Three In A Row And A Look At What Could Have Been

This morning the main stream media caught up with  FRI by reporting how the terrorists who attacked the Afghanistan National Army (ANA) in Mazar-i Sharif got onto the base. They also reported on the relief of the 209th Corps commanding general. To be fair the news report (linked here) contained details I didn’t know so good for them for the original reporting. Here’s one of those details:

When the first fighting broke out, one of the assailants dressed in a special forces uniform rushed into the mosque, the security source said. He herded the panicked recruits to take cover together in a room. “And there he blew himself up,” the source said. Any survivors were gunned down by the remaining militants, he added.

A picture from inside the ANA base mosque.  Photograph from AFP/file

That is a hard attack to defend against. In military terms it was a raid and raids are often easy to pull off because they, by design, target units or people who are not prepared for them. The hard part of any raid isn’t gaining surprise; it’s getting your troops back safely. That problem is mitigated when the assaulting troops have intentions of surviving the attack.

Saying “I told you” is, at this point, a tedious exercise in irrelevance. Nobody really cares and it makes for boring blogging. So, let me tell you something you didn’t know using another current news story.

Last week there was an uplifting story about high school girls in Herat, Afghanistan mastering basic internet skills in a computer lab apparently  provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. The article is titled “In Afghanistan, girls break cyber walls” and was a human interest story designed to showcase progress but really showcased failure, and did so with reckless disregard for the future health and well being of the girls being reported on.

Herat is in the Western part of the country and the local culture, as it is in Zaranj,  has a heavy Persian influence. The mores regarding women are a little more lax but not so lax that encouraging school girls to get on social media is a good idea. Both the Taliban and ISIS have used social media to target apostates and spies. Maybe the girls in this story belong to families with enough clout to keep them safe once we’re gone but I doubt it.

Bringing internet and IT training to Afghan children is not a new story; it’s been done before in a much more comprehensive way. But that effort garnered little media attention or big money foundation support.

Ten years ago in Jalalabad there was a computer and engineering training program that reached hundreds of children, involved sophisticated, appropriate, technical training designed to foster entrepreneurial skill-sets

High School girls from Jalalabad teaching younger children in the Fablab computer room July 2008

Unlike other aid programs this one cost the taxpayers exactly nothing.  Not a dime of aid funding funded the FabLab; the equipment was provided by MIT and grad students from MIT and their geek friends (known as Fab Folk) self funded their way to Afghanistan to set it up. They came from as far away as South Africa and Iceland; it was remarkable to see and best yet they paid their bar bills on time and with cash.

Fab Folk enjoying the world famous Tiki Bar at the Taj in Jalalabad while setting up computers that will be given to the kids at the Fab Lab

The Fab Lab equipment would have been of limited use without good internet conductivity which was installed by Baba Ken from  Ken supported a start up portable satellite antenna company into field testing their new Gatr ball system to Taj, to determine how long this portable system would function in a remote location. A government agency based in the Fort Washington Facility donated the 15k a month worth of fat pipe bandwidth (they too were interested in seeing how long and at what capacity the system would last). FRI provided the expertise to get all this gear through customs (for a mere 200 buck bribe) and delivered to Jalalabad and (as we did with all our guests at the Taj) Shem Klimiuk and I provided security for the internationals who came to work on the project.

Shem and I with his driver back in the day
Gatr comms at the Taj with a FabFi chicken wire reflector (upper left) This was second one sent to us for testing.
The first Gatr ball took a beating from heavy winds, UV radiation and at least one bullet hole of unknown origin. This is a photo of it after the transponder was blown off in a storm; the Jbad geek squad repaired it every time. The designers were hoping to get 6 months of continues use from this model – it lasted over a year.

Their story is remarkable, inspirational, but never gained any traction despite being told in the pages of this blog and featured in an excellent interview by NPR of Dr. Amy Sun, who introduced the Fab Lab to Afghanistan. Listen to the interview; you’re not going to believe what they accomplished without the help or support of the US Government or any other international aid organization.

Dr. Sun entertaining herself after I got involved in minor traffic accident (with 30 cases of beer in the back of the SUV) at night just outside Surobi which was a bad place to be hanging out after dark

The Jalalabad Fab Lab was unable to generate the donations required to continue operations and I believe that is because the success was counter- narrative. While NATO was spending millions and millions of dollars developing  the”virtual silk road” the universities and teaching hospitals in Jalalabad had lightening fast internet provided free of cost by the Fab Folk and Baba Ken’s Jbad Geek squad (not pictured in this blog for security reasons).

My son Logan humping a Fab Fi reflector (he’ll take it all the way up the tallest water tower in the city) at the Jalalabad Teaching hospital

When dealing with the narrative we have to judge what we know to be true before speculating on anything else. What we know to be true is that the most effective cyber aid program in Afghanistan came about in the exact same manner as America’s current oil boom – despite, not because of the government. It was an effective grass roots movement that ultimately died because the Fab Folk were unable to attract organizations like the Gates foundation to sustain it and they did try that source and many others.

The Fab Folk had a deep reach inside the Jalalabad community that gave all kids to include the handicapped a chance at learning the basics of working with computers

These pictures and this story were once a source of great pride for those who participated in this noble effort. Viewing them now brings a sense of ennui. Baba Ken, Dr. Dave Warner of the Synergy Strike Force and Dr. Amy Sun were told over and over what they were doing could not be done. They took huge risks to prove it could be and did so because they wanted to help and knew their skill set could bring much needed technical education and resources to the Afghan people. But they had no connections in the halls of power and it seemed to me the last thing that the US government agencies deployed to Afghanistan wanted to see was people doing what they themselves contended could not be done. The ruling class and their technical experts hate being proven wrong.

In 2008 young boys from the dirt poor hamlet of Bagrami will building their own bots

The boys pictured above, if they are still alive, are in the fight now; on one side or the other. They wanted to be in university, they wanted a chance to live a productive life. What the can you say to them now? Sorry just doesn’t seem to cut it.

Baba Ken reaching out to village elders and I’m not sure where because he did this all the time. Going to shura’s alone is considered madness by military folks but it was the safest way to do business in contested lands. Afghans respect men of courage and conviction who travel alone to their villages to offer their help; something both Baba Ken and the late Dan Terry taught me early on.

I’d like to report how this story ends 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.

What Did I Tell You? Even More MOAB Madness

Afghan Security Forces (ANSF) have apparently reached the cave complex targeted by last week’s MOAB strike. There are no western (or local) reports from the bomb site but Tolo news (Kabul based Afghan news service) reported with some specificity on the casualties from the attack.

Five days after U.S Forces dropped its most powerful conventional bomb on a system of tunnels and caves used by Daesh in the eastern province of Nangarhar, a security source told TOLOnews that the majority of insurgents killed in blast were members of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and members of Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group.

