fortunate because Boris had to go to the Delaram II base exchange to by Engineer Khodaidad the various sundries and the bedding he would need to live out of the DAC. That would have normally caused embarrassed resentment from an Afghan leader who had limited dealing with Americans, but Boris and the Engineer has remarkably similar opinions about politicians and senior military officers, so it was no problem.

Boris got Engineer Khodaidad a ride to the DAC and helped him move in and I sent him some mini split air conditioners from our stash in Lashkar Gah to make the office and living spaces tolerable. I then called to the country manager in Jalalabad to see if he could shake loose some additional funding to start repairing the streets and drainage ditches in Delaram which turned out to be easy because USAID had developed a sudden interest in seeing projects started there. We turned up a couple million started to pave the streets of Delaram while also rehabilitating the bazar in the old Taliban designated district administrative center of Ghurghuri which was not too far from Delaram.

Boris sporting an M3A1 grease gun in one of the abandoned walled forts

There was a small Marine Corps Civil Affairs attachment co-located with Engineer Khodaidad at the District Administrative Center and they took over getting him established in his new home. I don’t remember who owned those Marines by they were living like the grunts down south with no fresh food, no showers, and no A/C (until we hooked them up).  At least one of them ( the team Gunny) had already been shot once while patrolling the area but that didn’t stop them from continuing to patrol. The DAC detachment also had a Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel from the Afghan Hands program assigned to it, but he had little to do except tease me because I couldn’t speak Pashto. He was a good man in a hard spot, but his assignment said all you needed to know about the Afghan Hands Program (it was a loser track for officers) which sucked because I saw serious talent in the Hands program every time I ran into one. There was also an American SF team located in Ghurghuri but I never saw them and have no idea what they were up to or why they were there.

That sets the table for an interesting tale because when Boris and Engineer Khodaidad showed up the security situation in Delaram wasn’t good but not that bad in the big scheme of things. But not a week after they showed up the Karzai administration struck by appointing a new district police chief named Asif, a Pashtun of the Helalzai subtribe of the Nurzai tribe. The Helalzai fought on the Soviet side of the war and Asif’s father, acting as the Soviet district security chief back then had executed 28 civilians in the Delaram Bazar for supporting the Nimroz Front Mujaheddin.

Commander Asif and Engineer Khodaidad were mortal enemies and he, the  local tribal leaders, and the Afghan Hands LtCol told anybody who would listen that Asif’s appointment was a terrible idea, but that didn’t matter because there was nothing any American could do about it. When Asif showed up a significant proportion of the local police force immediately quit, partially motivated by his appointment and partially by the fact that they had not received their pay in months. Asif immediately brought several of his own trusted men onto the Delaram police payroll.

This was the interesting dynamic from the Afghan perspective because when Col Smith returned from his meeting in Zaranj with Engineer Khodaidad and installed him as the new district governor it was assumed he was under the protection of the Colonel who would support him both morally and materially as he consolidated his position. They expected Col Smith would derail the appointment of Commander Asif after they explained who he was and why his appointment would degrade the district’s security.

But Eric Smith had no intention of doing that, his focus was on the Northern Helmand Province where his maneuver battalions were still having major problems in Sangin, Musa Qala, and the Kajaki Dam. He didn’t give a damn about Delaram, neither did Paul Kennedy when he was there, nor would have I had I been in their shoes. But Paul knew how provincial and district governors were appointed and wouldn’t have short circuited that process – that was an unforced error. The appointment of Commander Asif was uncontested by the Colonel Smith because he had no say in the matter. Even worse Smith was forced to ignore the obvious reason for the decline in district security while acting like the new district police chief was a legit player in the regional security hierarchy.

The shit hit the fan days after Asif took over when a small convoy of Afghan security contractors were ambushed by the Taliban approximately 40 km west of Delaram. These were fuel tanker escorts as I recall, and they tended to roll with lots of guns and  a ton of ready ammunition. In the ensuing 90-minute firefight, the contractors drove the Taliban from the field and captured a vehicle containing 12 IEDs. The contractors then called the Afghan Highway Police, the Afghan National Police, the Afghan National Army, and the Marines looking for somebody who would take custody of the Taliban IED’s. Nobody came out to help them and nobody wanted the IED’s except for the Taliban who returned in force to recapture their vehicle and IED’s.  The contractors retreated to Delaram DAC with three of the IED’s and reported to the incident to Engineer Khodaidad.

These are the three large IED’s with pressure plates captured by the contractors

Within days carloads of armed men started to show up at our project sites to threaten our workers which was not unusual and Boris, who had the advantage of being tall, fit, disagreeable and a Dari speaker, had no problem running them off. Then IEDs began to detonate in the town several times a week, at first they targeted Asif’s Afghan National Police (ANP) checkpoints, then a few targeted our project site. The escalation continued with two of our Delaram project day laborers were kidnapped and decapitated by the local Taliban when they went to their home village (Tut) for the weekend.

The IED fiasco and sudden eruption of IED blasts brought the RCT-8 commander to the DAC with an entourage including his Sergeant Major, for a security shura. Boris blended in with the Afghans at the meeting and was able to observe from the back of the room. He said the District Governor was not mollified by being patronized by Col Smith with a pat on the back, and the promise “you and I will go out there with pistols and shoot the Taliban”.

Boris thought Engineer Khodaidad had seen a fair number of Americans in uniform making extravagant promises and talking tough, then failing to deliver before they redeployed back home. The Governor walked out of the security shura frustrated at the inability of the participants to agree on any concrete plan of action for security incidents like the IED capture. He later told Boris: “why should I even be here, if none of you listen to me?”. It was time to face a decision I never wanted to make and that was to cancel a project without finishing it, something none of my colleagues and I had done over the years of working contested districts, so I flew into Delaram to talk with the district governor.

This is what high grade home made explosive (HME) looks like

Delaram had grown considerably since my first visit as had the staffs of the Regimental Combat Teams. The RCT 8 CO now had a State Department Contractor assigned to him who was in some way responsible for aid in Nimroz Province. The State guy was a retired Army Colonel who seemed nice enough, but I was unable to figure out his role in the “hold and build” phase of the Marine Corps Southwestern campaign. He didn’t have any funds to spend, he was not part of the approval process for my projects, and he couldn’t leave the Delaram base, so it was hard to see what role he played in the big scheme of things.  He picked me up when I flew in making it a point to ask that I not go directly to the Marine CO with information that should have gone through him. I told him that would not be problem without explaining why and asked if I could use his vehicle to drive out to the DAC.

The vehicle in question, a beat-up old Toyota SUV with bad brakes and no working A/C, did not belong to him. He and a few other contractors rented it (for $1000 a month!) to get around the base and it wasn’t allowed off base according to the rental contract. You could have gone down the ring road to Herat and purchased a vehicle in similar shape for less than a thousand U.S. dollars, but I don’t remember mentioning that to him.

The IED’s still had the blasting cap inside attached which amazed me – imagine bouncing around the pitted dirt roads of Afghanistan with 5 gallons of HME with a blasting cap embedded in it.

I met Boris on the Delaram FOB where the State Department liaison had found some racks for us in transient berthing area. The next morning, we walked to the gate where they screened local workers entering the base, exchanging our ball caps and sunglasses for shalwar kameez tunic’s and pakols and walked off the base to the district administrative center. The gate guards were contractors, not Marines and they were not sure we were allowed to just walk off base. I told them to check with my good friend Colonel Smith if they didn’t believe we could leave. Thankfully that did the trick because I think Eric might have really detained me for being armed, or the bogus Synergy Strike Force CAC card identifying me as DB Cooper CAC card (it even scanned in the DFACS!) , or using an expired SWAMP pass to bullshit my way off base, the number of infractions he could have gotten shitty with me about were alarming when I think about it.

