As our two-decade involvement in Afghanistan winds down to an inevitable withdraw there are an increasing number of memories’ being published by participants. I have been looking forward to this as it is the first large conflict in which there was no draft. The military participants were all volunteers, actually all professional recruited (there is a huge difference), and I’ve been interested in seeing their perception of war compared to the men who fought in earlier times against a different enemy. What I experienced when I read Gus Biggio’s book The Wolves of Helmandwas déjà vu.
Frank “Gus” Biggio competed for and won a commission in the United States Marine Corps gaining a coveted slot in the infantry back in the 1990’s when the Corps was fat with cash, and overseas deployments both enjoyable and interesting. Unless you pulled a unit rotation to Okinawa in which case you were semi screwed. Sitting on island where you could not train while the yen/dollar exchange rate was around 70 (meaning the dollar was damn near worthless) was misery unless you got nominated to be on the Oki Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) in which case you got aboard naval shipping and enjoyed yourself like the rest of the Corps.
I don’t know if Gus pulled a MEU float or a unit deployment rotation to Okinawa, but he enjoyed his tour as an infantry officer and after completing his five-year obligation he moved on, as most Marine officers do. Gus completed a law degree, got married to a physician, started a family and was safely ensconced in Washington DC when the military went to war. Gus held out for years before succumbing to a virus, planted in all Marine infantry, that makes life intolerable unless we see the elephant.
The six blind men touching an elephant parable is an ancient Indian fable that has come to demonstrate moral relativism and religious tolerance. That’s not the fable Gus and the rest of us are talking about; we don’t do moral relativism and assume religious tolerance to be a God given right. When we talk about touching the elephant, we are referring to a Civil War era euphemism for experiencing combat.
Gus was in DC, working a damn good job. He’s not a name dropper but mentions that he started taking morning runs in 2008 to prepare for returning to active duty he would sometimes chat with his neighbor Michelle until she moved into the White House with her husband Barrack. So, Gus was doing pretty damn good on the outside, but he had a problem on the inside. His best friends were in the fight, some of them coming home on, not with, their shields. He is a highly competent adult who has sublimated a serious competitive streak towards the development of an impressive law career and a stable, thriving family. But he doesn’t yet know what his nature demands that he know, information that he’ll only know if he gets to touch the elephant. His closest friends had touched the elephant repeatedly so his volunteering to go back in? He had no choice; I did the same thing for exactly the same reason.
Gus is exactly the kind of guy you want as your lawyer if, for no other reason, than he talked his wife into letting him deploy. Obviously, he married a perceptive woman who probably understood he had to go, but she’s a physician and they’re normally rule followers, so this was by any measure an impressive feat. He then signs on with the 1st Battalion 5thMarines (1/5) and heads to God’s country (Camp Pendelton, California) to start training.
From there he deploys, with his small team, directly into the Nawa district administrative center weeks ahead of the Marine offensive that will secure that portion of the Helmand province. No air conditioning, no working toilets, no hot chow, no roof or windows, and no ability to patrol 100 meters beyond the roofless district center because the Taliban had laid siege to small British garrison who arrived the year prior. Surrounded by Taliban, with the nearest help fifty miles distant, living in the dirt, patrolling constantly, fighting often – the entire time exposed to the elements 24/7; does that sound like fun to you? Of course not, and Gus tries to convince the reader that it wasn’t that much fun for him either. But you can tell by how hard he tries to make his experience seem like no big deal, that it was a big deal through which he earned an intangible that only those who touch the elephant can understand.
Gus is a throwback in a sense in that he is a citizen soldier, not a professional Marine. As such he joins the pantheon of Americans who wore the uniform to defend the country, not as a profession. Like all Marine reservists he was exceptionally well trained and had years of small unit leadership to develop his military skills. Yet still he left his young family, an obviously lucrative career in the most powerful city in the world to get dropped into a primitive hell hole. Does that sound like normal guy behavior to you? Me either but Gus is lawyer and musters his arguments well about the reasons behind volunteering to be dropped into the middle of Indian country.
When the rest of 1/5 arrived in Nawa they did so in a pre-dawn combat assault that overwhelmed the Taliban and drove them from the district in a matter of days. That never stopped the little T Taliban (local teens and young adults with little to do mostly) from trying their luck with random small arms fire attacks or improvised explosive devices (IED’s) but the days of the Taliban traveling openly or intimidating the locals passed, for the most part, in most of the Helmand province.
During the year Gus spent in the Helmand province the Marine Corps actually did by the book COIN operations using a completely unsustainable deployment cycle that, while it was being sustained, was the most impressive damn thing you have ever seen. In 2010 when I moved into Lashkar Gah as the regional manager for a USIAD sponsored Civil Development Program, I drove the roads from Lash to Nawa, to Khanashin and to Marjha wearing local clothes in a local beater with a modest security detail and had no issues. The people seemed happy, business was thriving, the poppy harvests returning serious cash into the local economy.
Jagran (Major in Dari) Gus and his six Marine (and 1 corpsman) Civil Affairs Team were yet another combat enabler for the 1st Battalion 5th Marines counterinsurgency battle. The weapon they employed was cash money, they were the carrot that offered to help the Afghan people. The Marines in the line companies were the stick and they were everywhere, deployed in little squad size patrol bases in every corner of the district. Gus and his team did as much patrolling as the grunts which they needed to do in order to deploy the money weapon. There are few times and few places in Marine Corps history where a major gets to be a gunfighter but that is what the civil affairs team in the Helmand had to do. He was a lucky man to get such a hard corps gig, he could have been deployed to a firm base support role and never left the wire, a fate worse than death for an infantryman.
Jagran Gus tells some great stories about everyday life in rural Afghanistan. I spent much time there myself and appreciate his depiction of normal Afghans going about their business. Sometimes that business involves shooting at Marines for cash and there is an interesting story about catching some teenagers in the act and letting them go to the custody of their elders after the district governor chewed them out.
It’s the little things that are telling; the Marines loved to be the stick, few things are more gratifying than a stiff firefight where you suffer no loses and that is how the vast majority of firefights in Afghanistan went. The Marines were also perfectly cool with safe’ing their weapons, yoking up the dudes that were just shooting at them, treating their wounds and releasing them to the district governor. It didn’t matter to them how a fight ends as long as they end it. This type of humane treatment of wounded enemies is expected of American servicemen, it isn’t even worthy of comment in the book. I’m not saying we are the only military that does this, but a vast majority of militaries don’t, and most people are amazed when we do.
My experience with Afghans in the Helmand, like that of Jargan Gus was mostly positive. That part of the world is so primitive that it’s like a time machine where resilient people carve out an existence with primitive farming methods and zero infrastructure. The Afghans are from old school Caucasian stock which is why the Germans spent so much time and money there in the 1930’s after Hitler came to power. They’re white people who do not have any concept of fragility and who cultivate a fierce pride in their Pashtun tribal roots. Living and working with them was an experience that is hard to capture but Jargan Gus has done that well.
Gus goes on to discuss the futility of his efforts, Nawa fell to the Taliban shortly after the Marines left in 2014. But there is no bitterness when he covers that as there is none concerning the always turbulent re-entry into normalcy when he returned home for good. Touching the elephant always changes a man, but Jargan Gus is a bright guy who explains the unease he felt as he tried to ease back into normal life in a very reasonable manner. He is a perceptive writer and his book will (I bet) be useful to future historians writing about the Afghan war. It is a great story about normal Americans thrust into exceptional circumstances and thriving.
I bet sixty years from now whoever the Tom Hanks of the era is will do a movie based on this book. The movie would be a ground version of the current hit WW II movie Greyhound only with dirt and lots more explosions. So, watch the new Tom Hanks’s Greyhound movie, then read this book when its released and you can tell me if you don’t see Hollywood gold. I’m going to email Gus and give him heads up.
Texas is in the middle of a Sars-CoV2 assault as the number of cases skyrocket. Despite having low numbers during the first curve we now average over a 1000 new cases a day. Just look at how bad it is:
If you look at my previous posts on the Wuhan Bug you might think that I have been wrong all along. Yet reality always finds a way to sneak through the BS. The Legacy Media and their allies in Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and the Universities have created a hysterical narrative that is now completely divorced from reality. They cannot continue this charade for much longer, something has to give.
According to the new Texas guidance anyone who comes into contact with a person who tests positive is now also considered positive. That is called putting your thumb on the scale and it is not remotely honest or ethical. The new Clerisy class of scientists, academics, and assorted experts have been bludgeoned, once again, by what Solzhenitsyn called “the pitiless crowbar of events ‘. Yet the madness continues with government bureaucrats and county judges picking the winners and losers in our economy with decisions that are not based in science.
What is the most frustrating aspect of this crisis is not one politician has acknowledged the human costs of locking down the economy. Legitimate Social Scientists (those who do not work in a ‘studies’ field) have calibrated the costs in human life for every percentage increase in unemployment rates. There is a literal cone of silence surrounding this topic unless you are a podcast fan. It is disgraceful that our political class is so callous about science and the human costs of their virtue signalling, Orange Man Bad, policies that are killing their constituents.
Even in Texas our governor has proven incapable of demonstrating leadership in the face of adversity. That is not a harsh read by the way, very few governors have demonstrated competence is balancing the dire prediction of “experts” and “scientist” with the economic costs of shutting down the economy for a bug that has a estimated IFR of (according to CDC data) less than 0.3%.
The continued lockdowns and re-definitions of what is or is not a “COVID-19 case” has nothing to do with a virus. At this point it is all about keeping the economy throttled down until November. Every bit of these unconstitutional “public health” power grabs are aimed at President Trump. The governor of Texas has ignored input from hundreds of front line physicians who are trying to get him to see reason. That is the reason he that will be gone as soon as we can elect somebody else.
I have noted with interest that my fellow South Texans are catching on to the mask charade. A good 60% of the people I see with masks now wear them below the nose. They didn’t do this in April, so I am guessing either their masks smell bad or they are passive-aggressive protesting .
The hospitals in the Rio Grande Valley just got an infusion of FEMA nurses to help them cope with the onslaught. However, Governor Abbott decreed there will be no elective surgeries in the Rio Grande Valley so one wonders why we need several hundred $950 a day nurses. They have been put to instant use because every hospital in the valley was knocking out delayed “elective” surgeries at the cyclic rate last week. They have to start earning again or face ruin and it is important to note it is not often hospitals in the valley ignore the governor. I suspect they have little choice.
Here is the problem we all face. For every article I produce that says masks are useless for a virus you could produce two that said they work. Open up any browser and type in three random numbers followed by the words “new cases” (hat tip to No Agenda Show) and guess what you get? Hundreds of articles about COVID 19 hitting the exact number you typed in. Go ahead and see for yourself and I ask you what the hell is that all about?
You have to willingly suspend disbelief to believe the numbers being reported in the legacy media and our government concerning COVID. Just look at the CMS data and the real reported numbers; how do 14 reported deaths in a nursing home become 753 deaths on the government data base?
Adding insult to injury is the muh hydroxychloroquine fake news scam. Yesterday the Henry Ford Health System published a large-scale analysis on the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Infectious Diseases . The study examined 2,541 patients who had been hospitalized in six hospitals between March 10 and May 2, 2020. Here is what they found:
More than twenty-six percent (26.4%) of patients who did not receive hydroxychloroquine died.
But among those who received hydroxychloroquine, fewer than half that number — 13% — died.
More than 90% of the patients received hydroxychloroquine within 48 hours of admission to the hospital. Scientists say giving the drug early during illness may be a key to success.
Here in South Texas the hospitals maybe revolting by doing elective surgeries but they are not about to go against federal government guidelines so they are not (to the best of my knowledge) using hydroychloroquine. Trial lawyers are, no doubt, viewing this situation with interest. Anyone who believes Remdesivir is a good option to fight this bad bug is straight up crazy. If I pick up the virus and my doctor doesn’t immeidiatly put me on HCL and zinc I’m walking out and driving to Corpus Christie where a real physician (defined as one who reads current medical literature which is about 15-20% of practicing physicians) in the form of friend of FRI Dr Keith Rose will treat me.
