Early in the 2010 fighting season the vital Torkham – Jalalabad road corridor was suddenly beset with frequent rioting that closed it for days at a time. The Provincial government blamed insurgent attacks for the instability which seemed dubious as insurgent attacks don’t generate large scale rioting. JSOC night raids could cause a few days of agitated rock throwing but there had been none reported astride Route 1 between Jalalabad and Torkham. There was enough confusion about what was happening on the ground that one of our guests at the Taj thought we should go explore the situation. She convinced my Afghan buddy JD and I to escort her down Route 1 to the village of Amanullah Khan to witness a peace shura between the Provincial government and the rioting villagers.
The road between the Torkham border and Jalalabad is flat farmland dotted with a series of villages and towns. Attacks along that road were rare and confined to random IED strikes targeting ISAF vehicles around Jalalabad. Insurgent operations were not possible without the tacit support of local civic leaders and those living along Route 1 were interested in commerce. The only useful service the Taliban provided back then was fair and impartial land deed adjudication. That was shrewd on their part because land was always the source of friction between the people and provincial authorities.
The riots along Route 1 erupted after Gul Agha Sherzai, the Nangarhar Provincial Governor, dispatched a construction company to build a village to be named in his honor astride route 1 in Rodat district. The Governor liked to build things named in his honor and had a special “reconstruction tax” levied at the Torkham border to fund those projects. Before the governor could start building his village he had to eject the current residents who he claimed were squatting on government land. The rioting froze hundreds of trucks in place causing a big kink in ISAF logistics so a shura was called to settle the matter.
This incident was an illustration of why our efforts in Afghanistan were doomed from the start. Conventional wisdom at the time was the US State Department was actively supporting the central government, while the US military and American intelligence services were actively supporting local warlords who supplanted central government influence. President Karzai and the UN bitched about this dynamic constantly. But it was President Karzai who put warlords like Sherzai in positions of influence. In Sherzai’s case he was given the lucrative province of Nangarhar governor specifically to remove him as a competitor to Karzai’s empire of graft and thievery in Kandahar.
Gul Agha Sherzai was a major Kandahri warlord who was the Governor of Kandahar Province before the Taliban took over and he was the first warlord to return (with an American Army Special Forces team) to Kandahar in 2001. President Karzai gave Sherzai the governorship of Nangarhar province knowing full well he would usurp land, initiate illegal taxation, and amass a personal fortune from American reconstruction funds because that was exactly what his brother was doing in Kandahar.
The appointment of Sherzai to governor sidelined the Arsala Family and other provincial powerbrokers but Sherzai was generous enough to ensure the old families were financially rewarded. The Arsalas had governed Nangarhar Province last two decades with Haji Qader Arsalas , in the position of governor before the Taliban regime, and his elder brother Haji Din Mohammad, appointed governor under the Karzai government, a position he held until 2004. Haji Din Mohammad is the only survivor of the once powerful clan. His younger brother Abdul Haq was killed fighting the Taliban in 2001 and his other younger brother Haji Abdul Qader was murdered in Kabul by a gunmen in 2002, while serving as a minister in the interim government.
Governor Sharzai’s attempt to expel the villagers of Amanullah Khan during the summer of 2010 failed. In 2013 he approved the sale of more than 1000 jeribs (around 500 acres) of pasture land in Rodat district long used by local Mohmand tribesmen to Logar Province ‘businessman’ Ghulam Mohammad Charkhi. That pissed the locals off but the straw that broke the camels back for Governor Sherzai were the shenanigans of the Arsalas clan.
Zahir Qadeer, a Member of Parliament and the son of Haji Abdul Qader, sold hundreds of acres of government land in Sorkhrud district to various families who were enraged to find out they had been bilked into buying government land they could never develop. He told the investors they would receive land plots in a residential project he was developing near Jalalabad called Zaher Qader Township. A move that seem to make the situation worse. The ensuing 2013 riots cut every route into Jalalabad City and by October of that year Gul Agha Sherzai was forced out of office.
Now that the Taliban are back in charge Route 1 is no longer dangerous. Land grabs require money and the Tsunami of money that flooded into Afghanistan for the past 20 years has dried up. Land adjudication is done in Taliban courts according to Sharia law, a harsh code that tolerates zero arguments once a decision has been made. The people may not be happy under the Taliban but at least their main highways are safe, something we could never accomplished in a thousand years.
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 just re-posted two stories about doing Key Leadership Engagement (KLE) in the Sherzad district of Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan. Yesterday, two Green Berets were killed and six wounded while (reportedly) conducting a key KLE in Sherzad district. This is disturbing on several levels.
First, it appears the dead and wounded (including the Afghan SF troops with the Americans) came at the hands of Afghan National Army soldiers. From the article linked above:
Additionally, at least six more American troops were also wounded. The high number of casualties (17 as of this reporting) is attributed to the ODA/Afghan combined force coming under fire from a DShK, a Russian designed heavy machine gun which fires a 12.7mm bullet. The wounded have been evacuated to the appropriate field hospitals.