Laying out the main drag of the Delaram Bazaar

The walk was about three miles as I remember, and we witnessed a group of boys cut and then steal an electrical transmission cable that connected an ANP checkpoint with an ANA base across the road. The kids were quick too, laughing hysterically from the back of motorcycles as the ANP troops boiled out of their checkpoint in hot pursuit. Being an ANP officer in Delaram while commander Asif was in charge sucked. When we arrived at the DAC Engineer Khodaidad was meeting with a local farmer discussing a vexing problem in Dari because the Engineer wouldn’t speak Pashto.

We had arrived hot and sweating profusely because it was a good 110 outside but were being ignored so Boris started interpreting for me.

 “He’s asking the Engineer to send the Marines to run off the Taliban near his farm because they are raping his livestock at night. Engineer K just told him the big Foriengee (foreigner) understands Dari so maybe they should discuss this another time”

The farmer then turned to us and asked could we tell the Marines the Taliban are at his farm every night molesting his sheep and they can come and kill them no problem and he’d give them a sheep for their trouble too. Boris translated that for me before saying simply “No”.

There are hundreds of these old walled forts scattered throughout the desert in Nimroz province

Boris then asked Engineer Khodaidad for guidance in Russian and I said to the farmer “Ma dorost dari yad nadaraom” (I can’t speak dari well) but I said it perfectly which made him look at me with narrowing eyes before asking why there were Russians in the DAC. He then launched into a long story about how everything has gone to hell since the Marines showed up and built a forward operating base because Marines attract  livestock raping Taliban and now there is an old Baloch Muj commander running the district but he doesn’t have his Muj army with him just two Russians and a handful of Marines which wasn’t enough fighters … the farmer had the pacing and timing of a stand-up comedian and in no time we were laughing so hard it was silly . After the farmer left Engineer Khodaidad told us he wanted the projects to continue but would understand if we pulled out. We stayed and finished the projects without additional losses.

Most of the old forts are eroding back into the desert, the amount of interesting archeological history being lost to history is a crime.

Engineer Khodaidad and Commander Asif did not survive their appointments to the Kashrud district government. Asif was smoke checked after a few months in command which immediately brought the incident rates down and allowed us to finish our projects. Engineer Khodaidad was killed in a targeted assassination outside his home village a year after his appointment to district governor. The Engineer was a brave man who personally found and ran off a two man hit team sent to kill Boris, but he didn’t tell us about it, he told Governor Brahui who then called Bashir and told him to bring Boris back to Zaranj immediately.

I decided to go get Boris with our Baluch interpreter Zabi and drive him back to Zaranj because he had bitching about not being able to free range the province with me. We took all day to make the drive to Zaranj stopping to examine some of the old walled cities in the desert that were being used by the Taliban to move in and out of the Helmand. We found melon rinds, goat scat and fire pits in them which we assumed came from the Taliban because the Desert of Death in no place to herd goats.

Boris and Zabi during our walled city day trip

Boris the Russian Jew is now Boris the Israeli Kibbutz farmer He and his growing family live the spartan life in the Negav Desert. Zabi and Bashir are now both American citizens and doing well. Governor Brahui returned to his home in Char Burjak district which had experienced an economic revival after we repaired the irrigation system. I have no idea how he is getting along with the Taliban government but suspect he’s reached accommodations with them because what else can he do?

The FRI Guide to Dangerous Places – Los Ebanos, Texas

When you have spent a good bit of your adult life living near international boundaries you develop a sense for dangerous places along a border. History, geography, and population distribution are key indicators so finding a remote bend in the Rio Grande River, that was apparently an ancient ford . . . Apparently? The Spanish mapped the Rio Grande Valley in great detail to include the old fords long used by indigenous tribes. Apparently historical commissions can’t write well but who cares? The Los Ebanos Ferry Crossing is now home to El Chalan, the only hand drawn international ferry in the hemisphere, which apparently makes it a place worth exploring.

Apparently? Is it me or does this not strike you as awkward phrasing? It’s an ancient ford or it’s not an ancient ford and apparently the ancient fords across the Rio Grande are well documented so what was this all about?

The pull cable for El Chalan is wrapped around a centuries old ebony tree in the hamlet of Los Ebanos, population 1,030, named after the ebony tress that grow along the riverbank. The 44 foot long boat is hauled by 6 ruffians across the 40 foot stretch of the Rio Grande and has been owned and operated (since 1950) by the Reyna family on the Texas side and the Armando Garza clan on the Mexican side. El Chalan (horse dealer) has been shortened from El Chalan De San Miguel, the former name of the Mexican town that is now Ciudad Gustavo Díaz Ordaz. Apparently the vaqueros of old San Miguel town were known to be proficient horse dealers.

El Chalan pull cable

Mexico is experiencing some serious political unrest this weekend which has something to do with mail-in voting during presidential elections which the public believes promotes blatant electoral fraud. Add to this civic unrest the fact that our border with Mexico is controlled by narcos who demand payment from every illegal they allow to cross and it is obvious why Los Ebanos should be a modern day war zone .

Before risking a personal reconnaissance of this potential pirates den I consulted for its expert analysis of crime trends in Los Ebanos and guess what? Los Ebanos gets a D-; it’s just dangerous as hell apparently, because internet says it is and the net knows stuff. Being a savvy investigator of dangerous places I went early Sunday morning the day after St Patrick’s Day. Local customs and cultural mores concerning bars with holiday drinking specials guaranteed most of the adult population would not be out and about until the afternoon.

The El Chalan ferry 3/17/2024

Getting to the ferry proved to be easy, it’s just 2 miles off Highway 83 which is the main east/west route in the Rio Grande Valley. When I drove the road Sunday morning I saw one Border Patrol truck and two Texas State Trooper vehicles on the way in and one State Trooper on the way out. There is always a heavy State Trooper/Border Patrol presence on Highway 83 that increases the further west you travel from McAllen.

Google street view inside Los Ebanos

Los Ebanos village is typical for the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) consisting of 300 or so single family homes, all with fences (mostly chain linked or barbed wire) tightly clustered around a outdoor community softball/soccer field sporting park and with an impressive old church and large, well tended cemetery. The community is 99% Hispanic and they are home owners, not renters who were born and raised inside the RGV. The chances of strangers moving through the residential areas undetected or unchallenged are zero. The town is on a peninsula of land with the Rio Grande River wrapping around the village on three sides so the border wall is a mile behind it. There are old articles on the net with local residents bitching about being behind the border wall but the political winds in the RGV have shifted over the last seven years as was noted on one of my favorite blogs this morning:

From the Monday morning Powerline Blog Starr County is the western most of the four counties that comprise the Rio Grande Valley

Inside the village of Los Ebanos the residential streets narrow forcing traffic to slow as it follows the ‘Texas Historical Marker’ signs to the ferry crossing. The crossing suddenly appears out of the ebony scrub a few hundred meters after the last house. It’s now an expensive, well paved, fenced off, high security area of the post 9/11 federal agency design. Before 9/11 there was a quaint blue shack with a little wall unit air conditioner manned by one of the ferry owners at exactly zero cost to the federal government. How many federal employees do you think are on the table of organization for the Los Ebanos border crossing now? Keep in mind stormy weather or Mexico discharging water upstream (which they do often), or the Coast Guard getting shitty with the ferry owners will close the ferry for days at a time but federal employees get paid regardless of hours on the job. Isn’t it strange that when the Los Ebanos border crossing was regulated out of a shack illegal immigration wasn’t a problem, but now that we’re spending millions to man the Los Ebanos official port of entry illegal immigration is out of control?

The post 9/11 ferry crossing which is closed on Sundays, stormy days, days when Mexico discharges water upstream, or whenever the Coast Guard decides the professional river ruffians pulling the barge across the river need more mandated DEI training.
The pre 9/11 toll both for the ferry

A few years ago some of the inherent dangers associated with travel aboard a hand drawn ferry were mitigated by the United States Coast Guard. In the summer of 2022 the Coast Guard closed the ferry for two months of inspections and crew training. They even pulled the boat from the water and hauled it off somewhere and who knows what that was all about but one suspects the ongoing disagreement between Gov Abbot and FJB about the lack of border integrity had something to do with it. Look at the Library of congress photo below and note the lack of floatation devices or hard hats among the river ruffians who pull El Chalan back and forth all day.