As with most new ‘news’ out of Afghanistan FRI readers already knew this. But here’s something we didn’t know and it’s interesting. ANSF has had the time to identify bodies and nationalities; they found 12 Tajikistanis and 13 Indian nationals and a few Filipinos.

When I was part of Ghost Team we had Filipino’s in every province we were working as financial officers. They were excellent company, honest to a fault and kind, gentle fella’s who were not interested in weapons, war and mayhem. It’s hard to imagine ISIS Filipino’s all the way in Nangarhar province…they just don’t seem to be that kind of culture.  I was once with my favorite finance officer on a road trip to Kabul when we rolled up on a hot ambush of then President Karzai’s brother and I thought “excellent get the camera in action…time for a Pulitzer” but this is how it turned out:

I was on the road that day too with my faithful finance officer Misael, who hails from the island of Mindanao but claims to be a Catholic and not a Abu Sayef member. When we turned a corner in the Tangi Valley and saw all the expended brass in the road, he ignored his collateral duty as photographers mate and wedged himself firmly under the dash board.   Misael has spent the last year in Kandahar and has developed an exaggerated sense of danger but I’ll get him snapped in soon enough. So there are only a few marginal pictures from a point and shoot camera due to the insistence of the ANP that we keep moving …  probably a good idea.

And that was the best I could do while still driving….these guys were just shooting (see the expended brass at their feet) but turned around when I stopped  the SUV to take the picture.  They weren’t impressed

Filipino Jihadi’s getting MOAB’d in Afghanistan…the world is truly a small place. And getting smaller too; looking at the list of the ISIS-K commanders the ANSF said were killed in the strike you’ll find:

Commander Mukhtar, retired Pakistani army officer

Commander Abu Bakr, Daesh’s chief of operations

Sheikh Weqas, member of Lashkar-e-Taiba

Commander Mohammad, an Indian national

Geeta, an Indian national

Commander Aftab, from Pakistani province of Punjab

Indians, Filipino’s, Punjabi’s and retired Pakistani army officers…that is a hell of a mix this late in the game.

But no reason to buy a lottery ticket right? Right! but this is; Police HQ Attacked in Kabul; 22 killed, over 100 wounded. Yesterday I wrote:

How will this attack affect ISIL-K? As I mentioned in the previous post they could very well shake off this attack and use it to prove how resilient they are in their propaganda. I’ll tell you the worst thing that can happen now is ISIS-K pulling off another spectacular suicide attack inside Kabul like they did last month.

The attack in Kabul last night was claimed (by the Taliban) to be the work of the Taliban but I’m not so sure about that. First reports on attacks like this are not always accurate. ISIS-K could very well claim responsibility for this attack and if/when they do we’ll see how effective the psychological component of the MOAB was on its intended audience. I don’t enjoy being correct (and I may not be about this attack) on my prognostications on Afghanistan but I usually am. I know the country which is why I want to go back and cover our continued efforts there.

Knowing I’m on some sort of streak I was just fixing to go out and get a lottery ticket when this popped up on the net:

Antifa girl is kicking my ass on the Go Fund Me front and that, my friends, is just not right. There may be many good reasons to dump 45k on this young unfortunate but none come immediately to mind. But having America’s reporter on the ground in Afghanistan telling you the truth about what the hell is going on there….one word friends; worthy. Yes, a worthy expenditure in support of truth, our troops and the new American way. The old American way involved getting all your news for the established media but those days are long gone.

Support free, independent, expert, Journalism by donating today to the worthy, yet getting left in the dust by #Moldylocks,  Baba Tim Go Fund Me page.

Mo MOAB Madness

This weekend I read a Macedonian paper to get a read on what India had to say about Pakistan’s involvement in the MOAB strike. An Indian paper to get a read on what Afghans not associated with the government thought about the attack and a Qatar-based Arab news network for the most even handed and comprehensive coverage of the incident and its aftermath.

India is claiming over 500 Pakistani nationals were killed in the attack. The Taliban said “using this massive bomb cannot be justified and will leave a material and psychological impact on our people” and Afghan journalist Bilal Salwary tweeted:

And that is a short summary of all the new news on the MOAB strike.

The New York Times published a piece on the visit of Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, President Trump’s national security adviser, to Kabul over the weekend confirming what we already knew about the request for more troops. Gen McMaster also:

… appeared to take a tougher line on Pakistan, which has been accused of using the Taliban as a proxy force and giving its leaders sanctuary. Many analysts, as well as some coalition partners, have been critical of the United States’ uphill struggle to persuade Pakistan to crack down on the Afghan Taliban leadership, which has used Pakistan as a base for its battles in Afghanistan.

We already know Pakistan’s Internal Security Service (ISI) drives the instability in Afghanistan and we already know the administration is tired of it. The last administration was tired of it too but who cares? There is not much we can do about it for the same reason Afghanistan can’t allow ISIS to gain a foothold in Nangarhar province. The supplies required to sustain (or commit more troops) have to come through Pakistan via the Khyber Pass.

Pakistan’s continued involvement in destabilizing Afghanistan is a problem that will have to be managed, not solved. And the problem is complex.

As covered in a previous post the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant Khorashan (ISIS-K)  was started by Pakistani Taliban who had fled from various tribal agencies in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier into Nangarhar province of Afghanistan. They were mainly Tehrik-e Taleban Pakistan (TTP) fighters (and their families) from the Orakzai, North Waziristan and Khyber tribal agencies.  But there were also fighters from Lashkar-e Islam; a group group led by Mangal Bagh who was described by the Long War Journal as a:

Robin Hood-like in character, claiming to mete out egalitarian social justice and rooting out crime, which to some extent is true. But he does this with an iron fist; any resistance is swiftly and permanently quelled. He has visibly reduced the criminal activities in the area, while also having a huge impact on decreasing drug trafficking in the area. At the same time he is engaged in a bitter ideological and sectarian struggle with a rival faction, a feud that has claimed many lives, and has blatantly and forcefully defied the state.

Armed Afridi tribal fighter outside one of their compounds in the Khyber Pass during the fighting between Lashkar-e Islam and the Afridi’s in 2009. Photo by Freerangeinternational

Mangal Baugh and his crew were courted by both tribal elders and the Afghan government as related in the excellent analysis of the organization by the Afghan Analyst Network:

 The Afghan government’s support to Mangal Bagh’s men is an open secret among residents of the Spin Ghar districts near the Durand Line. Residents from Achin recall the generous hosting of groups of long-haired Lashkar-e Islam fighters at the houses of Shinwari tribal elders, such as Malek Usman and Malek Niaz, in Achin. They had introduced their black flag to the area long before ISKP hoisted a flag of the same colour with different symbols and slogans. According to residents, Lashkar-e Islam’s flags were flying over many houses in the Mamand valley in Achin in the summer of 2014.