The source explained to Connecting Vets that it is suspected that the Afghan National Army (ANA) was behind the attack, although details are still developing.
From what I can determine they were attacked by a lone gunman with a heavy machine-gun. It is safe to assume (if this proves true) that the lone gunman was Taliban. They got an assassin into the governor of Kandahar’s security force who was able to gun the irreplaceable Gen Raziq. As I wrote the time and will continue to write this is going to happen again. It is obvious that the screening methods in use are not working and, given my experiences in Afghanistan, I suspect will never work.
Second, one is forced to ask why, at this late stage in the game, are we still conducting KLE’s out in the badlands? What did the SF guys believe would be accomplished? I can’t imagine a good answer to that question and I have over eight years of doing KLE’s in Afghanistan and many of them right there in Sherzad district.
It is difficult to get a sense of what is really happening on the ground in Afghanistan in general and Nangarhar province specifically. Nangarhar Province has gone from one of the more safe-ish provinces in the country to the most deadly one for American forces. The army had been losing soldiers over the past four plus years in Nangarhar Province fighting an outbreak of ISIS along the border with Pakistan.
The Taliban got sick and tired of ISIS deprivations before and rolled into Nangarhar and kicked their asses hard in 2015. Last fall the multiple Taliban units returned to Nangarhar (probably from Loya Paktia via the parrots beak which is that finger of Pakistan land jutting into Afghanistan at the bottom of the district map below) and beat ISIS like a drum. ISIS was surrendering to the Afghan government last time I checked and are longer a threat.
Despite ISIS being routed (reported here in the Military Times three months ago) ISIS-K is still being used to justify our continued involvement in Afghanistan. That is ridiculous – ISIS-K was a collection of Pakistani Taliban who were trying to carve out their own little Jihadi paradise in an area that contains the largest talc powder deposit in the world. Threat to the US Homeland? Hardly. al Qaeda is the same – they have gone to ground and remain unmolested in Pakistan for 18 years now and have no need to use Afghan soil for anything. The airport in Peshawar is 10 times better than Kabul International so why would any decent Jihadi move from his decades long home in Pakistan?
ISIS-K is gone, the Taliban now control of most of the countryside in Nangarhar Province where we have troops at the Jalalabad airfield. Those troops would be mostly avation and avation support but there are two different SF compounds there too which are obviously still the home of one or more army ODA teams. I understand the need to be active outside the wire of a firm base like Jalalabad to keep the bad guys at arms reach but I’m not sure what possible use a key leader engagement would be at this stage in the game.
This is exactly the kind of senseless loss that is driving President Trump to wind down our involvement in Afghanistan. How do you justify losing 8 Americans and unknown number of Afghan Commando’s on a chin wagging mission with a bunch of local elders?
As an aside the only main stream outlet to write about this is Fox and their take is focused on the perfidy of Green on Blue attacks. They have (as usual) completely missed the the obvious and the comments section is so clueless it’s depressing. The other outlets are (I suspect) waiting to see what President Trump is going to say so they can say the exact opposite. Watch and see.
Maybe there are great reasons for the mission to Sherzad that we will never know, but I do know there are better ways to conduct KLE’s. It is always better to risk one contractor than it is to risk a dozen highly trained special operators. The counterintuitive thing about that is an experienced contractor traveling alone into Sherzad district, wearing local clothes, and in a local vehicle is much safer than 20 soldiers rolling around in four MRAP’s. That is a lesson we refuse to learn and I think the President, for one, is getting tired of it.
I have no idea why the destruction of ISIS-K by the Taliban in Nangarhar Province has remained virtually uncovered in the legacy media. That has changed with an excellent interview of the Taliban leadership in Nangarhar Province by The Washington Post. The Taliban were celebrating their recent crushing of ISIS-K (or the F’ing Daesh in local lingo). They gave an interview in Khogyani district, which is close to Jalalabad and was once solidly under government control.
The Taliban were direct and to the point regarding continued military operations. Check out this quote from one of the Taliban commanders:
Mullah Nik Muhammad Rahbar, 28, a Taliban commander responsible for Kabul province, pointed to the resources freed up by the conclusion of the fight against the Islamic State in Nangahar, saying the Taliban would be able to shift back to conducting more high-profile attacks in Kabul and elsewhere.
“Thank God you saw what we achieved against Bagram today,” he said. “We launch attacks in Kabul because there are many foreigners there, many targets for us.”
The Taliban went on to claim that they are not targeting Afghan civilians (the UN attributes 922 civilians killed and 2,901 wounded just this year by the Taliban) and that they will now shift their attention to the Government and ‘foreigners.’
This is not good news because there are bunch of ‘foreigners’ stationed at the Jalalabad Airfield and with ISIS-K gone they have little to do except support the Afghanistan National Army trainers at the nearby whatever the former Camp Gamberi is now called. Khogyani is not far from J-bad and back in the day the Muj would pick off Soviet Hinds on the approach to the J-bad airfield on an alarmingly regular basis (when they had the Stingers).