Library of Congress file photo of the Los Ebanos ferry.

I’d wager a weeks pay that after the two week Coast Guard stand down everybody on the ferry has to wear big orange kapoc life vests and the crew hard hats in addition to the vests. Safetyism ruins everything it touches and trying to dodge OSHA mandates is a fools game. It’s possible the minute you took off a helmet or ditched the kapok vest you’d be hear the buzz of a little drone like a Russian conscript trapped in a shallow, muddy, Ukrainian trench. I know OSHA inspectors have drones these days too, and they are congenitally sneaky bastards, so how often do you think they sneak up on worksites or ferry crossings?

Looking east from the customs parking lot – note the Border Patrol truck parked back in the trees. There are dirt roads cut along the river bank along the entire peninsula.
Walking through the ebony and mesquite thickets that line the Rio Grande River in the RGV is difficult.

It’s a safe bet the high crime reported on criminal activity aggregator sites is driven by the illegal immigrant apprehensions and drug seizures that occur daily along our porous southern border. Los Ebanos was once located on a remote river bend but with Highway 83 just 2 miles away it’s no longer isolated and a poor choice for border jumpers who want to get into the interior undetected. For illegals who want to be caught and processed there are several places nearby where you can walk across the river using a tow rope to get through the chest high rapids. Apparently plenty of illegals still make the swim at the Los Ebanos ford judging from the multiple Border Patrol trucks in the area on a quiet Sunday morning.

Illegals who make into the village of Los Ebanos have to deal with dogs and shotguns because this is South Texas and that’s how we roll down here. There is an unknown number of people trafficking drugs across the border and they will, naturally, go to ground in one of the houses in Los Ebanos because that’s how drug trafficking works. The local residents who are not part of the narcotics smuggling trade have been forced to deal with people being trafficked through their neighborhoods and are not amused by it. This is the major drive behind the increasing support for the Bad Orange Man in the Rio Grande Valley.

The fine dirt roads inside the ebony groves make it easy to spot when people or large snakes cross them after a Border Patrol vehicle has passed.

The President, like any other officer of the United States, has an obligation to vigorously defend the interests of the United States. That is basic stewardship, and it is impossible to explain how allowing millions of undocumented people to flood into our country is in the interests of the United States. But there is a darker side to allowing systematic human trafficking by violent cartels; slavery. Joshua Treviño and Melissa Ford Maldonado from the Texas Public Policy Foundation pointed this out on a recent episode of their Hard Country podcast titled The Modern Slave Trade and More. They were discussing several recent American media reports of illegal immigrants who were enslaved and subjected to horrible abuse when Joshua made this prescient observation:

From a historical standpoint this is all predictable in one sense because you know the nature of humanity and when you have a flood of people who are off the books, not part of a legal structure, not citizens, and they have no recourse to authority or protection, they don’t know the culture they’re going to be vulnerable to being exploited and they’re going to be enslaved.

Let’s hope we get an administration in Washington DC that takes its stewardship obligations seriously and puts an end to cartel sponsored human trafficking. It’s a humanitarian crisis that is facilitating some amount of modern day slavery. I don’t know the number of unfortunates who have found themselves isolated and trapped inside the home of an abusive sociopath, one hopes it’s not many, but how many are too many?

The FRI Guide to Dangerous Places – Nimroz Province

As mentioned in the last post I spent much of 2011 – 2012 in Zaranj, the Capitol of Nimroz Province. Nimroz is in southwestern Afghanistan bordersing Iran to the west, Baluchistan in the south, Helmand province in the east, and Farah province in the north. The province is divided geographically and demographically with the four southwestern districts; Kang, Charborjak, Zaranj and Chakansor comprised of flat desert terrain inhabited mostly by Baluch people and the mountainous Northwestern district of Khashrud which has a majority Pashtun population. Nimroz is the only province in Afghanistan where the minority Baloch make up most of the population, and the capital, Zaranj is one of the few cities in Afghanistan where the women wear the Persian black chador instead of the blue Afghan burqa.

Zaranj was essentially isolated from the rest of the country by the Dash-e Margo (Desert of Death) until the Indian government paved a high-speed highway connecting Zaranj to the ring road at Delaram in 2009. Known as route 606 the road connected to the deep-water port of Chabahar, Iran which the Marines and Afghans hoped would stimulate more economic growth, but that growth needed to be juiced with reconstruction money. In 2009 the Boss sent Mullah Jack Binns who was now working with us to Zaranj to find a guesthouse and to get some projects started. Jack had managed the Jalalabad Afghanistan NGO Security Office (ANSO) the year prior and deployed to Afghanistan with the Canadian Army prior to that. We would be the only USAID implementor to work in Nimroz province for the remainder of the war.

One of the Zaranj students in our USAID sponsored rug weaving class. We ran several training programs for women that were ended by USAID who wanted us to “build capacity” whatever that meant.

Due to its desert terrain and agricultural economy, Nimroz province was completely dependent on large-scale irrigation from rivers. With it, the soil is highly productive and can sustain a large population and large hydraulic civilizations had thrived in the area thousand years ago until Genghis Khan showed up to prove you can win a counterinsurgency by killing people, something today’s military leaders say is impossible to do.

Desert canals require regular large-scale centrally coordinated maintenance efforts; otherwise they fill in with silt from the constant dust storms and canal-bank erosion. A positive feedback loop forms, as the topsoil of newly fallow land is blown into the neighboring canals and blocks them. Over the last thirty years of war and weak government, blocked canals and lack of irrigation led to the depopulation of the province. Our plan was to rebuild the irrigation systems in the Baloch dominated districts while ignoring the Pashtuns in Khashrud district because, being the only people working in Nimroz we could get away with that kind of thing.

Before landing in Zaranj pilots had to sweep the runway of the feral dogs who hang out there all day. They do this by flying down the runway at full power – at the end of the field they reduce power and climb while turning right until they almost stall then they drop the left wing, kick out the landing gear and set down on the runway. It is a super cool move which happens fast and is scary to the uninitiated. There are few things in life which are more fun then being flown around by African bush pilots

I was a big fan of the governor of Nimroz, Abdul Karim Brahui. Governor Brahui was a graduate of the Kabul military academy who founded and commanded the Jabha-e Nimruz (Nimroz Front) as part of the Mujahedeen Southern Alliance against both the Soviet army and Taliban. He was a lead-from-the-front commander and the rare Afghan politician who concerned himself more with the people’s problems than accumulating additional power and wealth.

Explaining my understanding of how USAID awards projects to Governor Abdul Karim Brahui.

Governor Brahui was as close to an honest politician as one could be in Zaranj given that the local economy revolved around plastic jerry cans. They were used to smuggle petrol or heroin across the border or to haul water from various sources for sale to one of the two municipal water treatment plants. Teenage boys selling petrol or diesel out of 5-gallon jerry cans dotted every major road in the city. There was very little industry and as the population swelled with refugees returning from Iran, drinking water became a huge issue. 

These two are unloading petrol from a truck which has just crossed the Iranian border and is turning into the Afghan customs lot. The town ran on Jerry cans back in 2010.

In 2010 I routed my fiscal year plans through the Marines in Leatherneck because Nimroz was the one province in the country without a PRT. I told the Marines that we were going to completely rehabilitate the irrigation systems in Charborjak, Kang, and Chakhansor districts they did not believe we could do it in just one year. The were technically correct because Miullah John had started work on the Chakhansor district system with FY 2009 funds but we finished the rest on time which was still impressive given the size, scope and distances involved.

We built a large main irrigation canal in Charborjak district that extended 56 kilometers and services every farming hamlet in the district. We were going to do 60 kilometers but ran into a mine field at the tail end of the canal and could not find a way around it.

