Free Ranging the Khyber Pass

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

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

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

Touring the Qissa Khawani Bazaar with escort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Entrance to the Khyber Rifles O club

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

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

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

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

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

You see these unit plaques throughout the Khyber Pass

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

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

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

American Green Berets Gunned Down during a KLE Meeting in Sherzad District; What’s Going On There?

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.

This is the Nangahar province of Afghanistan. Sherzad district is in the east of the Province and the ISIS threat was centered in Achin district well to the west. Back in the day Sherzad was HIG land (not Taliban) but Heckmyter Chu-Hoi’d to the government side a few years back and it is now a Taliban stronghold.

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.

Atrocity in Afghanistan

Yesterday news broke of what appears to be a cold blooded shooting  by a US soldier of an Afghan truck driver. The story was first reported by politico and the short segment featured below was apparently part of a 3 minute video titled  “Happy Few Ordnance Symphony,” that was briefly posted to Youtube this week.

https://youtu.be/VS61sySdThg

Speculation in the press is this incident occurred recently in Nangarhar province which is the only part of Afghanistan where US forces are operating outside the wire. I don’t think that’s the case as it is very rare to have snow in Nangarhar province and the portions that do see some snow would by in the Spin Ghar mountains where there are not any good hard ball roads.

If I were to hazard a guess I would say that this film was made on the ring road between Kabul and Ghazni….probably in Wardak province. That would mean the tape was shot before 2014.

I have written dozens of times about the unnecessary deaths US and NATO forces inflicted on civilians due to their tendency to shoot up cars that come too close to their convoys. This force protection measure was an attempt to stop SVBIED’s; the vehicle variant of the suicide bomber phenomenon.  This post on the Raven 23 travesty contains several links to my previous posts on this topic.

The press always points to Raven 23 (the Nissor Square shootings) as the behavior of trigger happy contractors while studiously ignoring the hundreds if not thousands of examples of military convoys doing the exact same thing. Having had two vehicles shot out from under me, one by the British Army and one by the American Army (both incidents happened in Kabul) I am very touchy on this topic.

But what happened in all the examples I cite above and what you see in the video pasted above are two different things. The video depicts a gratuitous assault (and possibly a murder) on the part of an American serviceman. The problem is that there are anomalies in the video which are difficult to account for.

The weapon used in this shooting is an M4 Benelli tactical shotgun. That is a semiautomatic shotgun and when fired it should automatically eject the spent shell. In the video we see some gas escaping the barrel as it is apparently fired into the cab of an Afghan truck. What we don’t see is any recoil or the automatic extraction of the spent shotgun shell. That’s a little strange and I’m not able to explain why that happened.

It could be a non lethal round was fired at the Afghan driver which may account for the light recoil but I thought even non lethal rounds generated enough energy to cycle the action. I could be wrong but if that is the case then we are not witnessing a cold blooded murder but a really stupid assault on an innocent civilian. I hope that proves the be the case.  If that kid fired buck shot from the M4 he killed that driver. You can see where the round impacted on the drivers window; there is no question buck shot would have resulted in a fatal wound.

My problem with the force protection measures used by ISAF military units in Afghanistan was that they not only killed civilians but they were also poor tactics. The gunners in those incidents could not have identified a threat, oriented on it and put enough fire on those vehicles to be effective. It was an OODA loop issue. I also think the Blackwater guys involved in the Nissor Square shootings reacted with excessive force. My problem there was they were prosecuted for doing exactly what the military did in similar circumstances.

When you’re operating in Afghanistan or Iraq where the battlefield is full of non combatants sometimes you have to suck up incoming, hunker down and drive like hell to get off the X. It;’s not fun and I’ve done it often enough to know what a raw deal it is. But it is what it is; I would not shoot at random civilians anymore than I would shoot at ISAF soldiers who fired on me. It’s not a rational response or legal option.

One of the reasons I’m an advocate of the PMC model is that contractors, despite the common perception of the media, are much less likely to drop the hammer on people than the military. Contractors don’t have the protection afforded military personnel by status of forces agreements. They are on their own and have to answer to host nation authorities when they use deadly force.

What we see in the video above has nothing to do with force protection. It is a straight up atrocity, an unlawful use of force and the soldiers involved should face the full force of the law for their criminal action. It is also a huge setback to America in our effort to get Afghanistan under control so we can leave. The prize now, as it has been all along, is the Afghan people. And the Afghan people are not going to forget this video anytime soon.