The United States cannot afford to throw a bunch of soldiers inside an Airbase without some kind of active patrolling to keep the Jihadis from getting too comfortable squatting within mortar or man packed anti-air missile range. Patrolling like that takes boots on the ground which are in short supply.
Anybody who thinks the Taliban will fail to take a shot at inflicting serious casualties on an American military formation doesn’t understand Afghans. This is what they do and they will pay a steep price if they think they can generate some serious casualties and destroy some aircraft in the process.
The United States Military is not agile enough to withdraw resources from the eastern provinces while maintaining the relentless air campaign that has dropped more air-delivered ordinance this year than any prior year in the Afghan War. Throwing around 1000 pounders will result in collateral damage and we now know that the generals running this war know that collateral damage incurred while blasting Taliban creates more Taliban and is a losing strategy.
But it is all they have for now; the Generals and senior government Mandarins have no problem stringing this out for years to come. The President isn’t happy with the status quo, I’m not sure what the Democrats position is on Afghanistan as they seem to have lost their minds with the sham impeachment they inflicted on us. I have said before, and will say again, this is not going to end well.
As Afghanistan fades into the rear view mirror interests in the conflict wanes as does the desire to learn lesson’s that were paid for by the lives of both combatants and innocents. In an attempt to highlight some of the observations I’ve made over the years I’m venturing into the world of podcasting in an effort to determine if I can mimic the success of the masters. Dan Carlin, Daniele Bolelli, Darryl Cooper, Joe Rogan, Jocko Willink and Dave Rubin have excellent podcasts some focused on history some on current events and they are consistently interesting.
This first episode is on the Lone Survivor incident which was an easy one to do because virtually everything people remember about it is false. Once a put up a few more of these my. plan is to your an audio podcast service to get them on iTunes and Goggleplay to see if I can carve out a niche. Enjoy.
The morning news brought an article critical of Secretary Mattis that immediately caught my eye. There are aspects of his tenure I’m finding troubling; the slow walking of the Presidents decree on transgender service persons being one of them. It is hard for me to imagine Secretary Mattis needs a formal study to determine if transgendered service folks are or are not a hindrance to good order and discipline or a positive contribution to unit cohesion and combat power. Women in the infantry is another liberal delusion that should have been done away with by now – he already has a comprehensive study on that from the Marine Corps; the results are unambiguous regarding the folly of placing women in the infantry.
The author of the American Thinker post sites three reasons why Mattis is “no good”. The first is his testimony regarding global warming to the senate where he stated “Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today.” The second was his attempt to nominate former ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson to the post of undersecretary of defense for policy. The third was his “support” of LtGen John Nicholson who now heads the Afghanistan effort. Back in 2007 he was a Brigade Commander in the 10th Mountain division who was responsible for RC East. During his tenure the Marine Corp’s first special operations company, Fox company, which had named itself Task Force Violent, was involved in a incident that resulted in them being ejected from the country. Apparently supporting the commander in Afghanistan (who was there before Mattis was nominated as Secretary for Defense) is a strike against him.
The article was silly. The statement regarding global climate change can be viewed as a solid answer to avoid democratic hysteria over “deniers”. Mattis is well read and I doubt he believes in the politically correct nonsense regarding humans ability to speed up or slow down the climatic changes that have existed since the birth of this planet. I have no opinion on the qualification of former ambassador Patterson. If he wanted her in the department he should have got her. Tarring him with the fallout surrounding the ambush in Bati Kot district of TF Violent is ridiculous; Mattis had nothing to do with that incident or the assignment of Gen Nicholson to head up our Afghanistan efforts.
But the article forced me to look into an incident I have avoided since before I started this blog; the firefight in Bati Kot between the MARSOC Marines and unknown assailants. The story is not a pretty one and has always been of interest to me because I was there that day escorting a group of senior Japanese diplomats to Islamabad via the Khyber Pass.
Or so I thought; the MARSOC fight happened on a Sunday the 4th of March 2007. I had driven the same route the Marines took the day before on the 3rd of March. I had to check my old notes to figure that out because over the years I could have sworn this incident happened the same day we drove from Jalalabad to Islamabad via the Khyber Pass.
In 2015 Military Times published a five part series on the Bati Kot incident titled Task Force Violent: The unforgiven. Only the first three articles from that series would load for me today but reading those gave me a good sense of what happened. The article paints a picture of the Marines not being set up for success. The way they were deployed (they didn’t even know which country they were going to when they left CONUS on naval shipping), their task organization, their lack of support once on the ground and the way they were shoe horned into the Afghanistan SOCOM chain of command indicate significant failure by their chain of command. I know some of the people in that chain of command and find the story, as written, suspect. Regardless, my overall view of their performance at Bati Kot remains unchanged. They over reacted and without question shot unarmed people.