The easiest and fastest project was the Chakhansor district system because the Khashrod River which fed the irrigation system was dry for most of the year. Using 1,500 local laborers we rehabilitated 300 kilometers of canals and re-built a 170 meter, reinforced concrete check-dam to capture the spring run-off. The Chakhansor irrigation system served 7,200 farms and the first post project wheat and melon harvests yielded outputs three times greater than pre-project averages. The Baloch of Nimroz no longer had to import melons from Kandahar and if you knew how much Afghans love their local melons (which are excellent) you would understand the significance of that accomplishment, and we weren’t even getting started.

Opening ceremonies for the Charborjak irrigation system.

The Chakhansor district project was completed by Mullah John while I was still in Jalalabad. With the large fiscal year 2010 budget we could do both Charborjak and Kang districts simultaneously which would mitigate some of the heavy equipment costs. That year we built 400 miles of irrigation canals turning 25,000 acres of the Dasht-e Margo into highly productive farmland allowing the Baloch to get in on the poppy boom. We hired over 18,000 workers to dig these canals in the middle of the desert where the temperature could hit 120° daily.

Opening the Kang district irrigation system.

The key to completing these so quickly was we were replacing systems, not building new ones, and we hired as many of the engineers who had built the original weirs and dams as we could find. The only problem with this massive project was the USAID stipulation that no material originating from Iran could be used in the construction. Instead of using high quality Iranian concrete at $5.00 per 50lb bag we were supposed to import low quality concrete from Pakistan who the State Department insisted was our ally. We worked around that somehow, I don’t remember the details, and finished every project on time and on budget. You can read about those in more detail as well as the Taliban attempt to ambush us here, here and here.

At the completion of our work in Nimroz province I received several plaques and rugs and a proclamation all of which I had to turn over to my company or the USAID representatives in Lash; damnit.

From the time of my first visit to Zaranj in 2010 until I departed the city in 2012 I would tell anyone who asked the city was perfectly safe. I once even lectured the G9 about the requirement to drive around the city in unarmored trucks like the Afghans did because the Baloch held the city and they were not down with the Pashtun dominated Taliban. I often walked around the city of Zaranj alone to inspect our road and stadium building projects because I knew I was safe, protected by locals who respected me because I lived like them, ate with them, and really liked them. It did not take long before I saw the Marines riding around in the back of ANP trucks which I thought a splendid idea.

Marines leaving the Zaranj airport to inspect projects they were funding in 2011

April 28th, 2012 a four vehicle patrol of ANP trucks with Marines and a Wall Street Journal reporter in the back were hit by a suicide bomber in downtown Zaranj. The attacked killed 38 year old MSgt Scott Pruitt, a 38 year old father of two from Gautier, Mississippi. As described in the linked account that explosion was followed by a small arms attack from multiple attackers staged in several different buildings fronting the kill zone. We had not only paved the street they were driving on when attacked we had installed the lane dividers that pinned MSgt Pruitt in the from passenger seat following the blast. According to my understanding of local security issues this attack could not happen because the Baloch were too proficient at recognizing and dealing with Taliban. The attack proved something I didn’t want to admit and that was I never as well informed as I thought I was during my years living in Afghanistan.

A parting gift from the city fathers of Zaranj

My company, CADG, pulled out of Zaranj after we completed the district irrigation projects but not before the Governor talked us into doing some work in Delaram which I’ll cover in a separate post because it was an interesting problem that involved a regimental commander who is now the Commandant of the Marine Corps. There was a big ceremony where excellent provincial manager, Bashir Ahmad Sediqi, and my company and USAID and the Marine Corps were all recognized with plaques and proclamations for delivering so much valuable aid to the province. I was the senior representative for my company, USAID and the Marines so I got a bunch of really cool swag which I had to surrender when I got back to Lashkar Gah. When we arrived at our compound that evening there was a case of Red Horse Beer waiting for us, an anonymous donation from the city fathers that was both unexpected and appreciated, but not a surprise given porous border just a mile away.

The FRI Guide to Dangerous Places – Route 1 The Torkham Border to Jalalabad Highway

Early in the 2010 fighting season the vital Torkham – Jalalabad road corridor was suddenly beset with frequent rioting that closed it for days at a time. The Provincial government blamed insurgent attacks for the instability which seemed dubious as insurgent attacks don’t generate large scale rioting. JSOC night raids could cause a few days of agitated rock throwing but there had been none reported astride Route 1 between Jalalabad and Torkham. There was enough confusion about what was happening on the ground that one of our guests at the Taj thought we should go explore the situation. She convinced my Afghan buddy JD and I to escort her down Route 1 to the village of Amanullah Khan to witness a peace shura between the Provincial government and the rioting villagers.

This is a 2010 photograph of the land title storage room in the Nangarhar Provincial Agriculture Department. Some of these papers date back hundreds of years and fall apart if you touch them. They are not cataloged or organized.

The road between the Torkham border and Jalalabad is flat farmland dotted with a series of villages and towns. Attacks along that road were rare and confined to random IED strikes targeting ISAF vehicles around Jalalabad. Insurgent operations were not possible without the tacit support of local civic leaders and those living along Route 1 were interested in commerce. The only useful service the Taliban provided back then was fair and impartial land deed adjudication. That was shrewd on their part because land was always the source of friction between the people and provincial authorities.

This is township of Amanullah Khan in Rodat district – the smoke is from the homes that have been set on fire by the Afghan National Police (ANP). The ANP vehicles in the valley have just arrived in response to intermittent rifle fire from the hills to the left.

The riots along Route 1 erupted after Gul Agha Sherzai, the Nangarhar Provincial Governor, dispatched a construction company to build a village to be named in his honor astride route 1 in Rodat district. The Governor liked to build things named in his honor and had a special “reconstruction tax” levied at the Torkham border to fund those projects. Before the governor could start building his village he had to eject the current residents who he claimed were squatting on government land. The rioting froze hundreds of trucks in place causing a big kink in ISAF logistics so a shura was called to settle the matter.

A member of the Provincial Council and ANP escort work the crowd to try and prevent rioting. As this picture was taken heavy firing broke out in the valley below
The crowd turned hostile as the shooting started to pick up in volume and intensity resulting in the local councilman and his escort beating a hasty retreat
Hard to tell from this photo but there was a bunch of firing going on – most of it coming from the ANP shooting towards the hills to the left.
Rioting here can get out of hand quickly and the crowd at the gas station shura went high order fast.

This incident was an illustration of why our efforts in Afghanistan were doomed from the start. Conventional wisdom at the time was the US State Department was actively supporting the central government, while the US military and American intelligence services were actively supporting local warlords who supplanted central government influence. President Karzai and the UN bitched about this dynamic constantly. But it was President Karzai who put warlords like Sherzai in positions of influence. In Sherzai’s case he was given the lucrative province of Nangarhar governor specifically to remove him as a competitor to Karzai’s empire of graft and thievery in Kandahar.

Once the local officials fled the scene the shooters in the crowd turned their attention to us and started to pepper the hill with small arms fire causing us to scramble for our truck and bolt. To my right is Engineer Sun from MIT (her Afghan name) who had a knack for sniffing out dangerous trips and then conning me or JD or Baba Ken into to taking her on them.

Gul Agha Sherzai was a major Kandahri warlord who was the Governor of Kandahar Province before the Taliban took over and he was the first warlord to return (with an American Army Special Forces team) to Kandahar in 2001. President Karzai gave Sherzai the governorship of Nangarhar province knowing full well he would usurp land, initiate illegal taxation, and amass a personal fortune from American reconstruction funds because that was exactly what his brother was doing in Kandahar.

On our way home the locals massing behind the police lines insisted on telling us about getting screwed over by their governor.