Mangal Baugh was killed by a drone strike in Nangarhar province on 22 July 2016. Since then his fighters have apparently gone over to ISIS-K which seems to enjoy the support of Pakistan’s ISI which is why Pakistan appears to be so upset about the attack.

Signs of recent attacks by Mangal Baugh’s Lashkar-e Islam on an Afridi compound adjacent to the Khyber Pass road in 2009. Note the half dozen RPG strikes along the front of the building. Photo by Freerangeinternational

Pakistani Taliban come to Afghanistan in flight from the Pakistani army. While in Nangarhar province they are courted by the government; probably because they would be causing cross-border mischief easily deniable by Kabul. Then they turn on the Taliban and declare themselves to be a franchise of ISIS. The government in Kabul reacts (I’m not sure when) by attacking them and then NATO starts to drone them but mainly it’s the Taliban who lead the fight against ISIS and even drive them out of the Mamand valley…..for a day. How the hell does the ISI figure in all this…it appears they have agents fighting with and supporting various Taliban mahez commanders and they had some with the ISIS villains too. ISI agent vs ISI agent – reminds me of Mad magazine,

Complicated right? And how does the Taliban shift so much combat and fire power into Achin district? A better question is how did so many militants and their families find and settle on so much land in Nangarhar province? It’s not like the local tribes are timid about defending their land. My guess is that the locals have lost too much manpower over all the years of fighting. I just don’t understand how Pashtun’s from the Pakistan side of the Durand Line can take so much land and power from tribes on the Afghan side. I guess armed tribal migration still happens in the modern world. When everyone is a renter use is solely according to possession. …which is an old world concept.

NBC news helpfully pointed out that President Trump was not consulted by Gen. Nicholson prior to the MOAB strike. That is technically true but irrelevant. The MOAB was already in Afghanistan and the criteria for using it as weaponeering solution would have been well established. Gen Nicholson is an American combatant commander of a NATO mission who has served in Afghanistan longer than any of his predecessors. He’s a smart guy and I can promise you, without having a news source to site, that he notified CENTCOM of his intention to drop the MOAB. The bomb is (obviously) too controversial for him not to do that. And if CENTCOM knew then Secretary of Defense Mattis knew too because that is how these things are done. That the military can now weaponeer solutions without micromanagement from the White House is a good thing.

It’s interesting that Afghanistan Security Forces (ANSF) personnel were moved back two kilometers from their forward line of troops (FLOT in mil-speak) and issued hearing protection prior to the strike. The MOAB was obviously a big impressive boom that must have been a real shocker for the people in the targeted area who survived the blast. ANSF has yet to close with the targeted area due to fighting on the route leading into the cave complex. That’s a series failure by both ANSF and NATO.

The MOAB would have cleared all IED’s within a kilometer or so of the blast and the Afghans have line charges to clear routes through mine fields too. They should have attacked and held the complex following the MOAB strike especially if they knew important leaders were meeting there. Dropping a big bomb and not using the shock it generates to clean up the survivors and sieze the targeted area is an amateurs mistake and both Resolute Support (NATO) and ANSF should be better than that by now.

How will this attack affect ISIL-K? As I mentioned in the previous post they could very well shake off this attack and use it to prove how resilient they are in their propaganda. I’ll tell you the worst thing that can happen now is ISIS-K pulling off another spectacular suicide attack inside Kabul like they did last month.

ISIS-K has obviously inherited part or is working with the old Haqqani (HiG) network. The Haqqani’s group was the only group that could consistently get inside the Kabul “Ring of Steel” and set up complex attacks. ISIS-K has shown they can do that too. If they pull off another attack they can boast that the only people impressed by our big bombs are us.

And for yet another example of how totaly worthless the American media has become we have this helpful segment from Fox news concerning how ISIS may respond to the MOAB attack. The news persons are operating with the assumption that ISIS is a connected, integrated, hierarchical organization which it most clearly is not. Thus every assumption they make in this piece is absolutely ridiculous. Watch it for entertainment value only as I swear these people do not have one clue about what they are talking about.

That silliness passing as news reporting is yet another reason why it is important to send America’s reporter back to Afghanistan. The fighting there is not over and we’re going to stay so it is important that somebody who knows what he’s doing return to cover this important story. Visit the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page today and donate to support professional reporting of this confusing conflict.

MOAB Madness; The Media Gets It Wrong Again

If I needed a sign to confirm my plan to return to Afghanistan was a sound one I need look no further than the coverage of yesterday’s MOAB bombing. It is clear that the usual ‘experts’ who comment on these types of events are clueless and that makes me wonder (yet again) just how much of the news we digest is factually correct.

The only Fox news show I’ll watch (occasionally) is Tucker Carlson but yesterday he struck out when he interviewed  an “army veteran” who claimed these tunnels were the same ones used by Osama bin Laden to escape in 2001. He then added some nonsense about the Haqqani group using them too before saying the MOAB was intended to “make ISIS fighters think twice about using such tunnels.” Everything the guy said was demonstrably wrong as is most of the reporting out today following up this story.

Osama bin Laden was trapped in the Tora Bora Complex in Khogyani district not the tunnel complex in Achin district which is at the head of the Mamand valley and the terminus for supply runs from across the border. It is also a training complex as well as a command and control node. ISIS has used this complex from day one because it is remote, easy to defend, fortified from back in the Mujaheddin days  and is a direct link (via donkey train) to the ISIS-K Pakistani homeland.

The MOAB will have a psychological impact on ISIS but that impact may or may not strengthen their resolve; it’s hard to say. What we do know is that militants in Afghanistan have been on the receiving end of unbelievable amounts of firepower for 16 years now and it does not appear to have affected their ability to replace casualties, motivate their fighters or stay in the fight.  ISIS can now claim that not even the “Mother of all Bombs” can hurt them and use the attack to drive recruiting through the roof. I don’t know how they’ll react and also know that nobody in the meida does either.

We do know that Islamic State of Khorasan (ISIS-K) is comprised mainly of former Tehrik-e Taleban Pakistan (TTP) militants from various tribal districts on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line. We also know they have been joined by Salafis from Kunar, Nuristan, Nangarhar and a number of other provinces.  What we don’t know (not that it matters) is how many militants were killed in the strike. The Independent Journal Review says over 100 people were killed based on a source who appears bogus to me, the Guardian says 36 were killed but doesn’t explain where that number comes from and the BBC is reporting dozens killed. All of these reports carry speculation about the number of civilians killed in the strike too which is something the press never speculated on when Obama was president but I digress.