The series on TF Violent contained important factual errors. Bati Kot and the adjacent Torkham border crossing were not a “a nefarious transfer point for suicide bombers and other extremists entering the country from Pakistan”. Taliban fighters and supplies went trough the mountain passes into the districts of Achin, Khogyani and Dih Bala which are not near the Torkham border crossing or the district of Bati Kot. The mountains that the Marines were interested are not the Tora Bora – they are the Spin Ghar mountains; Tora Bora is a cave complex inside the Spin Ghar range. Those errors are not minor to the story line of the Military Times articles
On the 4th of March the Marines had planned to go to the Torkham border to coordinated with the US Army MP company stationed there and then head to the Spin Ghar mountains to look at some trail heads their intelligence specialist thought might make good reconnaissance targets before heading back to Bati Kot district for a shura with some elders. They were in a six uparmored Humvee convoy containing 30 Marines from their direct action platoon. Most (if not all) of these Marines were combat veterans from Iraq which could explain their reaction after being hit by what they felt to be a VBIED (Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device).
In a cool interactive map embedded in the third part of the series we see the route the convoy took which appears to not have deviated too far off Hwy 1 – the Jalalabad to Torkham road. I’m not sure what trail heads they could have looked at but regardless they were heading back to Jalalabad when they were hit. While approaching the Spin Pol bridge that leads into the main bazaar of Bati Kot (Markoh bazaar) a van loaded with fuel and explosive detonated between the first and second vehicles. The turret gunner in the second vehicle was knocked down, possibly knocked out and when he recovered he reports seeing four men shooting at them from the south. The convoy stops and other Marines report contact from both sides.
The Marines responded to the contact from both directions with controlled bursts; Military Times picks up the story from there:
The ride back to Jalalabad was tense. As the Marines hustled to get free of the danger, they hurled rocks and fired disabling shots at a few oncoming cars, a common warzone practice meant to keep the convoy moving and avoid being pinned in and attacked. Warning shots were fired to disperse a crowd and clear a path for the humvees — all in accordance with protocol, the court determined. …Afghan journalists arrived at the attack site instantly, followed by soldiers from the Army’s 66th Military Police Company who were instructed to cordon off the area and treat it like a crime scene.
The Marine Corps investigation of the incident concluded between 5 to 7 people were killed and 24 to 28 wounded by the Marines that day. Two problems with the story are obvious. The first is the amount of battle damage to vehicle 2 which is pictured above; compare that with the MRAP damage pictured earlier in the post. The MRAP was hit by a real VBIED; the humvee pictured above does not look like it was hit by anything. The second is that the area where the ambush occurred was benign enough to allow a handful of American MP’s to cordon it off and treat it as a crime scene.
A quick story about special operators to illustrate a point. The year prior to this incident I was heading up the effort of the first contractor awarded the American Embassy guard contract. I had already stood up the bridge contractor guards at the embassy and found myself heading this forlorn effort due to circumstances beyond my control. The company I worked for had hired another outfit to do the weapons training and they consisted of a dozen guys who were former SEALs, SF and Marines. They were a good crew with lots of trigger time in Iraq. The first thing they asked me for was armored SUV’s but we had none and gave them four beat up SUV’s instead. On the first morning of training they left early from Camp Sullivan, just outside the Kabul airport, to drive to the ranges at the military training complex just outside the city; a ten mile trip down the Kabul to Jalalabad road.
They exited the camp and drove through what we called hooterville, a narrow road with compounds on either side that was a good short cut to the Jbad road. After leaving my guards in one the towers alerted me to a problem and I ran up the ladder to observe the four vehicles reversing out of the ville, doing impressive J turns on the goat path the fed into the ville and hauling ass back to camp. When they got back I asked what was up and their team leader told me they were rolling into an ambush because they had observed local kids on the roof tops waving white flags as they approached. I took him up to the tower and with bino’s pointed out the dozen of kids waving flags from their compound roof tops to get their pigeons back into the family roosts. He turned to me and much to his credit said “don’t I feel like an asshole”. But I understood where he was coming from having been Iraq myself and just said “brother this isn’t Iraq – stay away from military convoys and armored SUV’s on the Jbad road and you won’t have problems”.
I also added he had some shit hot drivers – not dumping one of those SUV’s off the little trail and into the massive drainage ditches took some real talent. But talent alone didn’t work in Afghanistan; you needed to understand the environment and that was hard to do when you lived on a FOB and impossible if you had just arrived in country. What was a reliable pre-incident indicator in Iraq was not one in Afghanistan.
Which brings us to the days following the ambush of TF Violent. They apparently went on another mission to recover a truck and rolled both the truck and the recovery vehicle into a ditch. There were some shenanigans going on to get this mission out of the gate to include some nonsense about them fearing the Taliban were going to come into the wire and get them. That part of the story is in the third installment of the Military Times articles and is so bizarre that I don’t know what to say. Believing the Taliban could come into the Jalalabad air field which was home to a SEAL tier one outfit, a large CIA base, a brigade headquarters from the 10 Mountain Division and several aircraft squadrons was ridiculous.