 

Gandamak

Last week I received and polite email from Professor Richard Macrory of the Centre for Law and the Environment, University College London asking me for permission to use some of my photos of the Gandamak battlefield in his upcoming book on the First Afghan War. I said that it would be an honor and I believe the book will come out next year. In the meantime I’m re-posting my Gandamak story because it is different then every other Gandamak story you’ll hear from Afghan based expats. This Gandamak tale is about the battlefield, not one of the best bar/guesthouses in Kabul

Traveling into contested tribal lands is a bit tricky. I had no doubt that the Malicks from Gandamak would provide for my safety at our destination but I had to get there first. Given the amount of Taliban activity between Jalalabad and Gandamak the only safe way to get there and back was low profile.

The first of three downed bridges between Gandamak and Jalalabad
The first of three downed bridges between Gandamak and Jalalabad

The road into Gandamack required us to ford three separate stream beds. The bridges that once spanned these obstacles were destroyed by the Soviets around 25 years ago. We have been fighting the Stability Operations battle here going on seven years but the bridges are still down, the power plants have not been fixed and most roads are little better then they were when Alexander the Great came through the Khyber Pass in 327 BC. The job of repairing and building the infrastructure of Afghanistan is much bigger than anyone back home can imagine. It is also clearly beyond the capabilities of USAID or the US Military PRT’s to fix given their current operational tempo and style. These bridges are still down (as of 2015) and may never be fixed in our lifetimes.

Also destroyed 25 years ago - how do we expect the farmers to get their produce and livestock to market over this? What the hell have we been doing for the past seven years? I watchd the tallest building in the world go up in Dubai, with about 300 other super sky scrappers over the past four years but we can't even repair a few stone bridges in seven; check that, make it 14 years?
Also destroyed 25 years ago – how do we expect the farmers to get their produce and livestock to market over this? What the hell have we been doing for the past seven years? I watchd the tallest building in the world go up in Dubai, with about 300 other super sky scrappers over the past four years but we can’t even repair a few stone bridges in seven; check that, make it 14 years?

It took over an hour to reach Gandamack which appeared to be a prosperous hamlet tucked into a small valley. The color of prosperity in Afghanistan is green because vegetation means water and villages with access to abundant clean water are always significantly better off than those without.

My host for the day was the older brother of my driver Sharif. When I first met Sharif he told me “I speak English fluently” and then smiled. I immediately hired him and issued a quick string of coordinating instructions about what we were doing in the morning then bid him good day. He failed to show up on time and when I called him to ask why it became apparent that the only words of English Sharif knew were “I speak English fluently.” You get that from Afghans. But Shariff is learning his letters and has proven an able driver plus a first rate scrounger.

The Maliks (tribal leaders) from Gandamak and the surrounding villages arrived shortly after we did. They walked into the meeting room armed; I had left my rifle in the vehicle which, as the invited foreign guest, I felt obligated to do.  Gandamak is Indian Country and everybody out here is armed to the teeth.  I was an invited guest, the odds of me being harmed by the Maliks who invited me were exactly zero. That’s how Pashtunwali works. The order of business was a meeting where the topic was what they need and why the hell can’t they get some help. Then we were to tour the hill outside Gandamak where the 44th Foot fought to the last man during the British retreat from Kabul in 1842 followed by lunch. I was not going to be able to do much about the projects they needed but I could listen politely which is all they asked of me. Years later I would be in the position to lend them a hand when they really needed it but at the time of this meeting I was a security not an aid guy.  I have enjoyed visiting old battlefields since I was a boy and would go on staff rides with my father to Gettysburg, The Wilderness battlefield and Fredricksburg.  I especially enjoy visiting battlefields that not many people can visit and I’ve not heard of any westerner poking around the Gandamak battlefield in decades. It would be foolish to try without armed tribal fighters escorting you.