The truth is we’ll never know how many were killed because their bodies are sealed inside the cave complex. That’s what 18,700 pounds of H6, (a mixture of RDX (Cyclotrimethylene trinitramine), TNT, and aluminum) delivered in an air-bust ordnance is designed to do. Were there non combatants present in the caves? There had to be a number of boys and old men who do the cooking, goat herding, water humping, firewood gathering and other housekeeping chores. But I wouldn’t call them noncombatants; young males and old men will always be co-located with Islamic terrorist fighters in the bush.

Weaponeering is the process of determining the quantity of a specific type of lethal or nonlethal weapons required to achieve a specific level of damage to a given target, considering target vulnerability, weapon effect, munitions delivery accuracy, damage criteria, probability of kill and weapon reliability. The  use of the GBU-43 MOAB yesterday was a weaponeering decision; nothing more. It may well have sent a message to other potential antagonists but was used because we wanted to destroy several metric tons of weapons and ammunition stored inside a cave complex.

There will be unintended consequences from the use of this weapon and one of them is this: the world just became a much safer place. I just finished an interesting book titled The Upcoming War With Russia, written by General Sir Richard Shirreff, the recently retired Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (NATO). The book is an urgent warning from a senior commander about an impending conflict with Russia and takes place in May through July of 2017. It starts when the Russians seize the Baltic states because they are convinced NATO lacks the will and combat power to stop them. General Shirreff cities the problems we are currently facing regarding aircraft and combat unit readiness (they are at the worst levels of my lifetime and damn near as bad as 1949) as well as the attitudes of our current political leaders as the precipitating factor in Russia’s decision to initiate hostilities.

The purpose of his book was to alert the reader to a real, no shit, existential threat and he was spot on with one exception. He anticipated that Hillary Clinton would win the election and American foreign policy would remain as fickle as it had been under Obama. The sales of his book will now plummet because in one bold move President Trump removed the greatest enticement to World War III and thus the purpose of the book.  America has returned as a legitimate counterweight to any nation seeking to overthrow the current status quo. We are leading from the front again and tolerating no shenanigans.

But just because we are great again doesn’t mean things are going to go smoothly from this point forward. We are in a real sticky situation in Afghanistan and if we do not radically change the approach we are taking there we’ll never leave, never make the place better, never stop the fighting and never stop the dying. The Marine deployment to Helmand province this spring is the first attempt by the United States  military to try something a little different. That deployment needs to be covered by somebody who knows what he is seeing and can understand context as well as the big picture.

You’ve got me to do that but I need you to help get me over there and in position to report. Please take the time to visit the Baba Tim Go Fund Me Page and support independent, honest, competent reporting from the front lines.

MOAB’ing ISIS in Afghanistan

Last Sunday (April 9th) CNN published a report of another American soldier killed in action while fighting in Afghanistan. The operator; Staff Sgt. Mark R. De Alencar, 37 from Edgewood, Maryland, a member of the 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne); was killed in while battling with  Khorashan in the Nangarhar province. Today the pentagon announced it had dropped the “mother of all bombs”, a GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) on Islamic State in Iraq and Syria-Khorasan province, or ISIS-K.

Readers who have followed our combat efforts overseas will remember the Khorashan Group as a fake news story  floated to justify the use of American tac air in Syria. During the summer of 2014, James Clapper, the US Director of National Intelligence for the Obama administration, released a dire warning about a new threat emanating from Syria called the Khorashan Group. A collection of 50 experienced, hard core former Taliban leaders in Syria specifically to develop external attacks, construct and test improvised explosive devices and recruit Westerners to conduct operations targeting the USA and Europe.

The Khorashan Group story was instantly outed on the internet. I was confused to see the ISIS group in Nangarhar province called  Khorashan; they have been there for years and I had never seen them called Khorashan before so I started looking into the ISIS problem in Nangarhar and found a hell of a strange story.

Free Range International on the Torkham border crossing in 2009

The current ISIS-K is not related to the former Khorashan group and probably got that name from the excellent Afghanistan Analysis Network (AAN). In July, 2016 Boris Osman of AAN published a report titled The Islamic State in ‘Khorasan’: How it began and where it stands now in Nangarhar. Boris explains in detail where ISIS came from, how they gained a foothold, why they remain and also why they are not spreading outside of Nangarhar province.  He also get’s the credit (as best I can tell) for the adding Khorashan to ISIS when referring to the ISIS movement in Nangarhar. The Afghan’s, like the Arabs, call them Daesh which seems easier to me but conflict analysts seem to like more specificity.

The ISIS-K designation makes sense when divorced from the bogus Khorashan Group of 2014. The definition of Khorashan (from the article linked above) is pasted below:

Khorasan is a historical term for areas populated by peoples speaking Iranian languages in northeastern Iran, the Transoxania part of Central Asia (Mawr-un-Nahr) and Afghanistan, mainly north of the Hindu Kush Mountains. In IS propaganda, it now comprises all of Afghanistan, most of Pakistan as well as Central Asia. Its reaches are felt as north as Kazakhstan and in eastern Turkistan.

That definition encompasses a wide range of tribes and peoples including Tajiks, Uzbecks, and the Hazara who do not normally cooperate with the largely Pashtun Taliban. Four main themes resonate throughout its propaganda: the duty of violent jihad, ISIS’s own legitimacy in fronting this cause, the trans-nationalism of its movement, and the discrediting of the “deviance” of its jihadi rivals. The propaganda is sophisticated and designed to affirm its legitimacy, and therefore “ownership” of the Afghan jihad.

This map of a proposed railway line (that will never happen in our lifetimes) also shows the critical Jalalabad – Torkham road

The most important road in Afghanistan runs from the Torkham border crossing in Jalalabad province to Kabul. Over eighty percent of Afghanistan’s trade comes across that border which is a direct link to Pakistan’s ports. In 2010 Pakistani Taliban, mainly from Tehrik-e Taleban Pakistan (TTP) started to settle in  Achin, Nazian, Kot, Deh Bala, Rodat and Ghanikhel districts. They invoked  Melmastia from the local communities saying it was their moral obligation to help their Pashtun brothers escape the Pakistani army which was mounting operations targeting the TTP in the Northwest Frontier.

Crossing into Afghanistan at the Torkham border crossing

Fast forward to 2014; the muhajerin (refugees) from Pakistan have continued to settle in Nangarhar but then the Pakistani army starts operation Khyber II and militants from the Pakistani tribal agencies flood across the border to get away from them. Mule trains full of weapons and ammo, some of them 50 animals long, arrive daily into the Mamand valley in Achin district along with hundreds of militants. Suddenly the muhajerin declare they are now ISIS and evict the Taliban from the districts they control but leave the Afghan security forces alone. The locals are happy because trade is moving, Taliban and government road blocks are down and nobody is shooting at anybody.