The reason this incident upset me when it happened was the prospect of being on the road when the Marines were heading back to base. I had a trail vehicle full of heavily armed Tajiks from our preferred local sub contractor and these men had been with me for years. I was very fond of them and I too was armed and having been shot at before by the military while driving I was sensitive to the threat. My father and I exchanged some bitter emails on the topic as I insisted from day one the Marines had over reacted and had I been on that road at that time I could have been lit up.
When you look at the battle damage and contemplate the folly of a handful of Afghans taking on a six vehicle convoy from the side of a road it is hard to believe the Marines were facing a legitimate threat. Taking fire is not the same as taking effective fire. Knowing how the Taliban in that area conducted ambushes (they used terrain to mask SAF attacks and used road side IED’s not VBIED’s) could have allowed the Marines to recognize and apply the rule of opposites which is the most effective tool us contractors had in Afghanistan. VBIED’s didn’t show up in Nangarhar province until two years after this incident and if memory serves the UN did not classify this as a VBIED attack.
Here is a guess at what happened. A van filled with leaky fuel containers, which is how stolen diesel is transported in Afghanistan, lost control and swerved into the Marine convoy. The Marines, fearing it was a VBIED, lit it up with their turret mounted machineguns which have tracers in their links. The tracers ignite the fuel fumes and up goes the van. That would explain the lack of blast damage. The fireball alerts the rest of the Marines in the convoy to a possible ambush and because they are new in country and don’t know how different Afghanistan was compared to Iraq they spot armed males and start shooting. That’s a guess but an educated one, it is hard to explain the lack of battle damage to the Marine humvee’s any other way. The four bullet holes in vehicle #2 could have come from anywhere – Afghans have lots of guns; but were I to hazard a guess I’d say the ANP checkpoints near the bridge probably threw some rounds their way out of disgust.
Having said all the above I do not believe the Marines who participated in this event deserved the negative attention they received. Lot’s of military units in Afghanistan shot lots of civilians who they thought to be a threat to their convoys. I wrote about that repeatedly while I was there. That is why I’m so sympathetic to the men of Raven 23 who are in jail to this day for doing exactly the same thing in the same circumstances. It is also the reason why I support the PMC industry strongly. Had a contractor patrol done what the Marines did it is inconceivable that they would have escaped long stints in the Poli Charki prison. The legacy media contention that we were cowboys shooting up the countryside is as false as fake news can be.
Now that I’ve got that off my chest back the morning article on Secretary Mattis – it’s complete crap written by a guy who has not one clue what he is talking about. He probably is getting paid for that swill…..I wonder how that works? I’d like to get a paying gig like that too….inshallah.
When dealing with news out of Afghanistan we must start with what we know to be true before speculating on the remainder in an effort to understand what happened. The soldiers were killed in Achin district where the Afghans with American Special Forces units in direct support, have been battling ISIS-K. I suspect the soldiers were in the field operating with Afghan soldiers when this unfortunate incident occurred. That would explain how four them were hit by a loan assailant. That also means the units assigned to the ‘advise and assist’ mission are engaging in direct combat. They have to do that to gain even a shred of credibility with the Afghan army but I bet they won’t be out and about much longer.
What additional troops were doing rolling around in Khogyani district requires speculation.
I suspect they were moving from the base at Jalalabad (FOB Fenty) into Achin district using the back roads to avoid the exposure of the Jalalabad – Torkham main road. Regardless of circumstances the killing of a car load of locals, something that was all too common when there were large numbers of NATO forces moving on the roads, is bad.
It appears the Taliban are trying to force Kabul to the negotiating table by inflicting massive casualties that the population can no longer endure while driving a wedge between the NATO advise and assist troops and their Afghan colleagues via green on blue attacks. That is a sound strategy. When those same American troops, while moving through a countryside they know to be hostile, kill civilians who happen to be too close to them when an IED goes off…..that’s a perfect storm. NATO doesn’t trust the forces they mentor to not kill them, the forces they mentor risk being shot every time they are getting mentored. The people are getting hammered by the Taliban and by NATO if they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s a storm alright (a s–t storm) and one for which NATO, the UN and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan have no answer.
When the problem of Green on Blue attacks reached a crisis stage in 2012 the response by NATO was to separate themselves (even more) from the Afghans they were supposed to mentor. Then they instituted a ‘guardian angel’ program to protect themselves from the Afghans they were there to help. Here are the Green on Blue numbers (hat tip Long War Journal)
US military commanders in Afghanistan have assigned “guardian angels” to watch over troops as they sleep, among a series of other increased security measures, in the wake of rogue Afghan soldiers targeting Nato forces.
The so-called guardian angels provide an extra layer of security, watching over the troops as they sleep, when they are exercising, and going about their day.
Among the new measures introduced, Americans are now allowed to carry weapons in several Afghan ministries. They have also been told to rearrange their office desks so they face the door.