Sharif's Great Great Grandfather and son waiting on the Brits to make it down from Kabul
Sharif’s Great Great Grandfather and son waiting on the Brits to make it down from Kabul

As the Maliks arrived they started talking among themselves in hushed tones and I kept hearing the name “Barack Obama.” I was apprehensive; I’m surrounded by Obama fanatics every Thursday night at the Taj bar. It is unpleasant talking with them because they know absolutely nothing about the man other than he is not Bush and looks cool. They are convinced he is more then ready to be president because NPR told them so. Pointing out that to the NGO girls that Obama can’t possibly be ready to be the chief executive because he has zero experience at executive leadership is pointless and I did not want to have to explain this to the Maliks. They have time and will insist on hashing things out for as long as it takes for them to reach a clear understanding. I have a wrist watch and a short attention span; this was not starting off well.

As I feared the morning discussion started with the question “tell us about Barack Obama?” What was I to say? That his resume is thin is an understatement but he has risen to the top of the democratic machine and that took some traits Pashtun Maliks could identify with. I described how he came to power in the Chicago machine. Not by trying to explain Chicago but in general terms using the oldest communication device known to man a good story. A story based in fact; colored with a little supposition and augmented by my colorful imagination. Once they understood that lawyers in America are like warlords in Afghanistan and can rub out their competition ahead of an election using the law and judges instead of guns they got the picture. A man cold enough to win every office for which he ran by eliminating his competition before the vote is a man the Pashtun’s can understand. I told them that Obama will probably win and that I have no idea how that will impact our effort in Afghanistan. They asked if Obama was African and I resisted the obvious answer of who knows? Instead I said his father was African and his mother a white American and so he identifies himself as an African American. I had succeeded in totally confusing my hosts and they just looked at me for a long time saying nothing.

What followed was (I think) a long discussion about Africans; were they or were they not good Muslims? I assume this stems from the Africans they may have seen during the Al Qaeda days. I think the conclusion was that the Africans were like the Arabs and therefore considered suspect. They talked among themselves for several more minutes and I heard John McCain’s name several times but they did not ask anymore about the pending election praise be to God. They assured me that they like all Americans regardless of hue and it would be better to see more of them especially if they took off the helmets and body armor because that scares the kids and woman folk. And their big MRAPS  scare the cows who already don’t have enough water and feed so scaring them causes even less milk to be produced and on and on and on; these guys know how to beat a point to death.

We talked for around 35 more minutes about the anemic American reconstruction effort, their needs and the rise in armed militancy. The American military visits the district of Sherzad about once a month and remain popular with the local people. They have built some mico-hydro power projects upstream from Gandamak which the people (even those who do not benefit from the project) much appreciate. The US AID contractor DAI has several projects in the district which the elders feel could be done better if they were given the money to do it themselves but despite this DAI is welcomed and their efforts much appreciated. When I asked who had kidnapped the DAI engineer (a local national) last month and how we could go about securing his release (which was another reason for my visit) they shrugged and one of them said “who knows”?  That was to be expected but I felt compelled to ask anyway. They know I have no skin in that game and am therefore irrelevant.

The elders explained, without me asking, that they are serious about giving up poppy cultivation but they have yet to see the promised financial aid for doing so and thus will have to  grow poppy again (if they get enough rain inshallah). They also need a road over which to transport their crops to market once they get their fields productive. Then they need their bridges repaired, and they need their irrigation systems restored to the condition they were in back in the 1970’s and that’s it. They said that with these improvements would come security and more commerce. One of them made a most interesting comment and that was something to the effect of “the way the roads are now the only thing we can economically transport over them is the poppy.” A little food for thought.

At the conclusion of the talking part of the meeting the senior Maliks and I piled into my SUV and headed to the Gandamak battlefield.

The Last Stand of the 44th Foot
The Last Stand of the 44th Foot

The final stand at Gandamak occurred on the 13th of January 1842. Twenty officers and forty five British soldiers, most from the 44th Foot pulled off the road onto a hillock when they found the pass to Jalalabad blocked by Afghan fighters. They must have pulled up on the high ground to take away the mobility advantage of the horse mounted Afghan fighters. The Afghans closed in and tried to talk the men into surrendering their arms. A sergeant was famously said to reply “not bloody likely” and the fight was on. Six officers cut their way through the attackers and tried to make it to British lines in Jalalabad. Only one, Dr Brydon, made it to safety.