It is not possible to reconcile the main stream media narrative from observable reality. We find ourselves, on this Independence Day, in uncharted waters. The establishment is fighting a losing rear guard battle between what they told us COVID was and what it really is. Just last week Joe Rogan had Bret Weinstein on his podcast. Bret took two hours of to explain that Sars-CoV2 is from a gain of function project and had manipulated points of attachment that prove it to be a chimera. He did not use the words point of attachment or chimera and although Joe treated it as a major revelation I’ve been talking about both in the blog and on All Marine Radio for months.
The legacy media (and Joe Rogan) are months behind obscure bloggers like myself and podcasters (some with massive audiences) such as the No Agenda Show, or The Scalpel with Dr. Keith Rose and All Marine Radio. A perfect example of the unbelievable distance between the MSM narrative and reality based podcasters is this segment from All Marine Radio with Jack Hoban. It is the only podcast I have heard about police reform (and I have listened to a bunch) that makes any sense at all, has been proven effective, and is cost sensitive. Jack Hoban, author of The Ethical Warrior, (and a former Marine) was the guy who re-built the Camden N.J. police department. Why is it the only place you can hear practical discussions regarding the training of police is All Marine Radio?
I think there is a reason Jack can be found on Mac’s podcast and no where else; the media narrative must be protected at all costs. The media is not interested in reporting solutions to problems just as they are not interested in exploring the lack of legitimate data behind the Black Lives Matter movement. The reputations of our expert class, governing class, scientific community and the legacy media are on the chopping block. When the axe falls what we do next will determine if there are another hundred years of Independence Day’s in our future.
As my good friend Kerry Patton observed today:
I find it ironic that so many Americans are celebrating the 4th of July, a holiday built upon the principle of “Liberty”, and yet year after year, through local, state, and federal governance, we as a people continue to see our Liberties dissipate.
We’re going to need to tend to this problem…the sooner the better.
This story was published in the Naval Institute Proceeding magazine in November of 1995. It is written by my father, MajGen J.D. Lynch, Jr. USMC (Ret) who was the operations officer for BLT 2/26 at LZ Margo. This story is about a bad day in a forgotten place during an unpopular war. The men who died that day were representing this country well, some of them were draftees, none of them were happy about fighting in Vietnam but all of them did their duty. On this Memorial Day take the time to read about the kind of men we are honoring. This is history worth knowing because it is our story and the more you understand it the clearer your picture becomes of the sacrifice made by those we honor on this day.
The 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines rarely appears in the Marine Corps’ illustrious combat history. The battalion saw only brief service during World War II. . . long enough to land in the assault wave at lwo Jima. Later, during the Vietnam War, it reappeared for a few years before its colors once again were returned to the museum curators. Its daily Vietnam experience was usually far less stressful than the Iwo Jima operation but Vietnam had its days and when it did, the late 1960s Marine of 2/26 experienced the horrors of war at the same levels of intensity faced by the generation that fought its way up the black ash terraces beneath Mount Suribachi. This is the story of one of those days: 16 September 1968.
Late 1968 found the 3rd Marine Division serving in the extreme north of I Corps, the northernmost corps area in what was then the Republic of Vietnam, controlling ten infantry battalions: those of its organic 3rd, 4th, and 9th Marine Regiments, plus 2/26. The division’s operational concept-an effective one – was as easy to understand as it was difficult to execute. Relying on few fixed defensive positions and even fewer infantry units to defend them, the defense was offense. Battalions stayed in the bush for weeks on end covering North Vietnamese Army (NVA) infiltration routes and, in general, looking for trouble. They moved constantly, on foot or by helicopter, and when they encountered an NVA unit all hell broke loose until it was destroyed.
Our battalion – I was the operations officer – celebrated the Fourth of July in an area near the coast called Leatherneck Square, where it was responsible for defending the square’s northern and western sides. In late July, the battalion was reinforced to conduct amphibious assault operations and designated Battalion Landing Team (BLT 2/26).
After training with the reinforcements, BLT 2/26 embarked in the ships of Amphibious Ready Group Alfa, including the famous World War Il Essex-class carrier Princeton (LPH-8), now an amphibious assault ship. Initially there was talk of landings just south of the Ben Hai river inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), but the pattern of NVA operations had shifted westward and the amphibious talk died out. An early-September landing well in- land marked a temporary end to our amphibious experience and the beginning of service as one of the division’s maneuver battalions. Despite the change in mission, the battalion kept its reinforcements-among them a tank platoon, a 105-mm. artillery battery, and a 4.2-inch mortar battery.
Operational control shifted to the 3rd Marines, headquartered at Camp Carroll, but several days of aggressive patrolling yielded no enemy contacts. About 7 September, the BLT’s field elements were trucked to Camp Carroll and staged for two contingencies: a helicopter assault into Landing Zone (LZ) Margo, a barren hill- top just south of the DMZ, roughly l7 kilometers west-north- west of Camp Carroll, or a shift in operational control to the 4th Marines and a return to Khe Sanh where the battalion had served throughout the early-1968 siege.
To the relief of those who had served at Khe Sanh, the Margo operation prevailed – an assault into the LZ followed by movement north to the high ground on the southern border of the DMZ where the battalion was to turn east and sweep the high ground. The orders emphasized the need to take prisoners.
A typhoon brushed the coast and although the tree covered mountains inland showed no outward sign of the rains, movement became impossible. The war ground to a halt. Finally, the weather began clearing and, on 12 September, the commanding officer of the supporting helicopter squadron flew in for the Zippo brief – a planning and coordination meeting attended by the battalion and squadron commanders plus their staffs.
Zippos were businesslike affairs. Lives were at stake and the assaulting battalion and supporting squadron had to reach complete agreement and understanding. On the plus side, Margo was easy to find because of its location on the north side of the Cam Lo River inside a distinctive kilometer-wide and more than kilometer deep U shaped bend – unfortunately this plus was offset by several minuses – most of which stemmed from the tiresome but necessary subject of terrain.
Margo, which resembled a broken bowl, was smaller than the maps indicated. Using north as 12 o’clock, the rim from about 5 to l0 o’clock was the dominant piece of ground within the LZ. The southern side of the rim dropped sharply to the Cam Lo River, actually more stream than river at this point, while the interior slope provided good observation over the landing zone and north toward the DMZ. A spring near the center of the zone fed a stream that had cut a deep draw, which meandered eastward and exited Margo between 2 and 4 o’clock. Margo’s northern rim, from l0 to 2 o’clock, varied in height but was lower than the southern rim. lts exterior sloped sharply downward for a kilometer or so before reaching the steep approaches to the terrain fingers that led to the high ground in the DMZ. At its highest point, Margo was about 150 meters above sea level. The hills to the north were three to four times that height while the intervening terrain dropped to low points of about 50 meters.
It was rugged, forbidding country, made all the more so because-although Margo was clear-the heights and intervening valleys were covered with double- or triple- canopy forest.
The terrain inside the LZ made Margo a “one-bird zone,”-helicopters had to land and unload one at a time. This was hardly unusual, but it slowed the rate of assault dramatically. Margo also was too small to accommodate the entire BLT. Since the intent was to retain only G Company, the BLT command group, and the 8l-mm. mortars, engineer, and reconnaissance platoons in the zone for any length of time (a few days), the size of the LZ did not seem to be a major factor. lts rock-hard soil, however, was another problem. Digging in took time. Finally, there was Margo’s history. For a brief period, some months before, it had been used as an artillery fire support base-and the North Vietnamese were known to keep such positions under observation.
The terrain and history summed to the point that BLT 2/26 was landing, one aircraft at a time, into a zone that was:
Too small to hold the entire BLT
Dominated by high ground to the north
Probably the subject of continuing NVA attention at least to the point of registering mortar fires
Not good . . . but not unusual.
Friday the l3th of September 1968, a date not lost on many of the Marines, marked the beginning of several days of cloudless skies and comfortable temperatures. By 0700, a thousand or so Marines and corpsmen were waiting quietly in the Camp Carroll pick-up zone smoking, talking, thinking, and maybe, especially in Golf Company – which was landing first – praying. They were grunts, a term coined in Vietnam. While it may have been a derisive term originally, the sting was long gone, with a certain pride, it is what they called themselves.
Believing that the chances of infection dramatically increased with the amount of clothing worn when wounded, they were deliberately underdressed. Boots, socks, and trousers were the standard; no underwear and, quite often, no shirt during the day. Their faded helmet covers sported an elastic band around the outside intended to hold camouflage material when the wearer sought invisibility in the bush. More often, it held either a main battle dressing for use if the wearer’s luck turned bad or, in the case of optimists, a bottle of mosquito repellent. The graffiti on most of the covers addressed a variety of subjects but many tended toward the religious. David Douglas Duncan’s striking photographs of 26th Regiment Marines at Khe Sanh captured the phenomenon.
They all wore flak jackets, never zipped because shell or grenade fragments taken in the wrong place could jam the zipper, making it difficult for the corpsmen to remove the jacket and treat a wounded man in the field. The flak jackets, if anything, were dirtier than the helmet covers. Sweat-stained from long wear by a series of owners, they had the same faded color as the camouflage covers but their graffiti, for whatever reason, tended to more basic thoughts than those found on the helmets.
They carried a haver sack holding a box of the venerable C-rations, a poncho, poncho liner, and most important of all, an extra two or three pairs of socks. They carried extra radio batteries; mortar ammunition, even though they were not mortarmen; rocket launchers; grenades; at least four filled canteens; and as much extra rifle or machine gun ammunition as possible.
They were typical grunts and corpsmen, normally unwashed, usually underfed, always overloaded and, more often than not, tired. The lucky ones, those who avoided disease, wounds, or death, did not enjoy a hot meal or cold shower for weeks on end.
Shortly before 0800 the CH-46s began landing in the pick-up zone with their distinctive whopping blade sound-unforgettable for those who rode them into combat. As the first wave launched, the sounds of the artillery preparatory fires in the distance and the roar of the fast-movers orbiting overhead helped ease the tension.
The actual landing was anti-climactic. There was no opposition, but it still took a long time. Echo, Foxtrot and Hotel companies quickly assembled and began moving north. Echo struck out for a finger on the right that led to the high ground while Foxtrot and Hotel headed for another finger on the left. Golf Company, the command post, the 81mm mortar platoon and others established defensive positions in the LZ and began digging in. Friday the 13th passed quietly.
On Saturday, 14 September, the companies continued moving north at first light. While there were well-worn trails in the area and occasional sounds of movement ahead, there were no contacts. Even so, the companies called artillery and mortar fires on possible targets to keep the fire support system active. About mid-day, Hotel Company’s point, leading the movement up the left finger, saw movement ahead and signaled the company to move off the trail and wait. Their patience was rewarded as they watched a North Vietnamese soldier, weapon at sling arms, striding down the path towards them.
The point element was in an excellent ambush position and could have killed him. That they didn’t was a testimony to the discipline and the emphasis on taking prisoners. Waiting until the NVA soldier had passed, the point man re-entered the trail and, in Vietnamese, ordered him to halt-which he did promptly. The capture was reported to the company commander, relayed to battalion, and within a matter of minutes the 3rd Marines had learned of the potential guest speaker. Within the hour the prisoner had been flown to Camp Carroll for interrogation.
Throughout the war, most higher headquarters consistently failed to pass timely intelligence information down to the battalion level where it could be acted upon. The 3rd Marines did not make that mistake. Just before sundown 2/26 learned that the prisoner had intended to surrender because he had been at Khe Sanh when the Marines first arrived. Stating that he “had a love of life” he added that he wanted no more of anything remotely resembling that battle, a confrontation that clearly had a psychological hold on both sides. Of greater interest was his disclosure that the lead company of the northwest finger – Hotel Company – would be attacked at about 2000 that evening. All three companies were alerted.
Echo, Foxtrot, and Hotel halted for the night and began registering artillery defensive fires. Hotel Company’s artillery forward observer (FO), controlling a supporting 155-mm. howitzer battery, had just started registering fires to cover a listening post located on the western side of the finger when the Marines manning the post reported hearing movement through the draw to their direct front. Since the registration rounds were on the way, they could only wait. Seconds later, as the roar of the explosions died away, the listening post reported screams and other sounds of panic. The FO immediately called “Fire for effect” and swept the draw with 155-mm rounds. Other than moans and the sound of some movement in the draw, the remainder of the night was quiet.