Now the Guardian Angels will have to be standing, at the ready, prepared to shoot any Afghan who makes a move for his gun too fast during every interaction between Afghans and NATO. How that will work out in field operations is obvious – it won’t and thus we are going to suffer more of them.
The issue is trust and trust is something that can only be built over long periods of time in Afghanistan. Governments in the West have been proving, for years now, they are incapable of taking the steps needed to protect their citizens from Jihadist terrorism. Sovereign citizens have little reason to trust their ruling elite who are more concerned with inclusion, diversity, various ‘phobias’ and not being perceived as racists then they are with protecting the population. Afghans have no reason to trust their ruling elites and the question is when you can’t trust the government who do you trust?
Tribes and clans are still used when information security and omerta are paramount. No technical solution yet devised can beat treachery. Only loyalty can do that — and we have made loyalty, to nation at least, a bad word.
The Afghans who are committing these Green on Blue (and Green on Green) attacks are trusting the Taliban to take care of their clans when the dust settles. That is probably a solid bet. The Americans and other NATO troops in Afghanistan are not able to build trust networks during their seven month tours so they have to trust their fellow soldiers to have an OODA loop quick enough to protect them. That is not a solid bet – being that quick on the trigger will result in Blue of Green deaths that were unnecessary and further divide allies who are supposed to be fighting together.
The Perfect Storm is building and it is obvious that it will break soon. When that happens we can be certain of one thing. The elites who masterminded this fiasco will ignore it and continue taking us down the path of multi culti madness. It is too late to save Afghanistan the only question now is do we have the intestinal fortitude in the West to save ourselves?
*UPDATE: One of my friends from the intel world has alerted me that the you tube video below (the point of this post) is bogus. It is not from the attack on Kabul yesterday but a 2013 car bomb in Homs, Syria. That explains the Arabic making this post moot but my recommendations on a way forward stand. Sorry for any confusion caused by my pulling the trigger on this post before vetting the legitimacy of the You Tube video.
The NATO-led Resolute Support (RS) mission in Kabul said Afghan security forces had prevented the vehicle from entering the heavily protected Green Zone that houses many foreign embassies as well as its headquarters, suggesting it may not have reached its intended target.
Baghdad had a Green Zone and Afghanistan has several “Green Zones” but these refer to the heavy vegetation near the Helmand River. There is no “Green Zone” in Kabul but it would unfair to expect NATO PAO’s to understand that level on nuance in a country they only see while flying over it.
Half of my friends in Kabul have come up on the net to check in and as I sit here waiting to hear from the rest I am pissed. What NATO is trying to do with 5000 additional “advise and assist” troops may be a noble effort but it is a stupid one. Watch and listen to this You Tube video and I’ll explain what is so alarming about it below.*
The men, who obviously knew when and where this bomb was going to detonate, are speaking Arabic; not Dari and not Pashto. They are not Afghans. Who are they and how did they gain foreknowledge of this attack?
I suspect they’re ISIS and, as they appear to be filming from the roof of the Serena Hotel, they are ISIS with cash to spend. This is serious and it calls for a serious response.
Here’s a plan I’m spit-balling while I wait to hear from the remainder of my friends. It may sound crazy but let it sink in – it would work if we only had the balls to pull it off.
Remove all embassies and all NATO bases from Kabul and locate them to Bagram. That will make the people in Kabul safer while not detracting from Embassy operations because none of the diplomats ever leave their compounds unless in a they are in a helicopter anyway. Might as well move them to Bamyan where they be safer still for all the good they are (not) doing now.
Move all train and assist teams from contested provinces and put them in Bamyan to run battalion level combat training courses. Use the air assets in- country now supporting the advise and assist effort to move Afghan battalions into and out of contested provinces. The training, rest and refit cycle will drive down casualties and increase retention. Use the old al Queda training base (now called Gamberi) outside Jalalabd during the four months Bamyan is covered with snow.
Use the narrative of Afghan unity in conjunction with the currently popular Afghan Special Forces unit to form units that will become legends. The Afghans need combat mentoring from the international community. What if the international community responded by offering up talent, known to and approved by the Afghan government, to lead small units into the contested lands? I’m talking pseudo-terrorist operations as perfected by the Selous Scouts. The Afghans do not have a deep enough bench of small unit leaders to pull this off. The international community does and there are thousands of men in multiple countries who would return in a heartbeat to volunteer for this kind of service.
Students of military history understand the power of dynamic leaders. There is a reason Scipio Africanus is as relevant today as he was in 202 BC and that is the power of extraordinary leadership. Ask Secretary Mattis, he who sleeps well while others lose sleep, because they know he’s thinking about them. Setting up Pseudo-terrorist op teams will take culling through thousands of volunteers, both internationals and Afghans, to find the the right mix but when you do find that mix and those teams start to operate the Afghan people will be all the PR you need to announce there is a game changer in the mix (finally).