The Gandamack Hill today
The Gandamack Hill today

Our first stop was to what the Maliks described as “The British Prison” which was up on the side of the Jalalabad pass and about a mile from the battlefield. We climbed up the steep slope at a vigorous pace set by the senior Malik. About halfway up we came to what looked to be an old foundation and an entrance to a small cave. They said this was a British prison. I can’t imagine how that could be – there were no British forces here when the 44th Foot was cut down but they could have established a garrison years later I suppose.  Why the Brits would shove their prisoners inside a cave located so high up on the side of a mountain is a mystery to me and I doubt this was the real story behind what looked to be a mine entrance.  It was a nice brisk walk up a very steep hill and I kept up with the senior Malik which was probably the point to this detour.

Enterance to the "Brit Jail
Entrance to the “Brit Jail

 

After checking that out we headed to the battlefield proper. We stopped at the end of a finger which looked exactly like any other finger jutting down from the mountain range above us. It contained building foundations which had been excavated a few years back. Apparently some villagers started digging through the site looking for anything they could sell in Peshawar shortly after the Taliban fell. The same thing happened at the Minaret of Jamm until the central government got troops out there to protect the site. The elders claimed to have unearthed a Buddha statue at the Gandamak battlefield a few years ago which they figured the British must have pilfered from Kabul. By my estimation there are 378,431 “ancient one-of-a-kind Buddha statues” for sale in Afghanistan to the westerner dumb enough to buy one. Their excellent fakes and they better be because the penalties for trafficking ancient artifacts are severe in Afghanistan.

I do not know where these foundations came from. Back in 1842 the closest British troops were 35 miles away in Jalalabad and there are no reports of the 44th Foot pulling into an existing structure. We were in the right area – just off the ancient back road which runs to Kabul via the Latabad Pass. My guides were certain this finger was where the battle occurred and as their direct ancestors participated in it I assumed we were on the correct piece of dirt. I would bet that the foundations are from a small British outpost built here possibly to host the Treaty of Gandamak signing in 1879 or for the purpose of recovering the remains of their dead for proper internment.

Site of the final battle
Site of the final battle

 

Foundation from an unknown building on Gandamak Hill
Foundation from an unknown building on Gandamak Hill

The visit concluded with a large lunch and after we had finished and the food was removed our meeting was officially ended with a short prayer. I’m not sure what the prayer said but it was short. I’m an infidel; short is good.

Post Script

The Maliks of Sherzad district never received the attention they wanted from the US Government or the Afghan authorities. Instead the Taliban came to fill the void and started muscling their way into the district back in 2011. By early 2012 things were bad enough that my old driver Shariff called me to see if there was anything I could do about getting the Americans to help them fight off the encroaching Taliban fighters.  I was in the Helmand Province by then dealing with my own Taliban problems and could offer him nothing. That bothered me then and it bothers me now but that’s life.

In August 2012 my old friend Mehrab was gunned down by Taliban outside his home. By then several of the men I had shared a pleasant lunch with back in 2008 had also perished fighting the Taliban. Gandamak is now Taliban territory, the poppy now the main source of income. It will be a long time before a westerner will able to visit the old battlefield again.

EFP’s

After the ceremonies described in the last three posts we had one more task to complete before we went home. In the ANSF after action report on the ambush of Haji Nematullah, they reported seizing three large buckets of Home Made Explosives (HME) and three “milled metal devices with explosives inside”. We had no idea what they meant and were afraid they might be Explosively Formed Penetrator (EFP) mines. EFP’s were a big problem in Iraq and their source of origin is Iran. Iran being about 1/2 mile away from our safe house in Zaranj we took this report seriously and wanted to see them for ourselves. We also submit reports to the Marines at Camp Leatherneck when we get to verify stuff like this not because they asked to but as a courtesy on the off chance they too were wondering what the three “milled metal devices with explosives inside” were. We have no idea if they already know what we are reporting but it seems like the right thing to do.

On our last day in Zaranj we headed over the Provincial ANP headquarters to talk with the provincial commanders of the Afghan national Police (ANP) and National Directorate for Security (NDS) and to inspect the explosives recovered from the October 5th ambush.

The day started with a 45 minute grilling of the Police Chief by Michael Yon. He sounded like a 60 minutes reporter doing a "gotcha" on a hapless Republican pol. The Chief was clearly not accustomed to such a direct line of questioning but was than happy to answer all of them
The day started with a 45 minute grilling of the Police Chief about Taliban and Iranian activity in the Province by Michael Yon. He sounded like a 60 minutes reporter and the Chief was clearly not accustomed to such a direct line of questioning but was happy to answer all of them.  Mike is like a pit bull when he starts questioning someone and I found it fascinating for about the first 10 minutes or so.