The appointment of Sherzai to governor sidelined the Arsala Family and other provincial powerbrokers but Sherzai was generous enough to ensure the old families were financially rewarded. The Arsalas had governed Nangarhar Province last two decades with Haji Qader Arsalas , in the position of governor before the Taliban regime, and his elder brother Haji Din Mohammad, appointed governor under the Karzai government, a position he held until 2004. Haji Din Mohammad is the only survivor of the once powerful clan. His younger brother Abdul Haq was killed fighting the Taliban in 2001 and his other younger brother Haji Abdul Qader was murdered in Kabul by a gunmen in 2002, while serving as a minister in the interim government.

Governor Sharzai’s attempt to expel the villagers of Amanullah Khan during the summer of 2010 failed. In 2013 he approved the sale of more than 1000 jeribs (around 500 acres) of pasture land in Rodat district long used by local Mohmand tribesmen to Logar Province ‘businessman’ Ghulam Mohammad Charkhi. That pissed the locals off but the straw that broke the camels back for Governor Sherzai were the shenanigans of the Arsalas clan.

Governor Sherzai and I talking business back in the early days when he was adapt at ‘trimming the tree’ with local powerbrokers and popular with the voters.

Zahir Qadeer, a Member of Parliament and the son of Haji Abdul Qader, sold hundreds of acres of government land in Sorkhrud district to various families who were enraged to find out they had been bilked into buying government land they could never develop. He told the investors they would receive land plots in a residential project he was developing near Jalalabad called Zaher Qader Township. A move that seem to make the situation worse. The ensuing 2013 riots cut every route into Jalalabad City and by October of that year Gul Agha Sherzai was forced out of office.

Now that the Taliban are back in charge Route 1 is no longer dangerous. Land grabs require money and the Tsunami of money that flooded into Afghanistan for the past 20 years has dried up. Land adjudication is done in Taliban courts according to Sharia law, a harsh code that tolerates zero arguments once a decision has been made. The people may not be happy under the Taliban but at least their main highways are safe, something we could never accomplished in a thousand years.

Free Ranging the Khyber Pass

There are three ways to tour the Khyber Pass; you can apply for permit and if granted then pay for a soldier to escort you through the pass, If you’re a VIP there are no fees and you get lots of escorts, special presentations at the forts, and lunch at the Khyber Rifles Officer Club, and if you’re really clever (or stupid) you can sneak through the pass dressed like a local and hope none of the roadblocks spot you. I’ve traversed the pass a half dozen times using all three methods. The VIP tour was the most enjoyable, the food on my non VIP tour with a bunch of Afridi “businessmen” was the best, and trying to sneak back through the Pass unescorted the most exciting.   

My first trip through the Khyber Pass was in 2006 when my friend Yahya Sayeed and I flew into Islamabad, got a cheap hotel and spent the afternoon shopping for shalwar kameez (local clothes) and booze for our hosts before taking a taxi to Peshawar the next day. Alcohol may be frowned upon by Islam but that has not stopped Pakistan from producing Vat 69 scotch in Rawalpindi and Cossack Vodka in Quetta, but both are vile. When we arrived in Peshawar we got a room in a modest motel across the street from a Kentucky Fried Chicken shop before a couple of stout, serious looking men showed up to take me on a tour of the world famous Qissa Khawani Bazaar.

My new bodyguards were the advance party of the Afridi clan and were there to look after me given that this was Peshawar, home to the Peshawar Taliban Shura. The famous bazaar was large and looked to me like a large Afghan bazaar with the gold souk from Dubai attached. It had plenty of big buildings built on narrow pockmarked streets with narrow brown water drainage ditches on both sides. I was as little taller than my escorts and deeply tanned at the time, but easily recognizable to the merchants who would greet me in English or Russian. I had not yet learned how easily a western gait was spotted in Central Asia. I guess if one were supple enough to squat comfortably on their heels they’re gait wouldn’t be so distinctive but I can’t do that so I stuck out like a sore thumb whenever I was on foot.

Touring the Qissa Khawani Bazaar with escort

A few hours after we returned from the bazar the main body of the Afridi’s showed up heavily armed, but friendly. I thought Yahya had told them I was a retired Marine and interested in touring famous battlefields, to explain our interest in the pass but I was wrong. The Afridi’s didn’t know anything about the American military, and they had never heard of the United States Marine Corps. They were hoping I could help them out with a business problem but first had to determine if I could be trusted. They asked why I was spending my leave time in Pakistan instead of going back home, so I explained that I had to spend 11 out of 12 months outside the USA to get an overseas tax exemption, and that my second wife was a total bitch, so I had no desire to rush home.  

Avoiding taxes and having an unpleasant wife who made hanging out in the family compound a misery were problems Afridi’s understood. They spent the next hour extolling the virtues of tax avoidance and discussing effective methods for dealing with nagging wives. They then shared a business problem they needed help with; would it be possible for me to sell some beer on their behalf? Apparently a truck load Heineken had mysteriously showed up and they needed to monetize it. This was the start of my lucrative side gig as a rumrunner.

My new business partners (from the much-respected Adam Khel clan) were, with one exception, carrying bizarrely modified rifles built from AK-47 platforms.  The senior guy had a legit Russian AKS 74U identical to the one carried by Osama bin Laden, but the others had custom furniture or parts added to make them look like MP-5’s or M4 rifles. Only the 74U had sights on it so I got the impression these rifles were for show. The Afridi’s, who have been living in the Khyber Pass area for centuries, are allowed (and expected) to be armed even when visiting Peshawar which is a nice, clean, modern city.

Once we had our four-car convoy organized we took off for the Northwest Frontier border at a rather high rate of speed. I looked at Yahya who smiled serenely and said something like “these guys are crazy so get used to it”. Approaching the Bab-e-Khyber gate our convoy barely slowed as the guards waved us through without inspection. We then pulled off the main road onto a dirt track for a few hundred meters and stopped in front of some small, ugly, square cinderblock rooms that functioned as Pashtun roadhouses. They served only Vat 69 Scotch, which tasted like shit. We had three toasts, including one to President Bush, the Afridi’s test fired their guns, because they could (I guess), and we were off into the Khyber.

Outside Michni Fort on the non VIP tour with the Afridi’s

The pass climbs for several miles until reaching the Shagai Fort, built by the British in 1927 and currently home to the Khyber Rifles. It’s massive but closed to the public so after taking pictures we moved on traveling next to the old, abandoned Khyber railroad as the pass narrowed when approaching the Ali Masjid fort. That too is not open to the public, so we pushed on through the town of  Landi Kotel, to the Michni Post, a fort that looks over the valley leading into Afghanistan at the Torkham border. After taking pictures and looking around we doubled back to Landi Kotel for lunch.  We pulled up to a dodgy looking place amid the bazaar and there was a teen aged boy out front squeezing the contents out of the guts of a goat he just butchered. I looked at Yahya with trepidation, but he assured me the food would be excellent. We sat on a cushioned, raised platform inside a small filthy hovel and the food, goat kabab and Kabuli Palau. The food was delicious and caused no abdominal distress which, at the time, I thought a miracle.

The Afridi’s claim this is the best kabob stand in Landi Kotal. I was dubious about this claim to put it mildly

My only disappointment with the first trip was not stopping in the town of Darra Adam Khel a one-road town inside the Khyber Agency that is lined with gunsmiths and famous for fixing, making, and selling military grade rifles, pistols and machineguns. The Afridi’s told us that showing up there with an American would be a problem.

The difference between experiencing the Khyber Pass with the low rent, but beer rich Afridi’s and the upper caste Afridi elite was night and day. My next trip through the Khyber was in 2007 when I escorted the head of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (the USAID of Japan) through the pass to Islamabad. The head of mission had senior diplomatic status, so he received the VIP Khyber tour which was spectacular. That trip started on the Afghan side of the border, we had driven to the Torkham gate from Kabul escorted by my usual team of gunmen from the Panjshir.