The devil is always in the details and there are no details presented here. But the devil was also filming the you tube video above and he needs to be hunted down and killed. The time for diplomats and large hopelessly incompetent military organizations is over. It is time to put an end to this bullshit and all it takes are few thousand hardy volunteers who will no longer tolerate tyranny, madness and the slaughter of innocents.
If anyone out there has a better idea I’d love to hear it.
Yesterday I was talking with one of the unsung hero’s of the Afghanistan reconstruction battle Jeff “Raybo” Radan. I’ve known Jeff since we were instructors back at the Marine Corps Basic School and we worked together again when I replaced him (at the end of his tour) in Lashkar Gah as the regional manager for the USAID implementing partner CADG. He was has been working out of Kabul and told me about the ISIS-K car bomb before it hit the wires. He’s moving on to another project in Iraq but said he has seen definite improvement in the Afghan Security Forces.
Raybo got his nickname when he returned from the Army Ranger Course minus about 20 pounds on his already skinny frame and couldn’t stop talking about how much he loved it. His take on increasing the advise and assist mission? He’s not sure how effective it will be but is certain about what will happen if we don’t do it and that assessment was bleak.
Yesterday’s car bomb attack was to be expected; it was a matter of time before ISIS struck back after getting MOAB’d. This latest attack was unusual in one respect. The car bomb was parked, not driven into the convoy, which is a departure from the norm. It could indicate that the ANP has downtown Kabul under better control…or not…it’s hard to say. Setting off a car bomb that kills local civilians without doing too much damage to the NATO MRAP’s they were targeting is an amateur hour performance. It is also a far cry from their previous attacks in Kabul which were more dramatic and inflicted heavy casualties on their intended targets be they Hazara people or Afghan security forces.
The MOAB took out 38 building in an unnamed (meaning unauthorized) settlement and 69 trees. There was no gigantic crater because the MOAB is a fuel air explosive which is something the media still doesn’t seem to understand. From the article linked above:
Fuel-Air Explosives [FAE] disperse an aerosol cloud of fuel which is ignited by an embedded detonator to produce an explosion. The rapidly expanding wave front due to overpressure flattens all objects within close proximity of the epicenter of the aerosol fuel cloud, and produces debilitating damage well beyond the flattened area. The main destructive force of FAE is high overpressure, useful against soft targets such as minefields, armored vehicles, aircraft parked in the open, and bunkers.
It looks like the MOAB under-performed but looks are deceiving. If there were men hiding in those tunnels they’re crispy critters now; if the tunnels contained large stores of weapons and ammo those are now gone. It will take months of donkey trains to replace them if replacements are even available. I believe the weapons and ammunition were the targets and that nobody involved in the attack really cared about a high body count because that is a meaningless metric. I also believe all the conjecture in the press surrounding this weapon has proven to be fake news. That conjecture has shifted now and the legacy media is contending the bomb was a dud. That they know not what they are talking about is obvious.
The Taliban is fighting ISIS-K, we’re targeting ISIS-K regularly and the Pakitani’s are targeting them too. I doubt they will survive much longer with all the attention they’re getting. The one disturbing factor is that ISIS-K has the support of the Safi tribes; a problem I’ll address in a future post.
There is a potential game changer being put in play with the return of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to Kabul. He is a former prime minister and the leader of the Hezb-i-Islami militant group. More importantly he is a Pashtun from the northern city of Kunduz and one would suspect he’ll have the ability to bring a resurgent Taliban in Kunduz to heel. That would be huge and comes at a time when the Taliban from that area have pulled off the most devastating attack (the Mazar-e Sharif attack) against the ANA to date in this long nasty war .
The Mazar attack targeted young recruits attending Friday prayers in the base Mosque which has enraged Afghans who feel (correctly) it was an assault against Islam. Heckmatyar has said repeatedly the Taliban are an affront to Islam and that is a message which now resonates, more than ever, with the Afghan people. We shall see how this plays out but if he can dampen the fires of insurgency in the north the Afghans will have the space they need to concentrate their forces in the south and east.
There is one other thing Heckmatyar could help with in this critical phase of the fight for Afghanistan. He may be able to do something about the Haqqani clan. Every attack inside Kabul and the recent devastating attack in Mazar-e Sharif had Haqqani fingerprints all over them. They are funded by Pakistan’s intelligence agency (the ISI) and have been able to penetrate Kabul seemingly at will. They are dedicated, professional butchers who kill without pity or remorse. They need to be put down and the sooner the better.
We have been trying for years to get both Jalaluddin (the family patriarch) and his son Sirajuddin with drones but have come up empty. A man like Heckmatyar has the capability to get them the old fashioned way using car bombs or ambushes. I wonder if he’ll make the effort and know taking out the Haqqani’s would have an immediate impact on decreasing the level of violence directed at Kabul. Time will tell.