But then the Taliban attacked ISIS in Nazim district and all hell broke lose with ISIS battling back hard and taking control of five districts by June of 2015. Then the Taliban call in their ” elite forces” under brutal commanders from Loya Paktia and Loy Kandahar” and these guys infiltrate the Mamand valley (in Achin district) one night during Ramadan and (from the linked AAN article):

……. on 3 July 2015, local men (including those not usually sympathetic to the Taleban) and Taleban rose up together against ISKP, with calls by the Taleban via the mosque’s loud-speakers for all men of fighting age to come out and participate, or face seeing their homes burnt down. Taken by surprise, the ISKP fighters retreated from most of Mamand valley by the end of that day.

Could you imagine that? Every mosque in the valley telling the locals to come fight the Daesh (which is what they call ISIS-K) or else? I would have loved to have seen that and now at the head of that same valley we dropped a  MOAB on the caves where those donkey train loads of weapons were stashed. But how the hell does the Taliban shift elite forces around the country? I have some experience moving truck loads of armed men around Afghanistan and even when it was legal it was hard to pull off. It’s impossible now (for us foreigners) but the Taliban did it.  Plus where was the Afghan Security Forces and Resolute Support in all this?  They have been targeting ISIS-K with drones in the past and have fought them before and are apparently fighting them now.

Afghanistan, a country I honestly love, is a weird damn place where the most improbable things like the population of an entire valley; reinforced by elite Taliban units from Kandahar and Paktia, stage an uprising and drive out a powerful foe in one day; happen as a matter of routine . Amazing.

This is a reminder that we are not done in Afghanistan. We will be sending the Marines back this spring to the Helmand province. My goal is to cover that deployment with a month-long embed but I need your financial help to pull that off. Please visit the Baba Tim Go Fund Me Page to support quality journalism from the front lines.

Full Mission Rehearsal

Task Force Southwest (the 300-man Marine Corps unit deploying to the Helmand province this spring) had a Full Mission Rehearsal exercise at Camp Lejeune, N.C. that ran from February 27th – March 3rd. I was able to attend the first two days of the exercise (as an embedded reporter) with the Afghanistan National Police (ANP) training team who will be working out of the provincial capitol of Lashkar Gah. It was time well spent with a diverse crew of experienced Marines.

By diverse I mean they are from a variety of military occupational specialties (MOS’s) and they are volunteers. As mentioned in a earlier post one of the rules for embedded journalists is to not use the name, age and hometown of Marines in our reports. This is a force protection measure designed to prevent cyber stalking and/or cyber bullying of Marines and their families. That’s a legitimate concern these days so I won’t be focusing on individuals in this or future posts.

The ANP training team will be working with the ANP 505th Zone National Police in Lashkar Gah. The ANP team is heavy on officers, most of them experienced captains or majors who have deployed to Afghanistan. Even the Physicians Assistant attached to the team has over 12 months experience working with Afghan Security Forces (ASF) in Tarin Kot, capitol of Uruzgan province which was serious Indian Country.

Large pre-deployment exercises for Marine Corps units are designed to make the various subordinate headquarters work through their standard operations procedures (SOP’s) for contingencies they anticipate encountering while deployed. They do this using the communication equipment they are deploying with and under the control of their higher headquarters (BGen Roger Turners command group) which will be located at Camp Shorabak (30 miles away). These exercise can be boring as hell if the exercise control group is off it’s game but that no longer seems to be a problem.

Afghan role players (acting as the 505th ANP headquarters) getting briefed on the days events.

The exercise control folks are now contractors who run exercises for a living and they were excellent at keeping the problem running smoothly and inserting serious events (like a VBIED blowing up at their front gate) when they were least expected. Contractors are a significant improvement for designing and running exercises of this type because there is no military occupational specialty (MOS) for conducting training exercises but you still need experts to do it correctly.

Military theorist Carl von Clausewitz said “everything in war is simple. But the simplest thing is difficult”.

He was describing friction as it relates to military operations and that was the goal of the full mission rehearsal; gum up the works with serious problems and see how the various command groups handle solving them. It’s not the most exciting evolution to watch and it is also not that fun for the Marines who are working through the problems but it’s important to do. Operations centers need to remain calm and focused when under stress and the only way to get them there is to stress them during their pre-mission training.

An old concrete building at Davis Airfield  (a WWII era landing strip converted into a training area) served as the headquarters building for the ANP training team.

Experienced military professionals can tell how good a unit it is within minutes of watching their tactical operations control (TOC) in action.  But as a member of the press I wasn’t allowed inside TOC’s so I watched the problems play out from the medical spaces. I saw what I expected to see which was a group of experienced Marines working through problems in real time. Friction makes that hard  to do when all the communication nets are involved (and some go down when the exercise controllers want to add stress) and I’ve seen command groups melt down with helmet fires under similar stress.  The ANP training team did fine; they didn’t get too excited and never got far behind the event horizon by failing to maintain good situational awareness with their higher headquarters.

I found a corner on the second floor above medical that had not been claimed by Marines and slept there too. I knew to roll up my sleeping bag and mat and to keep my ruck packed during the day (so I didn’t stand out like a pouge) and it wasn’t long before I was making friends and chatting with the team.  I liked them too – a good crew with a positive attitude and great stories from their prior deployments to Afghanistan. Plus I slept like a baby in my little corner on the second deck. I’m always awake before dawn and had a rental car staged at the airfield so I skipped out every morning for coffee and an egg sandwich. Talk about living the high life!

My best guess (and this is just a guess) is Task Force Southwest will head into the Helmand to help with the training and  coordination but remained confined to the bases they will be  working from. The 215th Corps of the Afghanistan National Army and the 205 Zone of the Afghan National Police are taking a serious beating while not getting their share of combat enablers like Tac Air (Afghans use the A-29 Super Tucano which is a good ground attack platform) which it seems are being concentrated in the east to battle an out break of The Daesh (ISIS) in Nangarhar province (where we lost another special operator last night).  It appears (again to me) that the 215th Corps and 205th Zone are fighting a holding action designed to keep the Taliban focused on Helmand while the central government in Kabul tries to consolidate its control of the strategically critical eastern provinces.

If my guess is true then this deployment will be a lot of risk some potentially long term gain making this one of the more unique deployments in the history of the United States Marine Corps. This is why I feel it needs to be covered correctly. Please help make this month-long embed with TF Southwest  happen by stopping by the Baba Tim Go Fund Me Page. This deployment is too important to be ignored….


Washington, D.C.