15 September dawned clear and cloudless. Visibility was so good that Marines could watch outgoing 8l-mm. mortar rounds until they reached their apogee. Again keeping the mortar and artillery fire-support systems active, E, F , and H companies resumed their slow and careful climb toward the high ground. Signs of enemy presence were plentiful but there was no contact.
The trouble started at noon, when a radio message from the 3rd Marines ordered the BLT to pull its companies back to the LZ and prepare to shift to the operational control of the 9th Marines. The message was cryptic – it had to be because none of the radio transmissions with any of the battalions in the 3rd Marine Division’s area were secure. The encryption equipment of the day was too heavy to be carried in the field and, in any case, seldom worked in the heat and humidity of the bush. Problems with getting shackle sheets (codes) down to the company level precluded the use of even that decades-old mans of encryption. Everyone assumed that the North Vietnamese heard most of the radio traffic.
Communication security problems notwithstanding, the order was received with incredulity. There was little doubt that the NVA would follow companies back to the landing zone and less doubt that mortar and perhaps infantry attacks would follow. The three rifle companies were told to halt and then begin moving south to Margo; meanwhile, the order was strenuously argued. The regimental commander made it clear the order stood- but it was clear he agreed tactical assessment of what lay in store. Obedience would have a price, that much was obvious. What was not obvious was how much.
After a few hours, the three companies were told to halt, reorient, and return to the original northward advance. We had to know if the trailing -enemy theory was correct. The order did not specifiy how long to follow the reverse course but did tell the company commanders something they already knew – to expect contact. It came quickly on both ridges as small NVA units were surprised to find Marines heading north again. Breaking contact the companies once more turned south toward Margo. So far as 2/26 was concerned, the point had been proven. We reported this to the 3rd Marines and forcefully recommended cancellation of the withdrawal order.
The reply was more enlightening than helpful. The battalion was told that its arguing and temporary resumption of the offense had caused some difficulties (it wasn’t phrased that way) and that there would be a 24-hour postponement. Further, however, the entire battalion was to concentrate in LZ Margo south of the 61 grid line- an east-west grid line that split the LZ- by a specified time early the next afternoon, 16 September. In the interim, the BLT was authorized to do whatever it thought best to prepare for a return to the LZ. The maneuver companies were turned north again; within minutes they bumped into NVA troops following them down the ridge lines.
The enlightening section of the order was the part about moving south of the 61 grid line, It made no sense because the area remaining in the LZ south of the grid line was too small to accommodate the BLT in anything resembling tactical positions. Even worse, it did not permit a tactical defense of the LZ, especially against infantry attacks coming from the most logical direction – north. It was apparent that the order had emanated from a headquarters other than regiment of division, neither of which would have displayed that level of tactical ignorance, This, and the urgency associated with the 61 grid line provision, led to a conclusion that an Arc Light – high altitude B-52 area bombing mission- was imminent.
To those steeped in the traditions of obedience to orders, it might seem strange, but the BLT now confronted a dilemma. If its tactical assessment was correct, the order returning the maneuver units to the LZ would result in some form of NVA attack; if, on the other hand, the Arc Light guess was right there were other problems. The timing and target areas were unknown and, for security, would remain unknowns at the battalion level. Further, the tactically inane directive to move south of the 61-grid line indicated that the Arc Light was going in north of Margo – but close.
The dilemma was simple and stark: comply with the order and risk NVA action or move the companies toward Margo, retaining some semblance of tactical deployment north of the LZ, and risk the Arc Light. To those who have seen a proper Arc Light, the choice was easy. The companies were directed to hold in place and begin moving south to the LZ early the next morning. But as a concession to common sense, that portion of the order regarding the 61 grid line was interpreted rather loosely. We would defend Margo.
The weather on 16 September matched the brilliance of the days gone by. Today, the Vietnamese Bureau of Tourism would be touting the weather, on that day in 1968, however, it turned into a scene from hell.
Occasionally stopping to engage NVA units following them, the three rifle companies slowly made their way back to Margo. Echo Company came in last. Commanded by Captain John Cregan, now a Roman Catholic priest, the company began to climb up Margo’s northern slope and by 1430 or so was beginning to take up it assigned defensive positions on the northern perimeter. Even after ignoring the order to stay south of the 61-grid line, there were too many troops in too small an area – and they had to contend with Margo’s hard ground. Digging in took more time.
Early in the afternoon there were ominous sightings of North Vietnamese soldiers with mortars fording the Cam Lo River west of Margo. Artillery fire was called, probably without effect. At the same time, there was a minor flurry of activity as the BLT shifted to the operational control of the 9th Marines and radio frequencies were changed and tested. That done, the chatter of the troops and clanging of their entrenching tools were the only sounds disturbing the quiet.
At 1500, Captain Ken Dewey, an F-4 pilot serving as the battalions air liaison officer, was looking north toward the left of the two hills that had been the original objectives when suddenly a mirror started flashing – followed immediately by the soft “thunking” sound of mortars firing in the distance. Within seconds Margo was blanketed with exploding 82 mm rounds from several points on the compass, especially the northern arc. The battalion began its “time on the cross” – as the French put it in an earlier Indochina War.
The noise was deafening. Each explosion filled the surrounding air with black, stinking, greasy-tasting smoke. The mortarmen poured it on until 200 to 300 rounds had pummeled the Marines and corpsmen, a good percentage of whom had no protection beyond that of shallow fighting holes. As the fire eased, the LZ sprang to life and First Lieutenant Al Green’s 81mm mortar began counter-battery fires, an action that won them concentrated NVA attention.
Battalion machine gunners on Margo’s southern rim saw some enemy mortarmen and began to engage at long range-attracting in turn their share of the incoming. The exchange continued for a few more minutes until the mirror on high ground flashed again. The incoming barrage slowed, then stopped-but the noise in the zone went to deafening proportions as hundreds of rifles went into action. At first, it seemed as if the frustrated Marine riflemen were wasting ammunition on the out-of-range NVA Mortarmen, but a radio query to First Lieutenant Bob Riordan, the Golf Company commander revealed that from his position of the southern rim, North Vietnamese soldiers could be seen moving uphill to assault the LZ’s northern side.
Then the rifle fire stopped abruptly and, within seconds, the southern rim and center of the LZ were alive with Marines running to the northern side, Their fires had been masked by those manning the northern slope defenses and they were leaving their own positions to get into the fight. The enemy never had a chance. The NVA commander who ordered the assault probably had fewer troops than he thought as a result of previous contacts. In any case, the reaction of the defenders was too violent. No more than 20 minutes had elapsed. The cost to BLT 2/26 was more than 150 dead and wounded. The cost to the enemy was unknown.
At 1700, the mirror flashed again, and the mortars went to work. Once more, rounds rained down on Margo – fewer this time and without an infantry attack – but the BLT’s casualty list grew longer.
For the first time since the attacks began, medical evacuation of the wounded now seemed possible. It was likely that the NVA had expended most or all of their mortar ammunition and would not interfere with the helicopter evacuation.
The casualties had been separated by category…emergency, priority, routine…..and the “permanent routine” a euphemism for the dead that had crept into the radio operators’ lexicon. We hoped to MedEvac at least the emergency and priority wounded before nightfall. Several CH-46s and gunships arrived about 1830 and the laborious process of loading the casualties, one at a time, began as soon as the lead bird touched down.
As always, the strength and example can be found in the casualties. I saw Staff Sergeant Donner from the reconnaissance platoon, covered with blood, as he was being escorted to the medevac staging area. He was refusing to leave, insisting that he was okay. I told him that he would leave.
Late the afternoon of 16 September, I watched as an uninjured Marine rapidly searched the rows of wounded , clearly looking for a friend. Suddenly, a large arm reached out and waved. “There you are” said the first Marine as he took the wounded man’s hand and squatted to talk. They held hands quietly until the medevac helicopters arrived.
The wounded Marine had been hit badly; I do not know if he survived. Nor do I know if his friend survived our subsequent encounters with the NVA. What I do know is that the wounded Marine was black and his buddy white. I remember thinking at the time how much better a people we would be if we were all like those two.
Recently, we have been told that the best and brightest did not go to Vietnam, When I heard that, I thought of those two Marines so long ago, the hardships they endured, and their obvious respect for each other. Maybe they were not the brightest. They were the best.
Realizing that there would be no other MedEvacs from Margo that night the last pilot insisted on overloading his aircraft with wounded. Over his objections, the loading was stopped, and the pilot told to launch. He must have been good. If not good, he was lucky. The overloaded CH-46 resembled a giant praying mantis as it struggled into the air, tail down, nose swinging back and forth in a wide arc, as though searching for escape from a trap. Finally, he nursed it a few feet higher, leveled, and began slipping sideways, just above the trees, down the slope that formed Margo’s northern rim. Again, the LZ filled with Marines running north; convinced that the 46 was about to crash. They were moving to assist survivors.
The helicopter disappeared from view behind the trees and, an eternity later, came back in view, this time in full flight , nose-high on a southerly course, jettisoning fuel to lighten the load and clear the ridge to Margo’s east. All movement stopped as everyone in the LZ watched the miracle claw its way over the ridge line taking the wounded to safety.
Quiet settled over Margo. As the troops returned to their positions, the silence was broken by a single “thunk” off to the north. This time there was only one round, but it landed precisely where the MedEvac birds had loaded. It was “Charlie”, saying he knew what had been done and could have stopped it anytime. He also was saying he was a “pro”. We knew that already.
The XXIV Corps Commanding General visited Margo the following morning. His worries about morale evaporated as he watched Marine improving their defensive positions. He then looked toward a large group of wounded waiting to be evacuated. In response to a question, he was told they were routine MedEvacs. Behind them were rows of ponch-covered objects. He looked at them, saying nothing, knowing what they were. Finally, a Marine broke the spell. “The dead go last, sir”.
The Arc Light went in five or six kilometers north of Margo on the afternoon of 16 September. Maybe too much had happened or maybe there was an unusually high number of duds. Regardless, it was unimpressive. Paradoxically, it hurt 2/26 more than it hurt the enemy.
Early on l7 September Golf, Foxtrot, and Hotel Companies returned to the familiar trails, attacking north. Echo Company, having lost nearly 70 Marines in the mortar and infantry attacks, remained behind. The LZ was mortared twice that day but there were few casualties. Margo’s final toll probably will never be known exactly. We evacuated more than 200 dead and wounded. some of whom doubtless died later. Before we left, we filled l8 helicopter external nets with packs, weapons, and other equipment no longer needed.
Eventually, after another long period of torrential rains, the attacking companies reached the high ground, where Golf found a graveyard-I8 graves with markers aligned in rows-near where the mirror had flashed before the mortar attack. They excavated a few to confirm that it was a graveyard. They also traced the extensive writings on the markers and sent them to the rear for translation. The writings turned out to be a history of each of the casualties. We learned that we had gotten the NVA battalion commanding officer and much of his staff. The CO had been a soldier since joining the Viet Minh in the late 1940’s; he was a professional. I think that whoever ordered all of the writing put on the markers did so, at least in part, so that we would not dig up their dead.
We stood by to attack to the west. It never happened. Near the end of September, the BLT moved by helicopter into another one-bird zone, this one in the DMZ just south of the Ben Hai River, nearly 15 kilometers north and east of LZ Margo. In a series of assaults, BLT 2/26 routed an enemy force defending a headquarters complex and artillery positions. During the last assault, Marines of Echo and Hotel companies were treated to the rare sight of North Vietnamese troops fleeing in panic.
The Marines and corpsmen of 2/26 formed a typical grunt battalion. They fought a dirty, unpopular war and they did it well. They never said that they were the best. All they said was that, if they met somebody better, they hoped he was on our side.