The Marines of Task Force Southwest are on the ground starting their advise and assist mission in the Helmand province. No news about them is good news because the only news we’ll see in the legacy media will concern casualties. I’m not aware of any reporters who plan to embed with them to write about their mission and how it is working out. Yet another reason why I want to embed with them for a month this summer. The Marines and soldiers on the front lines deserve to have their stories told and not just when they have sustained casualties.
There are no good options available to the international community in Afghanistan. My greatest concern, shared by many others, is that we will calibrate our advise and assist efforts to do just enough not to lose. If we are serious about the advise and assist mission then we have to accept two things. It is going to take more than a decade of sustained effort and at some point we will have to fight with the troops we are training and advising. Fighting means losing troops; it’s inevitable but the public has not been prepared for nor will it accept high numbers of American combat deaths in Afghanistan.
President Trump has not revealed his plan for Afghanistan yet but when he does his plan will be attacked by the legacy media regardless of content. That’s not good for our country or Afghanistan. It appears the President is allowing Secretary of Defense Mattis to shape this plan without micromanagement or intrigue from the White House. That is good news given the prior pattern of micromanagement by both the Bush and Obama administrations. If the new plan is the same as the old plan then we’ll know the Afghans are screwed. I doubt Secretary Mattis will settle for more of the same and know there is not another American alive today who could handle this task better. If he can quietly kill the current females in the infantry madness while he’s at it we can consider ourselves blessed. Let us hope that both of these things are not a bridge too far given the madness that passes for reality with our ruling class in Washington DC and their accomplices in the press.
There is no way to determine what is going on in Afghanistan without competent reporters on the ground digging up truth and reporting that in context. That is why I’m trying so hard to fund an embed back there but I cannot do that without your support. If you can please consider a donation to the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page in support of accurate reporting from the front lines.
Yesterday we lost two more solders fighting ISIS-K in Afghanistan; Cameron H. Thomas, 23, of Kettering, OH and Joshua P. Rodgers, 22 of Bloomington, Ill were killed in action during a raid in the Achin district of Nangarhar Province. Both were from the Army Ranger regiment and they were supporting the counter-terrorism component of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. Rangers provide the support and security elements for Special Forces raiding teams who are the assault element in these operations which is why the Rangers were in the Achin district this week.
Both of these men were Sergeants and although only in their young 20’s there is no doubt they were experienced, competent, effective fighters. They were reportedly killed by small arms fire which I would guess means machinegun fire as ISIS and the Taliban are rarely encountered with battle zero’d rifles and can’t hit a damn thing more than 100 yards away.
What can you say about the loss of two more men other than they; like their Marine bothers, would not have wanted to be anywhere else. No warrior worth the name wants to miss out on a combat deployment.
Afghanistan is currently a true mess that has become what every knowledgeable observer predicted it would become the second they heard Obama announce a withdrawal date mere seconds after announcing a surge date. The only difference is that we did not suspect there would be a stay behind component.
There are two ways forward; we pull the counter-terrorist teams out of the fight and leave them on fortified FOB’s inside Afghan FOB’s to “mentor’ or we take the remaining advise and assist forces and let them off the FOB’s and into the fight. The first option is the default Washington DC option – Kabuki Theater designed to look like we’re helping when we’re not. The second option gives the Afghan people a chance at obtaining their elusive goal of peace.
Peace is much on my mind as the Korean situation heats up. North Korea has engaged in nuclear brinkmanship for years now and has been met by appeasement from Clinton, Bush and Obama and that appeasement has been met by increase belligerence every time. President Trump has drawn a line and unlike any president before him he does not seemed inclined to ignore that line if it is broken. This was inevitable and the growing North Korean threat has to be dealt with or they are going to develop a multi stage missile to deliver the nuclear payloads they already have.
What are the chances of war? 50/50 is my guess and the tell is our deployment of THAAD batteries to South Korea. China didn’t say a word when we did that and in the past they would have gone high order having warned us repeatedly that it would be a provocation to them. Now it’s not
Japan is preparing it’s people for imminent attack right now and I bet the Chinese are moving forces to the Korean border only this time they are not there to fight us. This is serious and if war comes it will be short but expensive in lives and treasure. When it is over our forces in Afghanistan will still be there helping the Afghanistan National Security Forces in their fight against radical Islamic insurgents.
In the what the hell is going on category the Pentagon is claiming the two Rangers who were killed yesterday may have been a friendly fire incident. At least a dozen soldiers who were on the raid are contacting media to say that story is bullshit and the two were hit by enemy fire. Check this out from the Army Times:
The military’s investigation aims to learn whether Rodgers and Thomas were killed by errant Afghan or American gunfire, officials said. But several soldiers who fought in the battle vehemently dispute that’s what happened, according to Task & Purpose. More than a dozen witnesses contacted the news site claiming their comrades were gunned down by ISIS militants.
There is no way to determine what the hell is going on over there without competent reporters on the ground digging up truth and reporting that in context. That is why I’m trying so hard to fund an embed back there but I cannot do that without your support. If you can please consider a donation to the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page in support of accurate reporting from the front lines.