I was in the nations capitol to see my good friend Eric Mellinger retire after a distinguished 30 year career as an infantry officer in the United States Marine Corps.  I wasn’t the only one making a long trip for a short ceremony; men who had served with Eric came from all over the country to pay their respects to a Marine we admire and love like a brother. Which not like a man loves a woman; we might be modern day Spartans but we’re not lifestyle Spartans. People from all over the world read this blog and I don’t want to cause any confusion on that point.

Colonel Eric Mellinger USMC addressing the crowd at his retirement yesterday. Good friend, fearless patriot, proud American

Eric is not your average Marine Corps Colonel; as a field grade officer he has bounced between commanding (multiple times) at the battalion and regimental level and running the operations for senior Fleet Marine Force commands. He’s been a player for his entire career and like many senior officers in the Corps today he got on the fast track when he was selected to serve as an instructor at the Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course in Quantico, Virginia. I knew a healthy percentage of the Marine Corps fighting generals would make it point to attend his retirement and I wanted to get their take on the upcoming deployment of the 300-man Task Force Southwest to the Helmand province in Afghanistan.

I was not disappointed; there were a couple dozen general officers and senior colonels at Eric’s retirement ceremony which was held at the Marine Corps Barracks in Washington DC. My friends Dave Furness,  Paul Kennedy,  Mike Killian, Brad Schumaker (who I hadn’t seen in 25 years)  and  Larry Nicholson were all there. Long time FRI readers will be familiar with these Marines (except  Brad) and for those of you who aren’t hit the hyperlinks on their names to read posts about them during their tours in Afghanistan. The reaction I got about the upcoming deployment of the Marine task force was unanimously less than enthusiastic.

Lt General Larry Nicholson, retired Colonel Mike Killian and I at the post retirement reception

There was a time when the Marines, after many months of hard fighting, had the province locked down. In 2011 I could travel from Lashkar Gah to Khanishin without drama. North of Gereshk was too risky for our crew but local commerce flowed without too many problems and the big towns of Naw Zad, Musa Quala and Sangin (not shown in the map below) were solidly under ISAF /Afghan Security Forces (ASF) control.

This is a map depicting Operation Khanjar which started on 2 July 2009. This is a good map of the southern Helmand province and the entire area was secure by 2011.

The Marines gave the Afghans the security space they needed by beating the Taliban like a drum and driving them out of the province. Those who remained ditched their weapons and went along with the program. There were always pockets of resistance but they were small and the level of violence manageable. The commanders I spoke with felt they had done what was asked of them. They gave the Afghans the security space they needed to sort themselves out. The Afghans blew it because they were selfish, greedy, stubborn and refused to cooperate among themselves. The Marines I talked to feel no obligation to go back and try again; the Afghans had their chance already and can now enjoy the bitter harvest of their failure to do what they said would do.

When I asked my friends their thoughts about my planned embed with Task Force Southwest (the Marine unit heading back to the Helmand province) their reactions were mixed. Most supported the idea but my closest friends were strongly opposed. They felt the risk was too great, for a story nobody cares about and it was time for me to move on to other things.

Helmand province in 2015 – the Taliban now control the south too

My experiences in Afghanistan were different than my Marine Corps buddies. I was there a long time, made some really good friends but more importantly  my team and I saw the results of our efforts at formal dedication ceremonies of the district irrigation systems, municipal stadiums as well as the roads, school and bazaars we built. We had a hell of run.  We knew we helped and received the gratification of having Afghans tell us how much they appreciated what we had done.

I guess I’m a bit stubborn myself because I think there is a story in the Marines return to Afghanistan and I invested too much into the place to simply walk away. But I will not be able to embed to cover this story without the generous support of people who, like me, feel it a travesty to abandon the Afghans to fate.  If you have the means and interest please take the time to visit the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page to make a donation.

Did We Lose Sangin District to the Taliban?

Taliban Take an Afghan District, Sangin, That Many Marines Died to Keep” said the New York Times a few days ago which, in classic demonstration of poor headline writing, turned out to be technically not true. Located further down in the Times story was a quote from an Afghan National Army (ANA) spokesman who explained what they had moved from the district center to a new base.

 “It is not true,” Maj. Gen. Dawlat Waziri, the spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, said of the reports of Sangin’s fall. “We relocated an army battalion in Sangin, we moved them to a newly built garrison. Whenever we move our forces in Sangin, they claim that they capture Sangin.”

Long War Journal’s Bill Roggio’s pointed out the obvious which is if the Taliban control the Sangin district center then they control the district.  With an ANA battalion somewhere in the district the central government can claim some degree of control  but in reality the tribes control Sangin and have ever since the Marines left. According to the standard Afghanistan counterinsurgency narrative  it would appear the Taliban now has the momentum it needs to prevail in it’s confrontation with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GoIRA). But appearances are deceptive in Helmand province.

What is happening in Sangin district has little to do with the Taliban movement and everything to do with incessant inter-tribal conflict to control land, patronage and the lucrative poppy trade. The quote below from a Marine who served as an embedded trainer to the ANA sums the situation up well.

“The issues in Sangin are so much deeper than Taliban versus ANA,” one of the last U.S. Marines to serve as a combat adviser in the district, Dom Pellegrini, told Checkpoint, using the acronym for the Afghan National Army. “Those categories aren’t at all adequate to describe what was going on, and I’m not sure I ever figured out what was going on. It was a drug war, I guess.”

In 2011 the Marines were able to bring one of the tribes, the Alikozai, into the government fold. Bill Ardolino writing at The Long War Journal examined this development in detail at the time concluding:

Thus, this reported alliance with the government and the Marines in Sangin may represent less of a watershed political breakthrough and more of an accommodation with a minority of the district as they seek advantage in a bloody tribal grudge match.

The Alikozai tribe gained power and influence after siding with the government in 2011;  Helmand expert Mike Martin described what happened next in this 2016 Washington Post article:

Many in the local government and police hailed from one local tribe, the Alikozai, which historically had battled for drug profits with the neighboring Ishaqzai tribe. The Ishaqzai, predictably, threw in their lot with the Taliban.

“The police in Sangin are a drug militia belonging to one tribe, and the Taliban are another drug militia. Whoever controls the Sangin bazaar is able to tax the drug crop. Hence why people fight for control of the bazaar,” next to which FOB Jackson was located, Martin said.

The Ishaqzai had thrown their lot in with the Taliban back in 2006 which was when the other big tribes around Sangin including the Alizai and Noorzai did the same. They joined the Taliban after the provincial governor at the time, Sher Mohammad Akundzada, (a leader in the Alizai tribe) was sacked (at the insistence of the British) due to his participation in the opium trade. Sher Mohammad Akundzada was President Karzai’s brother-in-law and was key to holding the fragile Durrani tribal alliance that Karzai was using to hold the southern portion of the country together. At the time of his sacking Akundzada said he was being forced to turn his 3000 man militia over to the Taliban because he could no longer pay them. The Durrani tribes in the Helmand then started to turn on the Karzai government to protect their land and booming poppy trade.