In the book The Operators by Michael Hastings there is a quote from Command Sergeant Major Michael Hall comparing General Stan McChrystal to John Paul Vann. John Paul Vann was a former army officer who went to Vietnam as a soldier and stayed on working as a Provincial aid advisor. He was famous for his ability to drive around and live in contested districts (alone) and was a tireless advocate for the Vietnamese people. He was also a compulsive womanizer, an alcoholic, and a shameless self promoter. Remove those negative traits, replace them with a typical all-American Midwest kid raised in a stable two parent household where he developed a strong sense of commitment, a bias for action combined with the ability to thrive while taking calculated risks, and you have Chris Corsten. He was the John Paul Vann of Afghanistan
Our two-decade long involvement in Afghanistan has been a fiasco. Every aspect of our performance had major issues, none more so than the herculean efforts at re-building and rehabilitating the war-torn infrastructure. Yet buried deep inside the legacy of failure are stories of remarkable success. Carter Malkasain described one example of competent development leading directly to local prosperity (briefly) in the book The War Comes to Garmser.
Another example has just been published by my friend Chris Corsten detailing his decade in Afghanistan working both as a soldier and heavily armed humanitarian. The book is 3000 Days in Afghanistan, but I need to reveal something that you will not glean from Chris’s writing. In the world of outside the wire contractors, men (and a few women) who worked in contested districts infested with Taliban, who lived in local compounds, drove local cars, rarely spoke English outside their compound, wore local clothes and lived off the local economy to deliver massive aid projects on time and on budget, Chris Corsten was the best there ever was.
Chris stayed the longest, he had the most impact, he did, by orders of magnitude, the most projects and he was a shura ninja when it came to working through problems with tribal elders. Chris Corsten is a legend – to those of us who knew what accomplished and also to thousands of Afghans who became self-sufficient as hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland became productive again thanks to his irrigation programs.
The book is a clear reflection of Chris and if you know him the two personality traits that stand are conscientious and integrity. Those two traits were combined with an attitude that was the common denominator among all of us working outside the wire; zero tolerance for wasted efforts, make work stupidity, and excuses. Add to this mix the fact that Chris is a modest man who is not prone to exaggeration, routinely attributed all success to his subordinates, and loathes the idea of self-promotion and you have a writer who is going to lay out the facts. Which he does in a manner that is almost business like.
As you get towards the end of this remarkable story Chris lists the spectacular amount of work accomplished during the 2010-2011 surge, and if you know what was going on then in Afghanistan, it is easy to get confused. It seems impossible that Expats (mostly American, British, South African and Australian) were living and working in local Afghan communities while supervising massive irrigation projects in districts where the military was sustaining casualties on a regular basis.
If you don’t know much about Afghanistan, you can read through what Chris accomplished and miss what he accomplished. If you don’t know what was happening in provinces like Khost, Kandahar, Paktia, Kunar, Helmand, Farah, Nangarhar, Herat etc… in 2010 it is hard to appreciate the feat of finishing every project you started with supervision by expats who were out and about in Taliban contested areas daily.
What Chris and his crew proved was aid in contested areas can be delivered effectively, but it has to be done by guys who know what they are doing and have skin in the game. And, at least in Afghanistan, they needed to be armed.
Let me explain the weapons. Our model was if you can’t be safe be hard to kill. The threat to outside the wire contractors took many forms. The biggest was getting kidnapped, the other major problem was we had to store, transport, and distribute large amounts of cash. You are not safe when you are living in a local Afghan compound that contains a safe with over a million dollars in cash. You are not safe when you go to the local branch of the Kabul Bank and withdraw $700,000 for your monthly project payroll. You have to know what you are doing to convert $700,000 in Benjamins into small denomination Afghani’s.
Not all of us carried firearms either – Jeff “Raybo” Radan, a former Marine infantry officer and Ranger School graduate (thus the Raybo call sign), worked a year in the Helmand and never carried a weapon. He did projects in contested towns like Now Zad but being a former Marine he knew how to get a ride on Marine air and thus was able to travel safely. But most of us were armed, and all of us had weapons, including belt fed machine guns (in some provinces), inside our living compounds. Our arming authority came from the Provincial governors and if we ever used our weapons, we were accountable to them as well as the US Embassy.
Chris explains why former, experienced, military men, who have already acquired knowledge of local atmospherics and a solid understanding of local culture, are the best option for staffing aid programs in conflict zones. All the men mentioned in Chris’s book (he uses assumed names) were prior military and all of us had years on the ground before we were able to transition into what I term “Free Range” contracting.
3000 Days in Afghanistan should be required reading at both US AID and the Department of State as they sift through 20 years of lessons learned in Afghanistan. This week a senior USAID executive, who had extensive Afghanistan time, released a paper titled USAID Afghanistan: What Have We Learned. He concludes his assessment with four lessons;
do not try to do everything
stick to proven development principals
flexibility and adaptability are key, and
expect and plan for high levels of oversight.
All four of these lessons are addressed in detail by Chris as he explains how he avoided graft, corruption, security services shake downs, how he dealt (effectively) with theft, and delivered aid that was meaningful while injecting cash directly into local economies. The added benefit of taking Taliban off the battlefield by exchanging a couple months of hard labor for a decent amount of pay was something we discovered early in the program but had not anticipated.
Chris throws no stones as he explains what we were doing and why we felt we should do more. He describes his disappointment at not getting traction with USAID and the State Department and then moves on. The program he was running got plenty of attention in the press at the time. There were NPR radio interviews, 60 minutes segments, multiple magazine articles including this classic account in the Toronto Star about our team in Kandahar. The FRI blog was booming back then as I documented our massive infrastructure projects in Nimroz province. In the end none of that mattered, it turns out being successful where everyone else is failing can be problematic.
As William Hammink admits in his review of USAID in Afghanistan, we threw too much money into a country that could not absorb it. What is now obvious is that Chris Cortsen showed USAID exactly how to do Afghanistan aid. Spend a few years and a few million dollars to get all the irrigation systems back up and running, build a few schools, pave a few roads, bring in engineers with some commercial demo to blast rock and build runways in remote mountain-top towns, and you have done about all that should be done to get the country heading towards self-sufficiency. Then you can leave.
3000 Days in Afghanistan is an easy read about a remarkable guy who sticks to the facts to make a case on how sustainable development in conflict zones should be done. Buried behind the facts and the business-like narrative are the stories that someday will emerge from this program as historians start to comb through the records in the search of what really happened in Afghanistan. They will find plenty about Chris, hopefully telling his story in rich detail. There is a lot there and although Chris may not be seeking recognition for what he accomplished he certainly has earned it.
I started the Apocalypse Not series because I do not trust computer modeling nor do I trust any experts warning of apocalyptic doom based on computer modeling. As Richard Fernandez who writes the Belmont Club blog observed: “My dear old statistics teacher used to say that relying on any model however good but founded on past data was like driving by looking at the rearview mirror; fine as long as the future looked like the past“.
It is now clear the future does not look like the past. I knew a flu virus, that had the same symptomology as the Wuhan flu, swept through the Rio Grande Valley last December/January, Given the reported virulence of the Wuhan strain, it made sense to conclude what had swept the valley was the Wuhan flu. This mild form of Wuhan was no picnic, my wife has never been so sick, for so long, as she was around Christmas.
I went on to note that on March 3rd scientist has identified two strains of the Wuhan virus, one that spreads quickly but is relatively mild, and one that spreads slowly that is dangerous. That explained to me what we experienced last Christmas, but my speculation was met with alarm by my liberal friends (and I have many who I value and respect) who responded with arguments from authority that stressed I was no expert and should not be commenting on topics I do not understand.
But then I remembered I was an expert, one of the few people who has ever deployed ashore off naval shipping into a combat zone to hunt down a microscopic pathogen that was turning into a killer. I mentioned this tongue in cheek, I was a navy corpsman, trained as a advanced medical laboratory technician, sent ashore to obtain and process samples identified by environmental health officers who were the real experts. It is on such thin gruel claims of expertise are often made.
Despite not being a real expert it now seems the rest of the world is catching up to me. This morning USA Today published an article saying there are 8 strains of the Wuhan circulating the globe. Plus the fatality numbers in the USA are not adding up (as I have been pointing out for a month now) with most of our cases being confined to New York City.
Existential crises reveal the character of both our leaders and the people. The governors of Washington State, Michigan, and Nevada have been revealed to be not only incompetent, but cowardly. The Governor of New York and the mayor of New York City have been revealed as opportunistic. They are cooperating with the Trump administration to cover for their gross incompetence in emergency management preparation. It is no coincidence that New York City is getting slammed by the flu, they were completely unprepared.
Our country has unprecedented wealth, leisure, economic freedom, and security because men who are the antithesis of Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo have eradicated every existential threat to the people of the United States. Those two men are directly responsible for the lack of preparation in New York. As Julie Kelly, writing in American Greatness observed;
A public policy researcher in 2015 detailed long waits in New York City emergency rooms. The head of the emergency department for the Mount Sinai hospital system quit in 2018 after less than a year on the job.
“I had to follow my moral compass and leave and decide this is not an organization that cares for patients,” Dr. Eric Barton told the New York Post.
Last year, city nurses threatened to strike due to overcrowding at three major hospital systems. “Nurse Anthony Ciampa said he had to choose recently between feeding an elderly patient at New York Presbyterian and treating several acutely ill patients because there weren’t enough other nurses on duty,” according to a March 2019 report in the Daily News.
And the outcry about ventilators? State officials were informed several years ago that the stockpile of ventilators was woefully inadequate to handle a severe pandemic. But instead of preparing for a looming crisis and buying 16,000 ventilators, the state’s health commissioner formed a task force to develop a system to ration the life-saving equipment. The task force “came up with rules that will be imposed when ventilators run short,” the New York Post reported last week.
I expect gross incompetence from big city governments and democratic governors. They have been focused for years on ramming through their progressive agenda while painting all opponents as virulent racists or stupid hicks who don’t understand the need to eviscerate our traditional relationship with governmental organizations. What is alarming to me is the new intolerance of dissent on display in the chattering classes. As Brandon O’Neil observed;
…the implacable rage against anyone who deviates from the Covid-19 script and asks if shutting down society really is the right thing to do. Like medieval scolds, they brand such people dangerous, insane, a virus, accessories to manslaughter. ‘Shut them down!’, they cry, thinking they are signalling their concern for the public’s health when really they are advertising their profound contempt for freedom of thought and critical debate.
We do not know how badly the over-reaction to this virus will hurt our economy. We do not know how many citizens will be financially ruined by the heavy-handed response. What we can safely assume is that measures to control the public (smart phone tracking for one) will be part of our lives from this day forward. That is not good.
What is also not good is our crappy main stream media. Here is the perfect example of how crappy they can be (hat tip to the Mark Margolis at PJ media):
Here are the top six countries by confirmed cases (based on the case numbers from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University as of 2:30 pm ET March 27) in descending order:
Now, here are the top six countries by confirmed cases per capita (based on population numbers from the CIA World Fact Book):
The United States’ confirmed cases are the lowest of the top six countries affected by the virus. Yet the media and the shitbird democrats want you to believe we are far behind the curve because Orange Man Bad. This nightmare will end sooner than you think. When it does, the public officials who displayed gross incompetence, who used this crisis for personal gain, and who refused to work with the federal government because Orange Man Bad, should be voted out of office. The politicians who loaded the stimulus bill with traditional DC pork should become social pariahs.
The MSM is trying to make you believe that the coronavirus in the United States is spiraling out of control. They want you (you dumbasses) to understand Orange Man Bad when the majority of us think he’s doing a good job. But the most ergregious crime of this crisis is the destruction of our economy. For that the press, the alarmist governors, and the so-called “experts” who continue to cry wolf in the face of solid evidence they are wrong should pay a steep price.
No matter what happens de Blasio, Schumer, Pelosi and that strange looking woman who is now the governor of Michigan (wasn’t she a he before and a olympic decathlon winner)? will do fine because they have no skin in the game. Destroying our economy will cause no disruption in their lives, they don’t stand in line for toilet paper, they know there will always be a respirator and hospital bed for them, they will always get a paycheck, and they will always have well compensated employment.
This crisis should spell the end of virtue signaling politicians. As this lockdown continues we shall see what the consequences are for shills who ruined millions of American families for their own vanity. If this lasts for months, without the massive numbers of deaths we are being told are inevitable; there will be blood.
The first rule in medicine is to do no harm, but our response to the Wuhan Corona Virus pandemic is doing nothing but harm.
If COVID-19 is as virulent and easily transmittable as the models predict it to be it would have already manifested in a massive health emergency. If it were an aerosol the first sign would have been a high infection rate in airline crews because they spent the most time, in a confined place, with infected people.