Once we reached the Torkham gate I coordinated with the American army Military Policemen (MP’s) stationed there to get the JICA SUV expedited across the border. before surrendering my weapons to my Afghan crew and finished the trip unarmed. On the Pakistan side of the border we were taken into the VIP area which had a large buffet of food that the Japanese wisely ignored. We picked up an escort with motorcycle outriders and three pickup trucks full of riflemen. The lead truck had a machinegun attached over the cab with bungee cords and the gunner was wearing a motorcycle helmet which looked peculiar but was not doubt effective at keeping the wind out of his eyes.

With sirens wailing we drove up to the Michni Post for our first VIP event, a lecture about the history of the Khyber Pass by the Khyber Rifles a.k.a “Guardians of the Khyber”. The presentation room had glass walls allowing an impressive unobstructed view of the Afghanistan border. There four prominent mountain peaks marking the Afghanistan border have large white numbers (1 through 4) painted on them and are used as target reference points during the presentation. The major from the Khyber Rifles had an impeccable upper-class British accent, and had gone to university in the United Kingdom. He gave a brief history of the pass and explained the extensive counter battery battle they had fought back when the Soviet Union was warring in Afghanistan. There were many missile and artillery shrapnel pieces (all painted blue) and a few captured soviet artillery pieces on display just outside the fort to augment the presentation.

VIP briefing room. The Khyber Rifles have a first rate presentation on their role and mission

On on either side of the glass walls were pictures of famous people who had toured the fort in the past. Princess Di, Jackie Kennedy, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, Margaret Thatcher, the former Shah of Iran, and Princess Ann were there along with dozens of famous people from other countries.  I noted a table full of sweets and fruits was set up at the Post just as it had been at the border so after the presentation, I munched on finger food and took pictures. We then headed for the home of a Pakistani physician/diplomat Dr. Afridi (a common last name in the Khyber Agency) who had served on the Pakistan’s delegation to Tokyo. We had lunch with Dr Afridi which my JICA clients barely touched before heading to the Ali Masjid fort, home of the Khyber Rifles Officer’s Club for another official presentation and buffet.

Entrance to the Khyber Rifles O club

The Khyber Rifles Officer Club has a treasure trove of fascinating military artifacts. Outside the club there is an ancient tree that was placed in chains back in 1898. The tree was arrested one Saturday evening by Captain James Quid who after stumbling out of the O Club noticed the tree was moving wildly and he suspected it was trying to leave the post without orders. He ordered the mess sergeant to arrest the tree and place it in chains so it could not escape, which the sergeant did. The chains remain in place to this day, protected by fencing and with a plaque explaining its history in English.

The tree arrested and placed in irons for attempting to go UA in 1927

Being a diplomat is difficult because everywhere you go people prepare local delicacies, they expect you to sample. Three lunches in one day were more than anyone can handle which was why my Japanese clients were adept at sampling a lot but consuming very little. Diplomats need to know that kind of stuff and I sure wished one of them had told me because I was slow to catch on and uncomfortably full by the time we left the pass.

My last trip through the Khyber was to take a physician from Jalalabad to Peshawar where he was scheduled to attend a medial conference. This was in 2010 when the area between Shagai Fort and Landi Kotal was experiencing serious feuding between the beer drinking Afridi’s and Jihadi inclined Shinwaris and both sides were battling the Pakistani army too.

We went on a Friday because if there was one day you could sneak around and not get caught because it was Islam’s day off. It is also the day the faithful swarm popular mosques for the weekly Juma mid-morning prayer and the mosque in Landi Kotel was so popular hundreds of the faithful, many armed to the teeth, were blocking the road as they bowed in supplication.

You see these unit plaques throughout the Khyber Pass

Our taxi driver was freaking out as we stopped well short of the crowd and waited for the Juma prayers to end.  We made no more stops, but I took lots of pictures of battle damaged compounds. Every large compound had armed men stationed outside in sangers and from casual observation it appeared the arms dealers in Darra Adam Khel were having an RPG clearance sale. Hundreds had been fired at some of the compounds and that takes some time to do.

We got to Peshawar and I dropped off my colleague and then attempted to go right back through the Khyber without a tribal pass which would take a day to obtain. I sat in the back of the little Toyota cab and made it all the way to Landi Kotal before a sharp-eyed sentry manning a roadblock spotted me and yelled “Foriengee” before raising his rifle to stop the taxi and inviting me to parlay.  The sentry was not interested in trying to decipher my crude attempts at Dari, a language he probably didn’t understand anyway, so he jumped into the cab, and we drove back to Peshawar.

We arrived at the tribal police headquarters where I explained to the officer of the day, who spoke English, that I was unaware I needed a different permit to travel back to Afghanistan. I was released and told to report back in the morning for a proper permit. I stepped out into the teaming streets of Peshawar, switched the sim cards to my Pakistan cell number and summoned aid before walking to the City View motel to go to ground for the night. It was a long night but in the end I made it back through without further delay. When I first traversed the pass I found it enchanting; it was easy to imagine what it looked like when Tammerlane was invading the subcontinent, but after a few trips the pass lost its charm but it would be cool to again some day . . . inshallah.

The Secret Gate: A True Story of Courage and Sacrifice During the Collapse of Afghanistan

The Secret Gate is one of the best books of the year which is easily confirmed by noting  its absence on any of the New York Times bestseller lists. I heard about this book from my father who was told about it by the wife of a friend, and she heard about it from one her grandchildren. How many word of mouth referrals do you think the current #1 in the NYT combined Print and E Book nonfiction list, Oath and Honor by Liz Cheney has generated this year? The question answers itself so let’s talk about the next book you’ll want to pick up knowing you won’t be able to put it down.  

The Secret Gate is about the rescue, at the last possible minute, of an Afghan woman and her son by a young American diplomat using a secret gate that the CIA opened to bring in their Afghans. I’ve worked at both the Baghdad and Kabul American embassies which allowed me to take the measure of young diplomats like Sam Aronson the hero in this story, and as a rule, I don’t like them. I found indecisive paralysis of Homeira Qaderi, a celebrated author,  academic, and woman rights activist distasteful. Her inability to make sound decisions in the face of existential danger is a character flaw in my book but her resolute determination to ignore reality in the face of intense international pressure from all the right people does contribute to the tension in the story.

The calm before the storm: this was the entrance to the Kabul American Embassy in the spring of 2005. Within a year these guys were behind 20 foot T walls .

And then there was the secret gate which I understand (this is not in the book) was guarded by Unit 02, the Nangarhar province CIA counter-terrorism pursuit team who arrested me once and were dicks about it. Every character in this book, from the “calm professional” ambassador to the lethargic DSS agents would normally irritate the shit out of me but I couldn’t put the book down and was sorry to reach the end. This story, intentional or not, captured the consequences when the media/government/academic approved narrative collides with cold, hard reality.

The tale opens on August 2nd, 2021, with a chapter about what Homeira and family were up to that day followed by a chapter about Sam’s day which started out rough because he was hung over. As the alternating chapters progress we learn more about the Qaderi family (Homeira’s father is awesome) and we learn about Sam. He, like most diplomats, comes from a wealthy family, and he traveled a bit in his youth which exposed him to the diplomatic service because his Dad worked for the NBA and diplomats love free NBA tickets. But there is an anomaly in young Sam’s background. At the age of 15 he got the EMT bug and by the end of High School he was a member of two different volunteer ambulance corps, racing a ½ mile to the closest station on foot from his High School when a call came in.

It is my lived experience that the best children of our wealthy elites will earn an EMT license and find their way into volunteer rescue squad work. I base this on my time with the Bethesda Chevy Chase Rescue Squad where a healthy percentage of the volunteers came from wealthy, and in some cases, powerful DC families. I started to like Sam when I read about his unique background.

Young Bethesda dandies dressed for a night of excitement in the big city. These guys have additional firefighter training so they can man Rescue 1 – which in my day was Rescue 19 – a squad truck with all the heavy rescue equipment that operates like a ladder company on big calls. Working Rescue 19 was the most fun a young man could have with his pants on in D.C..