Sher Mohammad Akundzada elected to the Meshrano Jirga (House of Elders) in 2010 and now living in Kabul.   Photo by Richard Mills

The Helmand tribes turned to Taliban funding networks (Quetta shura, or Peshawar shura or the Haqqani network) to gain the resources required to fight the government and ISAF but they never ceded operational or tactical control to those networks.  They fought for the survival of their tribes in a province that produces 90% of the world’s illicit opium supply turning Helmand into the most dangerous province (measured by ISAF casualties) in Afghanistan.

By relocating the ANA Kandak that was in Sangin outside the district center GoIRA has removed itself from the middle of a tribal civil war fueled by poppy, power and position. The Taliban are not going to come in and seize the district because the “Taliban” are already live there; it’s their district.

There is no reason to rush back into the district center to re-claim it because the government has never really held it to begin with. The Marines heading to Helmand province this summer know the history of the tribes, the players involved and what’s driving the cycle of violence province wide. But knowing the root of the problems and being able to address those problems is a problem.  A problem because it requires lots of coalition building, chin wagging and horse trading among the tribes but very little (if done correctly) shooting.

Solving that kind of problem is one of the challenges facing Task Force Southwest but (ideally) one that requires expert language skills, political juice and the kind of credibility that takes years to establish. Task Force Southwest needs a Pashto speaking diplomat, who is known to the tribes, and has the proper authority for deal making. They may have one for all I know as the Department of State would normally contribute appropriate level personnel to a Task Force of this nature.

They could also use an Islamic Chaplin but the military doesn’t have many of them which is a pity. The only untainted line of communication to the common people in Helmand province is through the Mullahs who are independent of the tribes because they come from outside the tribal system. It is the common farmer who benefits from stability (and who must, by now, be sick of war) who will listen to arguments from the Mullahs. Taking your case directly to the people is another way to bring pressure on both tribal and government leaders to do the right thing. That type of effort would require an American Chaplin (with serious Islamic Scholarship credentials) coordinating with the senior Mullahs. I’ve heard of at least two who fit the bill over the years but do not know if they remain in the service. If they do the next TF Southwest rotation should include one.

Alokozai tribal militia fanning out on patrol in support of GoIRA security forces in Sangin, January 2017; Photograph by Watan Yar/European Pressphoto Agency

Did Afghanistan lose Sangin district to the Taliban? No; they simply moved their army out of the way of the tribal infighting which they should have done when the Marines pulled out in 2014. Is it there a chance the Marines will be able to decrease the level of violence in Sangin district? Probably not; they are other issues closer to the capitol of Lashkar Gah they are going to have to focus on first.

The situation on the ground  facing Task Force Southwest is complex and given our past inability to develop capable, cohesive, proficient Afghan Security Forces, seemingly hopeless. The Marines think they are going to deliver positive change in Helmand province and by stiffening the Afghan Security Forces. I’m not sure how that will work but know what the Marines know and also know they are not, as an institution, comfortable with failure. If they think they can make a difference then my money is on them.

This is going to be the most important yet least covered combat deployment of a generation. You can help ensure this high risk deployment is covered honestly and fairly by supporting independent, expert combat journalism…. donate today at the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page.

Marines and Social Media

I was able to embed with Task Force Southwest for the first two days of their full mission rehearsal exercise last month. Embedding as a journalist with the Marines was a new experience for me that required signing  a dozen waivers acknowledging (among other things) that I knew the ground rules.

Guess what the most interesting ground rule was? No identification of Marines by name and if I had photograph of a Marine with the name tag on his uniform visible it had to be obscured before being published.

Major Kendra Motz, the public affairs officer (PAO) for the Task Force, explained the concern was potential cyber stalking and/or cyber bullying of the Marines and their families through social media accounts. I had asked specifically about using the name, age and home town of the Marines because that’s a  staple of military journalism.  It humanizes the story and reminds fellow citizens that the men and women serving are people just like them.

I was surprised by the new policy but recognized instantly it was a prudent measure. Given the Marines United  scandal the Corps is currently enduring an operational measure designed to prevent exposure of deployed Marines to potential abuse on social media is interesting.

One could make the argument Marines shouldn’t be on social media. Tier One operators aren’t on Facebook; it might be time the rest of the armed forces to do the same. Given the viciousness of trolling from all sides of the political spectrum as well as the weaponization of social media by groups like Daesh (ISIS); banning Marines from using social media makes sense. But passing regulations that you anticipate will be widely ignored makes no sense. And I haven’t any sense on the feasibility of a social media ban in today’s Marine Corps but would be thinking about it were I tasked with finding potential solutions.

Marines United was the topic of an almost two-hour podcast from All Marine Radio with the Legislative Assistant to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Brigadier General Dave Furness. For readers new to FRI Mike “Mac” McNamara is the host of All Marine Radio and he worked for Dave when he took Regimental Combat Team 1 (RCT 1) to the Helmand province in 2010.

Dave, Mike and I outside the CP of RCT 1 on Camp Dwyer, Helmand province

Dave, Mac and I taught at the infantry officer course together in the early 90’s and have been good friends ever since. The Helmand deployment was the third combat deployment where Dave and Mike served together so as you can imagine they are tight.

The program linked above is fascinating, informative, and at times damn funny. It is a rare thing to listen to a general officer giving you the same brief he gives congress members. At the 1 hour 19 minute mark Mac transitions into a discussion about the barracks. What they are talking about is how much control Marine commanders enforce on their Marines during their off duty hours. BGen Furness reviews the barracks have changed from the open squad bays that we had as platoon commanders to the high raise dormitories of today’s Corps.

This is a topic of heated debate these days; open squad bays were not popular with junior Marines but they made the maintenance of good order and discipline easy. The modern barracks are nice providing Marines a degree of privacy and control of their living spaces never available in the past at the expense (apparently) of good order and discipline. Dave and Mac are adamant that discipline saves lives on the battlefield and they connect that discipline directly back to how and who runs the barracks. They have the statistics from their last combat deployment to back that up and it is a fascinating discussion to listen in on.

As Dave got going on the barracks being a key indicator of unit discipline Mac goads him by saying it’s not that way now and Dave goes off like a firecracker. I had tears in my eyes I was laughing so hard because I knew Mac had done this on purpose. Dave Furness is not only a good friend but an interesting, articulate guy who can tell some stories but who also has a critically important job which he remembers at the 1 hour 45 minute mark.  He must have looked at a clock and realized he was behind the power curve for the day when he suddenly said (clearly alarmed) “Hey I’ve got to go! I’ve got a job to do……”It’s hysterical radio and one of the reasons I’m enjoying being a fan of this unique venture .