My earlier speculation centered on a nasty flu bug that burned through the Rio Grande Valley last December. When it was discovered there are 2 strains of the Wuhan virus, one lethal (L strain) and one not lethal (the S strain) I thought the S strain had arrived first based on the assumption it was a highly contagious disease passed through aerosols.
The 2 strain 1 virus theory appears to be incorrect because the assumption the virus is transmittable via aerosol is not correct. . The most recent data on the bug indicates you need to come in contact with a obviously sick person to catch it.
Yesterday a long, detailed article from Aaron Ginn, a Silicon Valley technologist who is published widely in Tech journals, analyzed the current data for COVID-19. He published in his findings in Medium but his post has been removed and is now “under investigation or was found in violation of the Medium Rules”.
Aaron Ginn applied his analytical skills to the most current data on COVID-19 and what he found was good news. The reason his article is under review was his pointed criticism that the current containment steps are unnecessary. Interesting facts like this caught my eye:
Available modeling data indicate that early, short to medium closures do not impact the epi curve of COVID-19 or available health care measures (e.g., hospitalizations). There may be some impact of much longer closures (8 weeks, 20 weeks) further into community spread, but that modeling also shows that other mitigation efforts (e.g., handwashing, home isolation) have more impact on both spread of disease and health care measures. In other countries, those places who closed school (e.g., Hong Kong) have not had more success in reducing spread than those that did not (e.g., Singapore).
It appears social distancing, travel restrictions, closing schools and businesses etc… will have no impact of the spread of this disease. The CDC guidelines clearly indicate that. The best and only defense is hygiene – hand washing and cleaning of surfaces infected people have touched.
Because the article was removed I’m going to post it below so you can decide for yourself if he has made a convincing argument. The current public health measures in place have little impact on my daily routine, my gym is closed and that’s it. But if I were sitting at home watching my business going under, watching my job go away? And on top of that worried about a killer virus; I would want to know what the data said.
What alarms me also alarms Mr. Ginn; and I’ll let him explain. I put the ending of his piece first, followed by his data and argument. I’ll let you decide if he has made a solid case.
These days are precarious as Governors float the idea of martial law for not following “social distancing”, yet violating those same rules in their press conferences. Remember this tone is for a virus that has impacted 0.004% of our population. Imagine if this was a truly existential threat to our Republic.
The COVID-19 hysteria is pushing aside our protections as individual citizens and permanently harming our free, tolerant, open civil society. Data is data. Facts are facts. We should be focused on resolving COVID-19 with continued testing, measuring, and be vigilant about protecting those with underlying conditions and the elderly from exposure. We are blessed in one way, there is an election in November. Never forget what happened and vote.
You may ask yourself. Who is this guy? Who is this author? I’m a nobody. That is also the point. The average American feels utterly powerless right now. I’m an individual American who sees his community and loved ones being decimated without given a choice, without empathy, and while the media cheers on with high ratings.
When this is all over, look for massive confirmation bias and pyrrhic celebration by elites. There will be vain cheering in the halls of power as Main Street sits in pieces. Expect no apology, that would be political suicide. Rather, expect to be given a Jedi mind trick of “I’m the government and I helped.”
The health of the State will be even stronger with more Americans dependent on welfare, another trillion stimulus filled with pork for powerful friends, and a bailout for companies that charged us $200 change fees for nearly a decade. Washington DC will be fine. New York will still have all of the money in the world. Our communities will be left with nothing but a shadow of the longest bull market in the history of our country.
Total cases are the wrong metric
A critical question to ask yourself when you first look at a data set is, “What is our metric for success?”.
Let’s start at the top. How is it possible that more than 20% of Americans believe they will catch COVID-19? Here’s how. Vanity metrics — a single data point with no context. Wouldn’t this picture scare you?
Look at all of those large red scary circles!
These images come from the now infamous John Hopkins COVID-19 tracking map. What started as a data transparency effort has now molded into an unintentional tool for hysteria and panic.
An important question to ask yourself is what do these bubbles actually mean? Each bubble represents the total number of COVID-19 cases per country. The situation looks serious, yet we know that this virus is over four months old, so how many of these cases are active?
Immediately, we now see that just under half of those terrifying red bubbles aren’t relevant or actionable. The total number of cases isn’t illustrative for what we should do now. This is a single vanity data point with no context; it isn’t information or knowledge. To know how to respond, we need more numbers to tell a story and to paint the full picture. As a metaphor, the daily revenue of a business doesn’t tell you a whole lot about profitability, capital structure, or overhead. The same goes for the total number of cases. The data isn’t actionable. We need to look at ratios and percentages to tell us what to do next — conversion rate, growth rate, and severity.
Time lapsing new cases gives us perspective
Breaking down each country by the date of the first infection helps us track the growth and impact of the virus. We can see how total cases are growing against a consistent time scale.
Here are new cases time lapsed by country and date of first 100 total cases.
Here is a better picture of US confirmed case daily growth.
The United States is tracking with European nations with doubling cases every three days or so. As we measure and test more Americans, this will continue to grow. Our time-lapse growth is lower than China, but not as good as South Korea, Japan, Singapore, or Taiwan. All are considered models of how to beat COVID-19. The United States is performing average, not great, compared to the other modern countries by this metric.
Still, there is a massive blindspot with this type of graph. None of these charts are weighted on a per-capita basis. It treats every country as a single entity, as we will see this fails to tell us what is going on in several aspects.
On a per-capita basis, we shouldn’t be panicking
Every country has a different population size which skews aggregate and cumulative case comparisons. By controlling for population, you can properly weigh the number of cases in the context of the local population size. Viruses don’t acknowledge our human borders. The US population is 5.5X greater than Italy, 6X larger than South Korea, and 25% the size of China. Comparing the US total number of cases in absolute terms is rather silly.
Rank ordering based on the total number of cases shows that the US on a per-capita basis is significantly lower than the top six nations by case volume. On a 1 million citizen per-capita basis, the US moves to above mid-pack of all countries and rising, with similar case volume as Singapore (385 cases), Cyprus (75 cases), and United Kingdom(3,983 cases). This is data as of March 20th, 2020.
Here is a visualization of a similar per-capita analysis.
But total cases even on a per-capita basis will always be a losing metric. The denominator (total population) is more or less fixed. We aren’t having babies at the pace of viral growth. Per-capita won’t explain how fast the virus is moving and if it is truly “exponential”.
COVID-19 is spreading, but probably not accelerating
Growth rates are tricky to track over time. Smaller numbers are easier to move than larger numbers. As an example, GDP growth of 3% for the US means billions of dollars while 3% for Bermuda means millions. Generally, growth rates decline over time, but the nominal increase may still be significant. This holds true of daily confirmed case increases. Daily growth rates declined over time across all countries regardless of particular policy solutions, such as shutting the borders or social distancing.
The daily growth data across the world is a little noisy. Weighing daily growth of confirmed cases by a relative daily growth factor cleans up the picture, more than 1 is increasing and below 1 is declining. For all of March, the world has hovered around 1.1. This translates to an average daily growth rate of 10%, with ups and downs on a daily basis. This isn’t great, but it is good news as COVID-19 most likely isn’t increasing in virality. The growth rate of the growth rate is approximately 10%; however, the data is quite noisy. With inconsistent country-to-country reporting and what qualifies as a confirmed case, the more likely explanation is that we are increasing our measurement, but the virus hasn’t increased in viral capability. Recommended containment and prevention strategies are still quite effective at stopping the spread.
Cases globally are increasing (it is a virus after all!), but beware of believing metrics designed to intentionally scare like “cases doubling”. These are typically small numbers over small numbers and sliced on a per-country basis. Globally, COVID-19’s growth rate is rather steady. Remember, viruses ignore our national boundaries.
Viruses though don’t grow infinitely forever and forever. As with most things in nature, viruses follow a common pattern — a bell curve.
Watch the Bell Curve
As COVID-19 spreads and declines (which it will decline despite what the media tells you), every country will follow a similar pattern. The following is a more detailed graph of S. Korea’s successful defeat of COVID-19 compared also to China with thousands of more cases and deaths. It is a bell curve:
Here is a more detailed graph of S. Korea graphed against the total number of cases.
Here is a graph from Italy showing a bell curve in symptom onset and number of cases, which may point to the beginning of the end for Italy —
Bell curves are the dominant trait of outbreaks. A virus doesn’t grow linearly or exponentially forever (if assuming reasonable assumptions about time). It accelerates, plateaus, and then declines. Whether via environmental factors or our own efforts, viruses accelerate and quickly decline. This fact of nature is represented in Farr’s law. CDC’s recommendation of “bend the curve” or “flatten the curve” reflects this natural reality.
It is important to note that in both scenarios, the total number of COVID-19 cases will be similar. The primary difference is the length of time. “Flattening the curve”’s focus is to minimize a shock to the healthcare system which can increase fatalities due to capacity constraints, as seen in Italy and Wuhan, China. In the long-term, it isn’t pure “infection prevention”, rather it prioritizes lower healthcare utilization. Unfortunately, “flattening the curve” doesn’t include other downsides and costs of execution.
Both the CDC and WHO are optimizing for healthcare utilization, while ignoring the economic shock to our system. Both organizations assume you are going to get infected, eventually, and it won’t be that bad.
A low probability of catching COVID-19
The World Health Organization (“WHO”) released a study on how China responded to COVID-19. Currently, this study is one of the most exhaustive pieces published on how the virus spreads.
The results of their research show that COVID-19 doesn’t spread as easily as we first thought or the media had us believe (remember people abandoned their dogs out of fear of getting infected). According to their report if you come in contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 you have a 1–5% chance of catching it as well. The variability is large because the infection is based on the type of contact and how long.
The majority of viral infections come from prolonged exposures in confined spaces with other infected individuals. Person-to-person and surface contact is by far the most common cause. From the WHO report, “When a cluster of several infected people occurred in China, it was most often (78–85%) caused by an infection within the family by droplets and other carriers of infection in close contact with an infected person.
A growing body of evidence indicates that COVID-19 transmission is facilitated in confined settings; for example, a large cluster (634 confirmed cases) of COVID-19 secondary infections occurred aboard a cruise ship in Japan, representing about one fifth of the persons aboard who were tested for the virus. This finding indicates the high transmissibility of COVID-19 in enclosed spaces
Dr. Paul Auwaerter, the Clinical Director for the Division of Infectious Diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine echoes this finding,
“If you have a COVID-19 patient in your household, your risk of developing the infection is about 10%….If you were casually exposed to the virus in the workplace (e.g., you were not locked up in conference room for six hours with someone who was infected [like a hospital]), your chance of infection is about 0.5%”
According to Dr. Auwaerter, these transmission rates are very similar to the seasonal flu.
Air-based transmission or untraceable community spread is very unlikely. According to WHO’s COVID-19 lead Maria Van Kerkhove, true community based spreading is very rare. The data from China shows that community-based spread was only a very small handful of cases. “This virus is not circulating in the community, even in the highest incidence areas across China,” Van Kerkhove said.
“Transmission by fine aerosols in the air over long distances is not one of the main causes of spread. Most of the 2,055 infected hospital workers were either infected at home or in the early phase of the outbreak in Wuhan when hospital safeguards were not raised yet,” she said.
True community spread involves transmission where people get infected in public spaces and there is no way to trace back the source of infection. WHO believes that is not what the Chinese data shows. If community spread was super common, it wouldn’t be possible to reduce the new cases through “social distancing”.
“We have never seen before a respiratory pathogen that’s capable of community transmission but at the same time which can also be contained with the right measures. If this was an influenza epidemic, we would have expected to see widespread community transmission across the globe by now and efforts to slow it down or contain it would not be feasible,” said Tedros Adhanom, Director-General of WHO.
An author of a working paper from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University said, “The current scientific consensus is that most transmission via respiratory secretions happens in the form of large respiratory droplets … rather than small aerosols. Droplets, fortunately, are heavy enough that they don’t travel very far and instead fall from the air after traveling only a few feet.”