The backstory covers Sam’s progression from Diplomatic Security Specialist to junior diplomat and way too much of that tale concerns COVID 19. We hear about Sam’s efforts to “sneak in” vaccines for the embassy staff in some African dump. It appears both Sam and the author, Mitchell Zuckoff, think it normal for senior bureaucrats to displace to their summer coastal bungalows to isolate after of positive COVID test. No doubt drawing daily per diem too and this is in 2021 long after it was obvious that COVID was little more than a bad cold bug and the vaccines worthless. But by the time Sam hits Kabul all the concerns about COVID became OBE (overcome by events in military parlance) and we (thankfully) never hear of it again.

Sam’s first decision of the crisis is to allow a woman who threw her child over the wall to be processed for a flight out. That was explicitly against that days iteration of evacuation guidance which Sam doesn’t know because, to be honest, he barley even knows where Afghanistan is on a map. But he catches on quick and within hours he’s ejecting desperate Afghans by the dozens.

The constant pressure of making literal life and death decisions about Afghans is hard on Sam as it well should be given his total ignorance of Afghanistan and her people. Sam starts to chain smoke, bumming cigarettes from interpreters (Terps) or the troops working near him, a move so typical it is a cliché.  As the story progresses Sam finds his own Terp named Asad who despite getting his parents and siblings into the evacuation que, will not leave Kabul without his sister and her family. He intends to help where he can until talking his sister into another attempt to get into the airport.

On the 25th of August, with just four days left in the evacuation Sam and Asad find themselves assigned to the “secret gate” where the CIA is bringing in busloads of their people who they take directly to the head of the line inside the airport. While Sam is bumming smokes from the CIA contractors manning the gate Asad gets the idea of bringing his sister and her family in from the gas station across the street from the secret entrance to the secret gate. Sam asks one of the CIA “shooters” for a little help, and he, surprisingly, is all in. He directs the pricks from Unit 02 to lay down some serious covering fire to distract the crowd while Asad sprints to the gas station, finds his sister and her family and they run back across the street through a gap in the wire to safety. It works like a charm and Sam then uses his junior diplomat status to walk the sister and her family directly into the airport terminal. Because (again based on my lived experience) Afghan interpreters are among the most awesome, loyal, brave, and trustworthy of temporary friends Asad stays on as his family flies out to help Sam get more deserving Afghans evacuated.

The word about Sam’s secret gate gets out and soon he is inundated with the names of Afghans connected to former friends and colleagues from around the world which he writes on his forearm with a sharpie as he and Asad start bringing the faithful into the wire. On the last day the gate will remain open Sam, as almost an afterthought, calls Homeira Qaderi and tells her that he can get her and her son out if she can get to the Panjshir Pumps gas station in 30 minutes. He stressed they can’t bring any luggage because of the recent suicide bombing, or any other family members. Homeira brings her son and her older brother along with a bag containing her laptop and a change of clothes. That was such a typical Afghan move that it forced a smile and I started to like Ms. Homeira who was making me miss hang around Afghans.

Rescue squad work is an excellent vehicle to teach the young about the importance of good decision making under stress as well as the consequences of poor decision making which is too often done under the influence of drink or drugs .

There’s lots more to the story and tons of tension and danger for the uninitiated, for the rest of us outgoing rifle fire and flash bangs are not considered that risky but what do I know? My perception of risk may be a bit dated. Sam Aronson, who directly violated State Department rules and regulations to get over a dozen under vetted Afghans evacuated comes home a hero which is exactly what he promised his wife he would not do. His wife who is also a junior diplomat cuts him some slack, but he his colleagues at State Department don’t because it is not an organization that tolerates masculine heroic virtues well. Sam quickly exits the State Department for greener pastures.

The problem with great stories like this is they make it easy to forget what we should never forget and that is the self-inflicted wound of our humiliating retreat from Afghanistan. On an early July 2021 edition of All Marine Radio, I offered to following expert analysis: “You cannot conduct a NEO from the airport in Kabul because there will be 200,000 Afghan civilians flooding the field in a panic to get out.” This was not dramatic or original insight, but common sense, any child living in Kabul could have told you that which was the point – our best and brightest knew nothing about what is happening outside the wire and that ignorance fed risk aversion and magical thinking about basic things like the difference between outgoing and incoming rifle fire.

Yet even when we flood Kabul with young diplomats trained to treat the official government narrative as legitimate reality at least one of them will recognize that he has arrived in Absurdistan and instinctively ignore what he is told in order do the right thing. For that Sam Aronson deserves a solid Bravo Zulu. And it turned out that the performance of Unit 02 at the secret gate was most honorable and they too deserve to be recognized for filling the breach at a desperate time with professional poise and determination. But the biggest thanks for this treat of a tale goes to the author Mitchell Zuckoff for finding a positive story of human courage and sacrifice buried inside our ignoble retreat from Central Asia.

Burn Notice

This is one in a series of fictional short stories that I’ll be posting in the ensuing weeks. Like all good fiction there is enough truth in the stories to include pictures, which I believe is an interesting modification of the fictional short story genre.

The heavily armed American bumped along the Lashkary Canal road at the wheel of an old Toyota Hi Lux heading south into the vast Dasht-e Margo (Desert of Death). He watched the not-so-bright lights of Zaranj, the capitol of Afghanistan’s Nimroz province recede in the rearview mirror. His Afghan driver and constant companion, Haji jan, an old Taliban fighter who couldn’t see shit at night, was riding shotgun. Zaki, one of his construction project foremen was sitting in the center of the back seat staring pensively out of the windshield. All three of the men wore chest rigs with rifle magazines and smoke grenades, the American also carried a .45caliber Kimber holstered on his chest for easy access. Tor Spay (Black Dog in Pashto) sat behind the driver, the massive black beast was relaxed, panting slowly, as he rested contently. Tor Spay loved being out at night on the hunt.

Migrating sand dunes were a constant menace in this part of the desert. On some nights they moved at 10 miles per hour in gigantic piles of talc fine sand shaped like arrow heads. You could see dozens of them blasting across the flat desert floor when you flew in or out of Zaranj.  One of those arrowheads could bury the Lashkary road under a 30 foot wall of sand in less than 15 minutes and they were hard to see when the sand was blowing. Hitting one was like hitting a concrete wall and the buses running between Zaranj and Ring Road at Delaram occasionally hit them at speed causing horrific injuries.

The autumn night was cool and clear, with bright ambient light provided by millions of stars stretched across the high desert sky. Normally beautiful, tonight the ambient light was magnifying the blowing sand making it that much more difficult to navigate. The American was a singleton, part of an off-the-book’s black operation called The Eclipse Group that was loved by ISAF and loathed by the CIA. His source code was Willie 4 which came from the “Free Willie” operation a few years back that involved rescuing a well-known reporter from even better-known kidnappers. He had not done much on that operation because the reporter self-rescued, but his participation landed him a meeting with The Old Man at his oceanfront home in La Jolla. His presidential pardon for the Iran Contra affair was the first thing you saw when entering the home and the six MG 34 German machineguns in various states of assembly littering his garage added to the ambiance.

The Old Man explained what a singleton was telling him that if he ever got pulled into some sort of agency ass covering operation he was on his own. He then added that if he directed him to participate in such an adventure it was because there were no other options. Wreathed in a halo of cigarette smoke the Old Man had stared hard into his eyes and said, “If you get yoked up, you are on your own; I don’t know you, Uncle Sam don’t know you, you’re fucked; do you understand this, and I want to hear you say it out loud”. He liked his code name; he liked the mission, and he liked the Old Man; he understood and said so.