 

I had heard all this before and my attention wandered over to the TV screen where an Iranian station was blurring out the cleavage on a 24 episode
I had heard all this before – having a handle on ground truth is critical to our ability to operate independently. My attention wandered over to the TV screen where an Afghan station was blurring out the cleavage of female actresses on an episode of the American TV show 24

 

Looks like they missed a good 30 seconds of this money shot
Looks like they missed a good 30 seconds of this money shot – bet a thousand bucks because the censor was staring.

 

But they caught that mistake after a whiel
But he caught up after getting an eye full (I’m guessing)

After talking with the Chief of Police we went out to inspect the take from last weeks ambush in their explosives locker.

These are the three large IED's with pressure plates captured on the raid
These are the three large IED’s with pressure plates captured after the ambush

 

Looked to be very high grade home made explosive
It looked to be very high-grade home made explosives but I’m no expert on the subject

 

One of the officers explains how the pressure plate functions - a topic we already more than we wanted to know about from first had experience
One of the officers explains how the pressure plate functions – a topic we are already all too familar with .

What we had come to see is what was described as a “milled metal device with explosives inside” and that turned out to be true except they were not EFP’s; they were artillery fuses.

This is one of the arty fuses outside of its packaging container
This is one of the arty fuses outside of its packaging container

That was good news – EFP’s are a devastatingly effective weapon able to easily penetrate military grade armor.  I have not heard of them being in Afghanistan but I checked with The Bot who had heard of one being found around Ghazni last year. A flood of them entering Afghanistan would be alarming to put it mildly.

I notice that one of the large IED's still had the electric blasting cap inside it. An EOD tech would probably tell you this is still perfectly safe - I'm not sure but us old infantrymen are spooked about being around any explosives armed with blasting caps. Right after I took this picture we headed out of the storage room.
I notice that one of the large IED’s still had a blasting cap inside it. An EOD tech would probably tell you this is still perfectly safe – I’m not sure, but us old infantrymen are spooked about being around explosives primed with blasting caps. Right after I took this picture we headed out of the storage room.

As we walked back towards our vehicles Mike Yon asked our escort – one of the local NDS men who spoke English – what else they needed and he replied “somebody to fix our trucks”.

The ANP seem to have more vehicles down than running. There was an American contract that placed mechanic teams headed by internationals (mainly British citizens) and comprised of Filipino mechanics who mentored Afghan mechanics on the art of Ford pick up maintenance but that contract died back in 08 as I recall. They would have never sent a team to a place as remote an isolated as Zaranj - only Ghost Team can operate in these types of environments
The ANP seem to have more vehicles down than running. There was an American contract that placed mechanic teams headed by internationals (mainly British) with Filipino mechanics who mentored Afghan mechanics on the art of Ford pick up maintenance but that contract died back in 08. They would have never sent a team to a place as remote and isolated as Zaranj  anyway – only Ghost Team can operate in these types of environments

We continued on to find the Chief of Police having a Press Conference about a recent drug bust.

Afghan pressers are fun to watch because they appear to be utter chaos but the results are pretty professional when you watch the news on local TV stations
Afghan pressers are fun to watch because they appear to be utter chaos but the results are pretty professional when you watch the news on local TV stations

 

It looked like they had confiscated about 10 kilos of dry opium which would be (I'm guessing here) around 0.0000001% of this years harvest. Still a bust is a bust and if the guys who were muling these drugs across the border had been caught in Iran they would have been tried, convicted, and hung in about 48 hours
It looked like they had confiscated about 10 kilos of dry opium which would be (I’m guessing here) around 0.0000001% of this years harvest. Still a bust is a bust and if the guys who were muling these drugs across the border had been caught in Iran they would have been tried, convicted, and hung in about 48 hours

I appeared on the Aloyna Show last week and talked to the current conventional wisdom about the need to keep some sort of military presence in Afghanistan for the next 10 years.  A link to that show is here and my segment starts around the 34 minute mark.