The media was put into a frenzy when the above authors released their study on COVID-19’s ability to survive in the air. The study did find the virus could survive in the air for a couple of hours; however, this study was designed as academic exercise rather than a real-world test. This study put COVID-19 into a spray bottle to “mist” it into the air. I don’t know anyone who coughs in mist form and it is unclear if the viral load was large enough to infect another individual. As one doctor, who wants to remain anonymous, told me, “Corona doesn’t have wings”.
To summarize, China, Singapore, and South Korea’s containment efforts worked because community-based and airborne transmission aren’t common. The most common form of transmission is person-to-person or surface-based.
Common transmission surfaces
COVID-19’s ability to live for a long period of time is limited on most surfaces and it is quite easy to kill with typical household cleaners, just like the normal flu.
COVID-19 can be detected on copper after 4 hours and 24 hours on cardboard.
COVID-19 survived best on plastic and stainless steel, remaining viable for up to 72 hours
COVID-19 is very vulnerable to UV light and heat.
Presence doesn’t mean infectious. The viral concentration falls significantly over time. The virus showed a half-life of about 0.8 hours on copper, 3.46 hours on cardboard, 5.6 hours on steel and 6.8 hours on plastic.
According to Dylan Morris, one of the authors, “We do not know how much virus is actually needed to infect a human being with high probability, nor how easily the virus is transferred from the cardboard to one’s hand when touching a package”
According to Dr. Auwaerter, “It’s thought that this virus can survive on surfaces such as hands, hard surfaces, and fabrics. Preliminary data indicates up to 72 hours on hard surfaces like steel and plastic, and up to 12 hours on fabric.”
COVID-19 will likely “burn off” in the summer
Due to COVID-19’s sensitivity to UV light and heat (just like the normal influenza virus), it is very likely that it will “burn off” as humidity increases and temperatures rise.
Released on March 10th, one study mapped COVID-19 virality capability by high temperature and high humidity. It found that both significantly reduced the ability of the virus to spread from person-to-person. From the study,
“This result is consistent with the fact that the high temperature and high humidity significantly reduce the transmission of influenza. It indicates that the arrival of summer and rainy season in the northern hemisphere can effectively reduce the transmission of the COVID-19.”
The University of Maryland mapped severe COVID-19 outbreaks with local weather patterns around the world, from the US to China. They found that the virus thrives in a certain temperature and humidity channel. “The researchers found that all cities experiencing significant outbreaks of COVID-19 have very similar winter climates with an average temperature of 41 to 52 degrees Fahrenheit, an average humidity level of 47% to 79% with a narrow east-west distribution along the same 30–50 N” latitude”, said the University of Maryland.
“Based on what we have documented so far, it appears that the virus has a harder time spreading between people in warmer, tropical climates,” said study leader Mohammad Sajadi, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine in the UMSOM, physician-scientist at the Institute of Human Virology and a member of GVN.
In the image below, the zone at risk for a significant community spread in the near-term includes land areas within the green bands.
As of right now reported cases as a function of latitude, about one-third of the world’s population is below 22.5°N yet has not experienced meaningfully high levels of infections.
About 95% of all infections in a latitude band encompassing 55% of the world’s population, which includes a large portion of America.
Infections as a function of temperature and humidity: 90% still in the blue zone
Children and Teens aren’t at risk
It’s already well established that the young aren’t particularly vulnerable. In fact, there isn’t a single death reported below the age of 10 in the world and most children who test positive don’t show symptoms. As well, infection rates are lower for individuals below the age of 19, which is similar to SARS and MERS (COVID-19’s sister viruses).
According to the WHO’s COVID-19 mission in China, only 8.1% of cases were 20-somethings, 1.2% were teens, and 0.9% were 9 or younger. As of the study date February 20th, 78% of the cases reported were ages 30 to 69. The WHO hypothesizes this is for a biological reason and isn’t related to lifestyle or exposure.
“Even when we looked at households, we did not find a single example of a child bringing the infection into the household and transmitting to the parents. It was the other way around. And the children tend to have a mild disease,” said Van Kerkhove.
According to a WSJ article, children have a near-zero chance of becoming ill. They are more likely to get normal flu than COVID-19.
A World Health Organization report on China concluded that cases of Covid-19 in children were “relatively rare and mild.” Among cases in people under age 19, only 2.5% developed severe disease while 0.2% developed critical disease. Among nearly 6,300 Covid-19 cases reported by the Korea Centers for Disease Control & Prevention on March 8, there were no reported deaths in anyone under 30. Only 0.7% of infections were in children under 9 and 4.6% of cases were in those ages 10 to 19 years old
Only 2% of the patients in a review of nearly 45,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases in China were children, and there were no reported deaths in children under 10, according to a study published in JAMA last month. (In contrast, there have been 136 pediatric deaths from influenza in the U.S. this flu season.)
About 8% of cases were in people in their 20s. Those 10 to 19 years old accounted for 1% of cases and those under 10 also accounted for only 1%.
However even if children and teens are not suffering severe symptoms themselves, they may “shed” large amounts of virus and may do so for many days, says James Campbell, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Children had a virus in their secretions for six to 22 days or an average of 12 days. “Shedding virus doesn’t always mean you’re able to transmit the virus”, he notes. It is still important to consider that prolonged shedding of high viral loads from children is still a risky combination within the home since the majority of transmission occurs within a home-like confined environment.
A strong, but unknown viral effect
While the true viral capacity is unknown at this moment, it is theorized that COVID-19 is more than the seasonal flu but less than other viruses. The average number of people to which a single infected person will transmit the virus, or Ro, range from as low as 1.5 to a high of 3.0
“Every coronavirus patient in China infected on average 2.2 people a day — spelling exponential growth that can only lead to disaster. But then it started dropping, and the number of new daily infections is now close to zero.” He compared it to interest rates again: “even if the interest rate keeps dropping, you still make money. The sum you invested does not lessen, it just grows more slowly. When discussing diseases, it frightens people a lot because they keep hearing about new cases every day. But the fact that the infection rate is slowing down means the end of the pandemic is near.”
What about asymptomatic spread?
The majority of cases see symptoms within a few days, not two weeks as originally believed.
On true asymptomatic spread, the data is still unclear but increasingly unlikely. Two studies point to a low infection rate from pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals. One study said 10% of infections come from people who don’t show symptoms yet. Another WHO study reported 1.2% of confirmed cases were truly asymptomatic. Several studies confirming asymptotic spread have ended up disproven. It is important to note there is a difference between “never showing symptoms” and “pre-symptomatic” and the media is promoting an unproven narrative. Almost all people end up in the latter camp within five days, almost never the former. It is very unlikely for individuals with COVID-19 to never show symptoms. WHO and CDC claim that asymptomatic spread isn’t a concern and quite rare.
Iceland is leading the globe in testing its entire population of ~300,000 for asymptomatic spread, not just those that show symptoms. They randomly tested 1,800 citizens who don’t show symptoms and, as far as they knew, were not exposed to positive individuals. Of this sample, only 19 tested positive for COVID-19, or 1.1% of the sample.
Obviously, this type of viral spread is the most concerning; however based on the level of media attention and the global size of positive infections, it seems more probable we keep looking for a COVID-19 viral trait that doesn’t exist.
Another way of looking at virality and asymptotic spread is the number of flight attendants, airport staff, or pilots that have tested positive for COVID-19. Out of the thousands of flights since November 2019, only a handful of airport and airline staff have tested positive (such as AA pilot, some BA staff, and several TSA employees).
Outside of medical and hospital staff, these individuals are in greatest contact with infected persons in confined spaces. Despite having no protective gear and most likely these people were asymptomatic, airline and airport staff aren’t likely to catch COVID-19 compared to the rest of the population. Those employed in the travel sector are infected at a lower rate than the general population or healthcare workers.
“We still believe, looking at the data, that the force of infection here, the major driver, is people who are symptomatic, unwell, and transmitting to others along the human-to-human route,” Dr. Mike Ryan of WHO Emergencies Program.
If the symptoms are so close to other less fatal coronaviruses, what is the positivity rate of those tested?
93% of people who think they are positive aren’t
Looking at the success in S. Korea and Singapore, the important tool in our war chest is measurement. If we are concerned about the general non-infected population, what is the probability those who show symptoms actually test positive? What is the chance that the cough from your neighbor is COVID-19? This “conversion rate” will show whether or not you have a cold (another coronavirus) or are heading into isolation for two weeks. Global data shows that ~95% of people who are tested aren’t positive. The positivity rate varies by country.
UK: 7,132 concluded tests, of which 13 positive (0.2% positivity rate).
UK: 48,492 tests, of which 1,950 (4.0% positivity rate)
Italy: 9,462 tests, of which 470 positive (at least 5.0% positivity rate).
Italy: 3,300 tests, of which 99 positive (3.0% positivity rate)
Iceland: 3,787 tests, of which 218 positive (5.7% positive rate)
France: 762 tests, of which 17 positive, 179 awaiting results (at least 2.2% positivity rate).
Austria: 321 tests, of which 2 positive, awaiting results: unknown (at least 0.6% positivity rate).
South Korea: 66,652 tests with 1766 positives 25,568 awaiting results (4.3% positivity rate).
United States: 445 concluded tests, of which 14 positive (3.1% positivity rate).
In the US, drive-thru testing facilities are being deployed around the nation. Gov. Cuomo of NY released initial data from their drive-thru testing. Out of the 600~ that was tested in a single day, ~7% were positive. Tested individuals actively show symptoms and present a doctor’s note. This result is similar to public tracking on US nationwide positivity rate.
Last week, the US was significantly behind in testing, near the bottom of all countries worldwide. As of March 20th, a week later, the US is much closer to other G8 and European countries, but there is a long way to go.
Based on the initial results and the results from other countries, the total number of positive COVID-19 cases will increase as testing increases, but the fatality rate will continue to fall and the severity case mix will fall.
In general, the size of the US population infected with COVID-19 will be much smaller than originally estimated as most symptomatic individuals aren’t positive. 93% — 99% have other conditions.
Globally, the US has a long way to go to catch up in testing. As testing expands, the total number of cases will increase, but the mild to severe case ratio will decline dramatically.
1% of cases will be severe
Looking at the whole funnel from top to bottom, ~1% of everyone who is tested for COVID-19 with the US will have a severe case that will require a hospital visit or long-term admission.
Globally, 80–85% of all cases are mild. These will not require a hospital visit and home-based treatment/ no treatment is effective.
As of mid-March, the US has a significantly lower case severity rate than other countries. Our current severe caseload is similar to South Korea. This data has been spotty in the past; however, lower severity is reflected in the US COVID-19 fatality rates (addressed later).
For context, this year’s flu season has led to at least 17 million medical visits and 370,000 hospitalizations (0.1%) out of 30–50 million infections. Recalling that only comparing aggregate total cases isn’t helpful, breaking down active cases on a per-capita basis paints a different picture on severity. This is data as of March 20th, 2020.
Declining fatality rate
As the US continues to expand testing, the case fatality rate will decline over the next few weeks. There is little doubt that serious and fatal cases of COVID-19 are being properly recorded. What is unclear is the total size of mild cases. WHO originally estimated a case fatality rate of 4% at the beginning of the outbreak but revised estimates downward 2.3% — 3% for all age groups. CDC estimates 0.5% — 3%, however stresses that closer to 1% is more probable. Dr. Paul Auwaerter estimated 0.5% — 2%, leaning towards the lower end. A paper released on March 19th analyzed a wider data set from China and lowered the fatality rate to 1.4%. This won’t be clear for the US until we see the broader population that is positive but with mild cases. With little doubt, the fatality rate and severity rate will decline as more people are tested and more mild cases are counted.
Higher fatality rates in China, Iran, and Italy are more likely associated with a sudden shock to the healthcare system unable to address demands and doesn’t accurately reflect viral fatality rates. As COVID-19 spread throughout China, the fatality rate drastically fell outside of Hubei. This was attributed to the outbreak slowing spreading to several provinces with low infection rates.
John P.A. Ioannidis is professor of medicine, of epidemiology and population health, of biomedical data science, and of statistics at Stanford University and co-director of Stanford’s Meta-Research Innovation Center recently wrote about fatality rates and how our current instrumentation is leading to faulty policy solutions:
“The one situation where an entire, closed population was tested was the Diamond Princess cruise ship and its quarantine passengers. The case fatality rate there was 1.0%, but this was a largely elderly population, in which the death rate from Covid-19 is much higher.