The Spy was a retired 48 year old Marine who looked to be in his 30’s, he was fit and even with the long hair and two fist beard, penetrating blue eyes and perpetual pleasant smile he still looked like a solider.  And now here he was, launching a rescue mission on blind faith that the Old Man wouldn’t send him into the unknown unless it was some sort of national level emergency. The Old Man had skyped him from his villa in La Jolla in a state of high excitement. Being old school, he was certain the NSA couldn’t hack into Skype calls, so he used Skype frequently which was how the NSA knew what Eclipse was up to. Speaking in a hushed tone, staring intently into his laptop which was perched next to his poolside lounge chair, the Old Man told the spy a disaster was unfolding just a few hundred miles from him in Iran.

Dewey explained that the current administration had bragged about a cyber attack conducted by the Israeli’s using the Sextent virus. Both President Obama and Vice President Biden had crowed about the op on national television while claiming credit for it despite having nothing to do with it. The Iranians had responded with a mole hunt that turned out to be child’s play when they discovered the internet-based platform the CIA used to communicate with their agents in the field was a post 9/11 temporary quick fix. Nobody at the CIA ever thought it important to go back and fix the quick fix so their now archaic platform was easily penetrated by the legions of professional grade Iranian and Chinese hackers.

The Iranians had already killed 15 CIA assets; the Chinese had cleared the board of every CIA asset in their country. The agency needed to get their one remaining agent out of Iran with an emergency extract but had nobody positioned to do it. The American was in the position to do something; he could get across the Iranian border with Nimroz province into the uninhabited desert. He had gone over the border before to gather a census of the scores of ancient abandoned walled cities that dot the Dasht-e Margo. The flourishing Persian civilization that once lived in those towns were forced the flee when Genghis Khan dammed the Helmand River turning the productive farmland into a desert. If the Old Man could get his agent and family  into the Sistan basin portion of the desert of death then the American could get him over the border and on a plane to Kabul. Inshallah.

They forded the Helmand River easily; the intake dam the American had built the prior summer for the Charborjak district irrigation system took in most of the river upstream. That had caused the Iranians to bitch about not getting their mandated share of Helmand water, which amused the American, but not the USAID field representatives who had funded the project. Once they moved away from the river deeper into the desert the blowing sand abated, and they made good time across the hard-packed desert floor. An hour northeast of the river Zaki’s Icom radio sparked to life; Baloch tribal fighters from the Iranian side of the border were waiting to link up. A red star cluster shot up into the sky marking the stationary Baloch patrol, the American stopped and sent up two green star clusters to signal they were coming in clean.

The American pulled into a small cluster of Ford pickups that had once belonged to the Afghanistan National Police. They were now painted is desert camouflage and sported the markings of the Iranian Border Police. The men inside the trucks, like the American and his crew, wore local shalwar kameez pants and tunics; unlike the American their tunic bottom hems were squared in the Pakistani manner. The American took turns greeting the patrol leaders with a big hug, and three kisses on the cheek because they knew each other well. The American had repaired the irrigation systems the desert Baloch needed to re-occupy the land that the Soviets had driven them off some 30 years prior. The American had kept his word and delivered on every promise he made and that meant something to the desert tribes.

The American produced a claymore bag containing 50,000 US dollars: all of it in Benjamin’s which were immediately stashed in the patrol leaders’ truck without being counted. The men sat around a small campfire drinking chai and smoking cigarettes, the American was staring into the fire while visualizing the linkup in his mind, trying to anticipate how it should go down while inventorying in his head things he should not see like firearms or bulky clothing. The rule of opposites is a powerful subconscious observation tool that humans use instinctively. Thinking about what ‘opposite’ would look like in this context was critical, the American was not going to end up in an orange jump suit on Iranian national television.

At midnight they took off with the main body tucked in behind the point element and flankers dispatched by the Patrol leader to screen their movement to an abandoned walled city identified as EF 595 – C on the satellite imagery that had been provided him by the DARPA funded, burning man loving, humanitarian outfit at the Taj guesthouse in Jalalabad known as the Synergy Strike Force. The claimed they were “prosocial cyberizing in complex combat zones” by running a guesthouse with a bar and nice pool but that was just a cover, they were spooks.

The Baluch patrol leader looked at the imagery and said the target was known as Qala Fath which meant clear water, which also meant it was a frequent stop on the Taliban rat lines running out of both Pakistan and Iran. Clean, clear water was hard to find in the Dasht-e Margo; this was a popular spot and the American wondered how the Old Man had known to send his guy there. They were 45 minutes away and had to move fast, being on the Iranian side of the border when the sun came up was asking for trouble.

The fighting patrol pulled into the eastern entrance to Qala Fath and stopped. Baba D dismounted with his weapons and went alone to the center of the old complex with Tor Spay. He found some steps to sit on, broke a green chem light shaking it good to get the fluorescence going, and threw it on the ground in front of him. He then lit a cigarette and waited, Tor Spay sitting obediently by his side. An old man accompanied by three women stepped out of one of the buildings and approached him. The man asked in English if he knew Jack; the American replied “ Yep”, before adding “I’m from the American government and here to help” then laughed at his own joke. The old man looked confused, the women behind him were shaking, clearly terrified by Tor Spay who was up on his feet looking at the Iranians with interest.

The American stood walking over to the family while asking them to stand still so Tor Spay could meet and smell them which they did with trepidation. Once that was completed he took the massive black dog off his lead and gave him a one word command: “Hunt”. Tor Spay took off like a rocket back towards the area the family was just occupying. He moved like lightening and made no sound at all as he searched the ruins for any signs of uninvited Iranians. He returned ten minutes later looking at the American expectantly for some treats.

They arrived at the American’s safe house in Zaranj, with the dawn. The safe house was across the street from the Zaranj municipal airport which consisted of a runway, an abandoned building, and a resident pack of feral dogs. The house staff had hot chai and breakfast waiting. The American made a pot of coffee and headed outside to the porch to watch the sunrise. The Iranian walked out on the porch to ask for a cup of his coffee. The American smiled and said there was plenty. The Iranian stood there uncertain what to say or do so the American spoke first.

“Look I don’t want to know your name or who you are or how you got to that old walled city in the desert. I’m not from the CIA, they will meet you on the flight to Kabul which leaves in three hours. I would appreciate it if are vague in your description of me, the less the CIA knows about me the better and the less I know about you the better. Both you and the CIA know the Old Man sent me and that is all any of you need know”.

The Iranian relaxed and sat down taking in the spectacular sunrise with the American. “How do I thank you for what you have given my family and I”?

The Spy didn’t look at him saying quietly “You owe the Old Man, not me for your rescue, but when you see him next if you would please tell him Willi 4 deserves a serious cash bonus and a long vacation I’d be much obliged”. The two sat quietly watching the sunrise until Haji jan called them down for breakfast.

At 1100 they left the safe house and drove to the airport gate where they were met by Zaki’s uncle Mohammad, a local mullah who doubled as the airport manager. Mohammad had been the airport manager for 30 years and spoke fluent Russian, Persian, English, German as well as all the local languages of Afghanistan. At 1115 a Beechcraft Super King came screaming down the runway mere feet off the deck which sent a large pack of feral dogs fleeing towards holes in the fence line. Having rid the landing strip of dogs the plane gained altitude and kicked the rudder to starboard (going to its port side would put it into Iranian airspace), came back around and settled on the runway, taxing to an old abandoned administrative building.

The airport consisted of a chain link fence around a single runway with a single entrance gate on the western side. There were no other passengers for this flight just the Iranian and family so the Spy and the ten truckloads of Afghan Border Police sent by Governor Abdul Karim Brahui to secure the airport. The plane did not shut down its engines as Iranian and his family were hustled aboard. He was met by his CIA case officer who apologized profusely for his cover being blown and for failing to give him a burn notice. Interestingly the CIA man did not speak to or acknowledge the American who had rescued them from Iran. The Iranian thanked Allah, for the hundredth time, that the man who had recruited him had not forgotten him. That man had told him 30 years ago that he could never trust the CIA but could always trust him. He had been true to his word.

As the plane taxied down the runway towards freedom, he looked for the American, but he had disappeared. The man was a ghost; he would never see him again, never know his name, and never forget him.

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