The Girlfriend has a PhD in organizational leadership and she listened to the barracks discussion twice – taking notes both times. I urge all who have an interest in leadership to listen to this podcast; it’s an education in how to achieve excellence at the lowest levels of an organization.

The Go Fund Me campaign is off to a great start and I appreciate the support from the best friends a man can have. I still need a little help to make it to Afghanistan to report the story of Task Force Southwest. Please  take the time to support straight reporting from the front lines by donating to The Baba Tim Go Fund Me page.


The Afghans

The American military was welcomed by a vast majority of the Afghan population when it entered the country in 2001. We helped rid the country of an unpopular, dysfunctional government and seemed to have set the conditions for sustained peace in a country that has known war for a generation.

We should have finished our mission to Afghanistan in December, 2001 when we had Osama bin Laden (OBL) trapped but instead we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Frantic requests from the special operators in Tora Bora for American troops to seal the escape routes into Pakistan were ignored by CENTCOM.  Reportedly because the generals feared a “meat grinder” or “another Mogadishu” or “offending our Afghan allies”. When OBL slipped away into a dark Pakistani night our mission to Afghanistan started to expand and extend. Sixteen years later there is no end in sight.

Potential losses in risky operations should be evaluated against the mission. Confusing the importance of killing bin Laden with a mission involving the arrests of  Somali warlords is a failure (in my humble opinion) at the highest levels of command. But when CENTCOM went to the White House seeking guidance from on high killing bin Laden took a back seat when former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld handed them back their Iraq war plan and said he wanted a new one in five days. Unbelievable.

When bin Laden escaped we decided to stay and despite near universal acceptance by the Afghan people at the start of our effort we have, to date, failed. The warm welcome both aid workers and the military patrols received from 2002 through 2006 in rural Afghanistan is long gone. Kabul is now a dangerous place for internationals because the Afghans are frustrated, bitter, and angry at what some see as incompetence and others see as deliberate sabotage of Afghanistan and her people.

A good example of our bad start would be America’s initial efforts in Helmand province.  In late 2002 a U.S. Special Forces A Team arrived in the capitol, Laskar Gah and immediately offered bounties for “former members of the Taliban”. Mike Martin describes what happened next in  An Intimate War: An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict, (p. 125)

Early in January 2003, for example, Abdul Kadus, a seventeen-year-old orphan from Nad-e Ali, was arrested by Mir Wali’s forces in what appears, from the Guantanamo documents, to be a ‘sting’ in order to gain the bounty offered. In an almost exact copy of this modus operandi, Mohammad Ismail, a sixteen-year-old, was arrested, also in Gereshk. They share consecutive Guantanamo inmate numbers, although the records are unclear about their exact date of arrest.

Those two orphans were in Cuba because we failed to understand how offering a bounty would cause Afghans to denounce those they were feuding with or even innocents to collect the cash.

Afghan boys in Balkh province (summer 2006) if I remember correctly these boys were at an Afghan police station because their father/uncle had died the night prior and relatives were on the way to take custody of them.

Were I on active duty and sent with a team of commandos to Lashkar Gah in  2003 I would have done the same thing; I knew nothing about Afghanistan back then. The SF team in Lashkar Gah did what they were told to do and pointing out the flaw in their plan isn’t to illustrate malfeasance because there was none. In 2017 this story is important only in how the Afghans saw and interpreted those events and our subsequent actions.

My belief is that the Afghans saw us as both seriously dangerous and naively stupid. Their elites played us for years to settle scores, steal land or to collect a kings ransom by turning over illiterate orphans to SF teams. The average Afghan, was (in my experience) baffled by our incompetence but willing to participate with us in the reconstruction effort.

Contributing to both poor program management and alienation from the Afghans (we were supposed to be helping) were unnecessarily restrictive security rules. B6 level armored SUV’s, armed, high end western mobile security teams, hardened compounds and lavish life support was mandated for westerners working USAID or State Department contracts. That crippled our reconstruction efforts from the start and in the ensuing years we not only accomplished little but lost track of 70 Billion dollars.

By 2009 USAID was experimenting with alternative implementation profiles to include using former soldiers in direct implementation projects thus eliminating the need for armored vehicles, security escorts, specialized compounds etc…  That was how Ghost Team got it’s start and despite delivering massive projects on time and on budget, Ghost Team turned out to be too little and too late.

Here is another cultural dynamic where we are tone deaf (due to political correctness) and need to wise up; our fascination with female empowerment. Here’s why: if your tribe lives in a society of scarce resources and makes an equal investment in educating and training both boys and girls your tribe is going to starve.

In rural Afghanistan women spend most of their adult lives producing and raising children regardless of their level of education. Efficient allocation of scarce resources would dictate investing those resources in family members who will use them for the benefit of the family.  Most Afghans I met have no issue with sending their daughters to school when they are young but investing the resources to train a daughter to become a lawyer would be as foolish as training a son to be midwife. In rural Afghanistan a female lawyer will spend her life inside the compound of her husband’s family just like her illiterate neighbors. Every penny spent educating her would have been wasted and rural Afghans don’t have the disposable income to waste.

These little girls lived in Little Barabad village across the Kabul river from the Taj Guesthouse (Jalalabad City, Nangarhar province). The closest school was 400 meters away but might as well been 400 miles because the kids couldn’t get across the river or make the 40 mile round trip via the Beshud bridge to attend. Building a school for them would have been a waste of resources because the village was comprised of squatters from the Kuchi tribe occupying government land.  Building permanent structures in direct support of this little tribe would have made government eviction a near certainty. Baba Ken and Dr. Dave from  Synergy Strike Force sank a well for them in 2009 or 2010 – prior to that their drinking water came for the Kabul River. This picture was taken in 2008.

The Afghans may see more benefit in allowing all their children access to higher education in time but probably not before they have electricity, running water, paved roads, plumbing inside their homes and security.

America and the 41 other countries contributing to Resolute Support are staying on in Afghanistan with the intention of seeing things through to an acceptable end-state. That is going to take time and it is going to generate more casualties; the loss of talented, experienced combat soldiers is going to continue. The countries losing those soldiers are not going to want to continue. America has already made it clear we’re not interested in continuing now and we have much more to endure before anything gets remotely better.

Countries participating in Resolute Support

During the dark days ahead it is important to understand how our misguided efforts contributed to this mess and the impact that has had on a civilian population that just wants to left alone in peace. This is an important story that may not matter to you much now but it will soon which is why I feel it an imperative to cover.

I cannot make this trip without your support so please visit the Baba Tim Go Fund Me Page to donate. The men and women currently serving in harms way in Afghanistan deserve to have their story told and I intend to do just that.



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