Projecting the Diamond Princess mortality rate onto the age structure of the U.S. population, the death rate among people infected with Covid-19 would be 0.125%. But since this estimate is based on extremely thin data — there were just seven deaths among the 700 infected passengers and crew — the real death rate could stretch from five times lower (0.025%) to five times higher (0.625%). It is also possible that some of the passengers who were infected might die later, and that tourists may have different frequencies of chronic diseases — a risk factor for worse outcomes with SARS-CoV-2 infection — than the general population. Adding these extra sources of uncertainty…”
“Reasonable estimates for the case fatality ratio in the general U.S. population vary from 0.05% to 1%.”
Looking at the US fatality, the fatality rate is drastically declining as the number of cases increases, halving every four or five days. The fatality rate will eventually level off and plateau as the US case-mix becomes apparent.
4.06% March 8 (22 deaths of 541 cases)
3.69% March 9 (26 of 704)
3.01% March 10 (30 of 994)
2.95% March 11 (38 of 1,295)
2.52% March 12 (42 of 1,695)
2.27% March 13 (49 of 2,247)
1.93% March 14 (57 of 2,954)
1.84% March 15 (68 of 3,680)
1.90% March 16 (86 of 4,503)
1.76% March 17 (109 of 6,196)
1.66% March 18 (150 of 9,003)
1.51% March 19th (208 of 13,789)
1.32% March 20th (256 of 19,383)
Mapped against other countries, our fatality rate and case-mix are following a similar pattern to South Korea which is a good sign, a supposed model of how to manage COVID-19.
Here are deaths weighted by the total number of cases as of March 20th, 2020. Ranked by the total number of cases, our death rate is closer to South Korea’s than Spain’s or Italy’s.
The initial higher fatality rate for the US is trending much lower than originally estimated. A study of about half deaths within the US (154 of 264), almost all fit a similar demographic profile as the other global ~11,000 fatalities.
Another analysis by Nature, comparing the fatality rate (since revised down) and infectious rate of COVID-19 to other illnesses. COVID-19 is now within range of its less potent sister coronaviruses.
As the global health community continues to gather and report data, the claim that “COVID-19 isn’t just like the flu” (though still severe) is looking less credible as fatality rates continue to decline and measuring of mild cases increases.
It is important to consider case-mix when looking at fatality rates. The fatality rate is significantly higher for patients with an underlying condition.
Comparing case-mix across countries with a wide range of fatality (China and Italy) and those with low fatality rates (S. Korea) reveals a stark difference in age; therefore, underlying conditions also vary significantly across countries. These two factors contribute the most to a country’s fatality rate.
Divided by most at risk and low risk, Italy had significantly more cases of high at-risk patients than Germany or Korea
Based on an initial CDC study of 2,449 COVID-19 cases (almost half of current US cases have missing demographic data), the United States case-mix looks more like S. Korea and Germany rather than China or Italy. Approximately 69% of COVID-19 cases are in the lower at-risk population of under 65, while 31% are older than 65 and in the higher-risk population. This suggests the US will experience a declining fatality rate; however, the US has over 100 million adults with underlying and chronic illnesses that will negatively impact our fatality rate.
An older population skew within the infected population explains most of the disparity in fatality rates between high and low countries. According to a study of the fatalities of COVID-19 cases in Italy, 99% of all deaths had an underlying pathology. Only 0.8% had no underlying condition.
Most of those infected in Italy were over the age of 60, but the median age of a fatality was 80. All of Italy’s fatality under the age of 40 were males with serious pre-existing medical conditions.
This doesn’t factor in a wide variance in healthcare capacity, such as hospital beds per 1,000 citizens which could affect health outcomes; however, this doesn’t seem to be highly correlated with fatality rates at this moment.
S. Korea — 11.5
Germany — 8.3
China — 4.2
Italy — 3.4
United States — 2.9
Singapore — 2.4
So what should we do?
The first rule of medicine is to do no harm.
Local governments and politicians are inflicting massive harm and disruption with little evidence to support their draconian edicts. Every local government is in a mimetic race to one-up each other in authoritarian city ordinances to show us who has more “abundance of caution”. Politicians are competing, not on more evidence or more COVID-19 cures but more caution. As unemployment rises and families feel unbearably burdened already, they feel pressure to “fix” the situation they created with even more radical and “creative” policy solutions. This only creates more problems and an even larger snowball effect. The first place to start is to stop killing the patient and focus on what works.
Start with basic hygiene
The most effective means to reduce spread is basic hygiene. Most American’s don’t wash their hands enough and aren’t aware of how to actually wash your hands. Masks aren’t particularly effective if you touch your eyes with infected hands. Ask businesses and public places to freely distribute disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer to the customers and patrons. If you get sick or feel sick, stay home. These are basic rules for preventing illness that doesn’t require trillions of dollars.
The best examples of defeating COVID-19 requires lots of data. We are very behind in measuring our population and the impact of the virus but this has turned a corner the last few days. The swift change in direction should be applauded. Private companies are quickly developing and deploying tests, much faster than CDC could ever imagine. The inclusion of private businesses in developing solutions is creative and admirable. Data will calm nerves and allow us to utilize more evidence in our strategy. Once we have proper measurement implemented (the ability to test hundreds every day in a given metro), let’s add even more data into that funnel — reopen public life.
Taiwan is held up as a model for its approach. They embraced both data, tracking, free movement of people, evidence-based prevention, and focused their energy on those most vulnerable — preexisting conditions and those over the age of 65. Here are some of the steps they took:
QR code scanning and online reporting of each person’s travel history
Health symptoms were used to classify traveler infectious risks based on flight origin and travel history in the past 14 days
People with low risk were sent a health declaration border pass via SMS to their phones for faster immigration clearance
Those with higher risk were quarantined at home and tracked through their mobile phone to ensure that they remained there during the incubation period
Taiwan also proactively seeks out patients with severe respiratory symptoms (based on information from a national health database) to see who had tested negative for influenza so that they could be retested for COVID-19
Available modeling data indicate that early, short to medium closures do not impact the epi curve of COVID-19 or available health care measures (e.g., hospitalizations). There may be some impact of much longer closures (8 weeks, 20 weeks) further into community spread, but that modeling also shows that other mitigation efforts (e.g., handwashing, home isolation) have more impact on both spread of disease and health care measures. In other countries, those places who closed school (e.g., Hong Kong) have not had more success in reducing spread than those that did not (e.g., Singapore).
Based on transmission evidence children are more likely to catch COVID-19 in the home than at school. As well, they are more likely to expose older vulnerable adults as multi-generational homes are more common. As well, the school provides a single point of testing a large population for a possible infection in the home to prevent community spread.
Open up public spaces
With such little evidence of prolific community spread and our guiding healthcare institutions reporting the same results, shuttering the local economy is a distraction and arbitrary with limited accretive gain outside of greatly annoying millions and bankrupting hundreds of businesses. The data is overwhelming at this point that community-based spread and airborne transmission is not a threat. We don’t have significant examples of spreading through restaurants or gyms. When you consider the environment COVID-19 prefers, isolating every family in their home is a perfect situation for infection and transmission among other family members. Evidence from South Korea and Singapore shows that it is completely possible and preferred to continue on with life while making accommodations that are data-driven, such as social distancing and regular temperature checks.
Support business and productivity
The data shows that the overwhelming majority of the working population will not be personally impacted, both individually or their children. This is an unnecessary burden that is distracting resources and energy away from those who need it the most. By preventing Americans from being productive and specializing at what they do best (their vocation), we are pulling resources towards unproductive tasks and damaging the economy. We will need money for this fight.
At this rate, we will spend more money on “shelter-in-place” than if we completely rebuilt our acute care and emergency capacity.
Americans won’t have the freedom to go help those who get sick, volunteer their time at a hospital, or give generously to a charity. Instead, big government came barrelling in like a bull in a china shop claiming they could solve COVID-19. The same government that continued to not test incoming passengers from Europe and who couldn’t manufacture enough test kits with two months’ notice.
Let Americans be free to be a part of the solution, calling us to a higher civic duty to help those most in need and protect the vulnerable. Not sitting in isolation like losers.
People fear what the government will do, not an infection
In CDC’s worst-case scenario, CDC expects more than 150–200 million infections within the US. This estimate is hundreds of times bigger than China’s infection rate (30% of our population compared to 0.006% in China). Does that really sound plausible to you? China has a sub-par healthcare system, attempted to suppress the news about COVID-19 early on, a lack of transparency, an authoritarian government, and millions of Chinese traveling for the Lunar Festival at the height of the outbreak. In the US, we have a significant lead time, several therapies proving successful, transparency, a top tier healthcare system, a democratic government, and media providing ample accountability.
None of the countries the global health authorities admire for their approach issued “shelter-in-place” orders, rather they used data, measurement,and promoted common sense self-hygiene.
Does stopping air travel have a greater impact than closing all restaurants? Does closing schools reduce the infection rate by 10%? Not one policymaker has offered evidence of any of these approaches. Typically, the argument given is “out of an abundance of caution”. I didn’t know there was such a law. Let’s be frank, these acts are emotionally driven by fear, not evidence-based thinking in the process of destroying people’s lives overnight. While all of these decisions are made by elites isolated in their castles of power and ego, the shock is utterly devastating Main Street.
A friend who runs a gym will run out of cash in two weeks. A friend who is a pastor let go of half of his staff as donations fell by 60%. A waitress at my favorite breakfast place told me her family will have no income in a few days as they force the closure of restaurants. While political elites twiddle their thumbs with models and projections based on faulty assumptions, people’s lives are being destroyed with Marxian vigor. The best compromise elites can come up with is $2,000.
Does it make more sense for us to pay a tax to expand medical capacity quickly or pay the cost to our whole nation of a recession?Take the example of closing schools which will easily cost our economy $50 billion. For that single unanimous totalitarian act, we could have built 50 hospitals with 500+ beds per hospital.
Eliminate arcane certificate of need and expand acute medical capacity to support possible higher healthcare utilization this season.
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 flight from China on the 31st of January. From the time this pathogen surfaced in 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, as I recall, the Ivy League Universities leading the way. Once they did that every other major sports league (with the exception of the UFC) did the same.
The various leagues and venues that have closed had no choice, ignoring the experts advice and example would risk a devastating backlash if the Wuhan virus turns out to be as deadly as advertised.
But Ivy League role in starting the current chain reaction of closing public venues is not a coincidence. The very experts who are on the TV daily had just staged a Pandemic table top exercise. The response we are seeing is based off the dire predictions made in that exercise.
On the afternoon of Friday, 18 October 2019, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, World Economic Forum and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation hosted a Virtual Exercise Called Event 201 and 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 onto the USA, 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.
Editor’s Note: Chim Chim is back with a post on FRI. It has been over a decade since we last heard from him He is a friend of mine with years of experience in Afghanistan at the higher levels of the U.S. Intelligence community. It is fitting that he once again reaches out to Free Range International to weigh in with some thoughts on the Afghanistan peace deal.
Trust. It’s a mysterious term and rarely understood. Per its definition, key attributes exist such as reliability, truth, ability, and strength. Contrary to popular belief, trust is not earned but rather obtained through a leap of faith. It is natural and can easily be broken. When it comes to the Afghan Peace Deal, trust is non-existent amongst the three players involved—The US Government, the Afghan Government, and the Taliban.
But should one look closely at the situation from an historical perspective, how can trust exist? More importantly, who can be trusted most? Better yet, who SHOULD be trusted most?
During the Russian-Afghan War, the United States was heavily involved in supporting multiple Afghan militias fighting against our greatest adversary. We gave and gave and gave but then, once the Russians were defeated, we put on the brakes. It was arguably one of the most devastating moments in US National Security that would inevitably come back and bite us hard.
We made countless promises to the Afghans and never came through with any of those promises which led to a major civil war between dozens of local tribes and militias. This civil war allowed the Taliban to blossom into a major organization which ruled Afghanistan for many years.
Immediately following 9-11, the United States went into a reactionary mode and was quick to invade Afghanistan on the logic that the Taliban were harboring Al Qaeda. Few realize during this time several nation states were providing safe haven to Al Qaeda during this time as Al Qaeda cells were spread across the globe. Another point of contention is the fact that the Taliban were in talks with Al Qaeda in an attempt to push them out of country instead forcing them into safe-haven in western Pakistan.
Our decision was made and teams of special operators infiltrated Afghanistan initiating America’s longest war. We did this with virtually zero ground truth, meaning, we had no sources or assets for intelligence on the ground prior to our invasion. Many whom we initially engaged in combat operations were nothing more than localized militias whom had little if anything to do with the Taliban (Central) meaning we were fighting tribesmen who would later turn to the Taliban due to our own actions.
Immediately following 9-11, Russia became an American strategic partner. We actually relied on Russia’s past to procure our initial network on the ground in Afghanistan. The one country Afghans despise most, we became strategic partners with.
As time unfolded and upon immediate successes in achieving two goals set forth from US SOF elements (eliminate Al Qaeda’s safe-haven and rid Taliban of government control), a new force was inserted shortly after—the US Conventional military and State Department.
During this time, the United States threw billions of dollars into Afghanistan. It was during this period which continues even today, the United States implementation of a “quantifiable” approach to warfighting which completely overshadows anything qualitative.
America spent billions on programs that had virtually zero oversight. One example is based on school text books in which the United States and our coalition threw an estimated $30 million into the contract however it is estimated less than $1 million worth of product ever entered the country. HeraldExtra.com shows just a portion of the issue in their article titled, Textbooks not arriving in Afghan school.
The vast majority of funds displaced were not displaced. They were handed to local warlords, provincial governors, tribal leaders, etc. But if people want to see who the vast majority of individuals pocketed these funds, just walk down “Millionaire Row” in Kabul where you will find Afghan mansions vacant—vacant because those whom had such homes built have now fled the nation in fear of a Taliban takeover.
Prior to leaving, these local Afghans milked every last penny they could from the United States. It was the easiest way for anyone to get rich fast and rich as in millionaire rich. Simply put, the Afghan power-players created a racket and the United States didn’t care. More interesting is why we did not care.
We did not care about the misappropriations of funds because of the quantifiable war which we created. Those who held the money needed to get rid of it. And they did. And in doing so, they wrote their own tickets of success be it military personnel boasting numbers on OPER’s/EPR’s or State Department, NGO’s, etc fluffing resumes for permanent hire needs upon completion of their time in country.
What the United States did in Afghanistan does not demonstrate reliability, truth, ability, and strength hence, our inept methods in Afghanistan demonstrate how untrustworthy we are in our Afghan mission.
As bad as we were, the locals and politicians also demonstrated a lack of trust.
Afghan leaders saw how much money was going into Afghanistan. They witnessed their pockets flood with cash. They were empowered on a level most Americans should be jealous of. And as crazy as this sounds, many of these Afghans were closely aligned with Russia and Iran.
The Afghan Government was and continues to be incredibly corrupt.
In 2008, an Afghan warlord once said, “You expect us to believe in your own Rule of Law? You want us to trust the newly established Afghan Government’s Rule of Law which you, the Americans implemented? Do you not see how corrupt your own nation is? Look at the case of OJ Simpson.”
Think about this sentiment for a moment. Reflect on what this warlord was saying. You do not need to agree with what was said but think of the perception held. Perception is reality.
Another warlord once explained why the United States tactical intelligence was flawed. He explained that we would hand out cash to “walk-ins” for information about potential Taliban. We would take that information and execute a mission to kill or capture that individual. But what we seldom knew was the “walk-in” was merely in a tribal dispute with the target. And oftentimes, the “walk-in” was actually the one more aligned with the Taliban than the target itself.
The Afghans manipulated the United States every waking chance they could. And, they succeeded in doing what they wished on individual levels as well as within different political parties. Simply put, the Afghan politicians as well as local leaders demonstrated virtually zero reliability or truth which showcases why they were and remain untrustworthy.
The United States knew the Taliban were our enemy in Afghanistan. The Taliban ensured we were never to forget this. Through video’s published online, a plethora of kidnappings, to constantly attacking our assets, the Taliban and the array of Anti-Afghan Forces never led up.
If early warnings existed pertaining a potential attack, the Taliban came through with it. If the Taliban claimed they would allow for a temporary ceasefire, that ceasefire pretty much always happened. If a break of the ceasefire was sent through the air waves, expect the attack. They TOLD us pretty much every single move they were going to make. Their information was reliable, it was constantly set in truth, and they demonstrated over and over again their ability to do what they said. And, their strength came from not just their numbers but rather the constant support they obtained through the Pakistani ISI, Iranian assets, and the Kremlin itself.
If you watch the evening news and see a report on a serial murderer then take a walk in the woods and come across that serial murderer, do you trust the serial murderer’s potential? You would be a fool not to. The point is, trust in an entity you do not like does not mean trust should not exist. Bad people and bad organizations should be trusted to do bad things.
What is difficult to swallow is when we possess trust in something we cherish and realize that which we cherish most should be the least trusted. In the case of the Afghan Peace Deal, maybe, just maybe, it is not the Taliban who should NOT be trusted. Rather, maybe we should be skeptical over the amount of trust we place in the Afghan Government and that of our own.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo landed in Qatar’s capital city, Doha today for the signing of a peace deal with the Taliban. In a rare demonstration of presenting both sides of a contentious deal the Washington Post opinion section featured dueling pieces that capture this unique moment in time. The peace deal is a clear win for both the Trump administration and the Afghan people. As usual the devil is in the details but it appears we are on the way out of Afghanistan.
Barnett Rubin who is a senior fellow and associate director of the Center on International Cooperation of New York University and non-resident senior fellow at the Quincy Institute, outlines the agreement in his WaPo OpEd.
The agreement provides a timetable for troop withdrawal, counterterrorism guarantees, a path to a cease-fire and a process for political settlement. Implementation would also require dismantling Taliban infrastructure in neighboring Pakistan and assurances by external powers that none will use Afghanistan against others.
Mr. Rubin has considerable time on the ground in the region and his take on the peace deal (which is it is a good deal) is identical to mine.
Max Boot, who is a Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, took the opposite view. In his WaPo OpEd he outlines three different scenarios for the near future in Afghanistan. He then goes onto to predict the worst case scenario (the Taliban rolling into Kabul and taking over the country) as the most likely. I can tell you unequivocally that is the least likely scenario.
Many of our foreign policy experts and more than a few of my friends caution that the Taliban is not a cohesive monolithic organization, and that negotiators are only speaking for the Quetta, Peshawar, and Miranshaw Shura’s. This is a fact that is true, but means nothing now. The Taliban were able to enforce the peace during last years Eid celebration across the country and I believe they can do so again. Regardless of what I and my friends believe the only thing that counts is how the Afghans feel about the deal.
The Senior Vice President-elect of Afghanistan, Amrullah Saleh, published his opinion on the Time website. I Fought the Taliban. Now I’m Ready to Meet Them at the Ballot Box is the title of his piece and that’s a strong endorsement of the process. Amrullah Saleh is the former head of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), a former Interior Minister and he survived a serious assault on his election headquarters last July. That assault started with a car bomb and was continued by suicide vest equipped assault teams. Amrullah Saleh survived by jumping off the roof of his four story headquarters onto the roof of a neighboring building.
It is reasonable to assume Mr. Saleh had engaged in a running gun battle before escaping to safety, he is that kind of guy.
The recent campaign in Nangarhar is one example. Effective operations by US/Coalition & Afghan security forces, as well as the Taliban, led to ISIS-K losing territory & fighters. Hundreds surrendered. ISIS-K hasn’t been eliminated but this is real progress,” Khalilzad tweeted Tuesday
Remember a few posts back I highlighted this article in the Washington Post about the defeat of ISIS because it failed to mention the Taliban’s direct role? It seem like the first draft of history is up for grabs regarding the defeat of ISIS-K in Eastern Afghanistan. There is little to gain but much to lose in suppression of the truth. I doubt an experienced reporter would have not known about the Taliban’s role in fighting ISIS-K so it is hard to figure out why the WaPo would print such obviously fake news.
Regardless, ISIS is now gone in Eastern Afghanistan and the remaining pockets in the north now the problem of the Taliban. Who seem to be very efficient at rooting them out.
What I cannot determine is how many troops will stay and what those troops will be doing. If the plan is to leave the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force – Afghanistan (CJSOTF-A) in place to hunt down ISIS and al Qaida that is not going to work. ISIS doesn’t need to be serviced by us any longer and separating al Qaida trainers from Taliban students is impossible.
If Amrullah Saleh is willing to give the Taliban a chance, and they reach an agreement, men like Sirajuddin Haqqani, who have been at the top of the JPEL for years, will be allowed to go in peace. The JPEL is the Joint Prioritized Effects List which is essentially a lethal version of the FBI’s most wanted. Allowing the men on that list to walk free, get passports and travel is going to be a bitter blow to the people who have been hunting them. But that may be the price of peace.
I have to add that CJSOTF-A is not going to be able to operate behind the back of the Senior VP. Mr. Saleh has decades of experience working with the CIA and CJSTOF and he will have a say on what the Americans can and cannot do if they leave CJSTOF-A in Afghanistan.
This deal with the Taliban is how it ends. It is the only way it can end. The only question in Afghanistan was when, not if, we were leaving. The Taliban cannot beat the Kabul government in battle. The Kabul government cannot beat the Taliban in battle. The continued presence of American SF teams, tactical aircraft and trainers brought the Taliban to the negotiating table which is the best they could do. It is up to the Afghans to decide what happens next. It is also time for us to leave.
General John Allen, USMC (ret) who is the president of the Brookings Institute, lashed out at the New York Times for publishing an Op-Ed Sirajuddin Haqqani. His article, Sirajuddin Haqqani, Terrorist was an unfortunate response that reinforces a growing narrative regarding incompetence in the elite, ruling class.
The most glaring mistake in General Allen’s attack on the New York Times was repeating the thoroughly debunked “very fine people on both sides” hoax. That hoax was spread by the legacy media despite the fact that President Trump was talking about people protesting the removal of Confederate battle monuments. He specifically condemned the white supremest’s if you listen to the whole quote. General Allen is the direct descendant of a Confederate Cavalry officer (I forget his name but remember he fought at Culpepper), for which is he justifiably proud and I suspect he , too was not happy about the removal of confederate battle monuments. I know General Allen, he was my boss at the Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course, I respect and admire him greatly so it is disturbing to see him trafficking in hoaxes.
Worse was his endorsement of Forever War by implying we should renege on our Peace Agreement with the Taliban. This is his discussion of the Haqqani group:
This organization was and continues to be a central component of the Taliban, a major connecting file into al-Qaida, and a darling of Pakistan’s ISI. The Haqqanis, the Taliban, and al-Qaida endorse a radical interpretation of sharia that deprives women of any meaningful rights, to include the right to an education, and the freedom to pursue their own wants and interests, such as, for example, the legal profession. Countless lives were lost – and many, many more were wounded and otherwise terrorized – at the hands of this group and its peer terrorist entities, and had they not been formally designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism, we would have had little means to diminish their influence and stop their violent activities. And at the very center of this violence was Sirajuddin Haqqani, operational commander of the Haqqani network as well as the #2 of the Taliban.
All of that is true and every bit of it irrelevant if we intend to sign a peace deal with the Taliban. It is none of our business if the Afghans decide to reconcile withTaliban leaders including Sirajuddin Haqqani. Haqqani is a bad man, so is Gulbaddin Hekmatyar, who reconciled years ago, and ran in the recent Presidential election. The notorious warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who has been a member of the Kabul government when he wasn’t in exile dodging human rights tribunals, is a bad man. He was nominally on our side, so he’s a good, bad man, but to the Afghans he’s little better than Haqqani.
What the Afghans do to reconcile the rift in their civil society is their business. If they want to reconcile with and guarantee the freedom of warlords like Haqqani it is their right to do so. There are reasons to doubt Taliban commitment to a more inclusive civil process, but again, it is no longer our concern.
It is important to acknowledge the reality on the ground and that reality is the Taliban cannot win militarily and the same holds true for the Central Government. Given that context I believe it is time to let the Afghans work this out for themselves.