Our military is a big cumbersome leviathan designed to do one thing and one thing only; crush other nation state armies. Our military is good at killing bad guys. But killing bad guys is the easy part of war. It is everything else you have to do simultaneously that’s the hard part. We once knew how to do the “other things besides killing people” part of expeditionary warfare but that was long ago when the units dispatched half way around the world took a month or two to get there and remained in country for the duration. Our military can’t do that anymore – contractors can (stay in the same Province for years and years) and in doing so could fill in for fighting infantry but then you are outsourcing the fighting to mercenaries and have little reason to maintain such a large force structure.

If I remember my Roman History correctly Rome started down the road to ruin when they became unwilling to bear the burden of military service and outsourced fighting to Barbarian tribes. We have not reached that point. I know the Marine Corps is currently so flush with tier one (99.9% of the current pool) enlistment applicants that the wait for boot camp is 7 months minimum. The wait for candidates entering the officer training pipeline is over a year. We still produce the men needed for our military force structure but the amount of money it takes to do so is ridiculous. Using what the Romans called Auxilia for contingency operations makes perfect sense from a financial and political point of view and I support it 100% but our elites won’t.

When you are unable to do what is important, the unimportant becomes important which is why we spend millions to fly 5 pound bags of crushed ice from Saudi Arabia to our FOB’s. I saw that in Nangarhar – in Helmand there is an ice plant on Camp Bastion run by the Brits but the Marines I rode around with did not have coolers full of ice, which was mandatory with the American army units in Nangarhar. The Vietnam War may not be the best example of doing things right, but my father spent 13 months fighting in Leatherneck Square and the Arizona Territory of Northern I Corps (on the DMZ between South and North Vietnam). In all that time he saw ice once – it was flown in off a Navy ship – but by the time they had divided it evenly among the rifle companies it had mostly melted. Today crushed ice for coolers full of expensive sports drinks and bottled water is considered essential for troop morale.

There are Marines and soldiers in Afghanistan now who man small patrol bases and never see hot chow; let alone ice. I blogged about them in the past.  But the guys (and now gals) who are out at pointy end of spear are at most 4% of our deployed military. Everyone else gets ice on demand and has access to unlimited amounts of high quality chow, pecan pie and ice cream.

The press rarely tells the story of the small minority of deployed troops who live, fight and die in conditions their forefathers would recognize unless it involves some sort of tragedy. I read one of the best pieces in this genre this morning in the Wall Street Journal. The story was well told and as supportive of the fighting men as such a piece can be. The journalist who wrote it played the story straight and did a fantastic job with such a tragic topic.

Yet by far, the most common story line concerning the troops deployed to Afghanistan are like this piece, which claims half of the vets returning from Afghanistan need medical treatment for the lingering effects of blasts and psychological trauma.  At the very most 15% of those deployed to Afghanistan ever leave the FOB so how can half of them be so damaged?

Do I sound conflicted to you?  I know I do, and it will take some distance to get things in perspective. And distance is what I have; I’m back in the US staying with friends while undergoing treatment for the lingering effects of a blast injury. Ironic, I know, given what I just wrote above. I am clean shaven, wearing normal American clothes no longer hear the call to prayer being blasted from speakers all over town five times a day. I miss hearing that call and don’t know why but I really miss it. That is so strange but it is and it is also nice to be back home.

Sanctuary Denied?

Last week I received and heads up from Mullah John that General Allen and Ambassador Crocker were on 60 Minutes and was able to watch the show on AFN.  The one thing I noticed when watching General Allen was the emotion clearly evident as he discussed the truck bomb has had asked the Pakistani military to help stop.That bomb hit a US base in Wardak Province injuring over 8o soldiers. General Allen was told that one of the Pakistani politicians  remarked that if he knew about the truck bomb why did he not stop it?  He was clearly not amused by the question. I also saw something from Ambassador Crocker I really like.  When asked why he came out of retirement he said that when the President tells you he needs you do a job there is only one correct response. I respect that.

I make no claim to having a clue what or how General Allen is thinking as he approaches this war. I knew him 20 years ago when I was an instructor at the Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course where he was our group chief. I like General Allen and count him among the finest officers I served with during my time in the Corps.  I don’t know Ambassador Crocker at all – I just liked his response on 60 minutes and I am sure he is an exceptionally talented leader.

Having qualified my expertise on the matter  I’d like to make an educated guess, and that is General Allen is not the kind of commander who will grant enemy sanctuary indefinitely.  I doubt Ambassador Crocker is any different. General Allen is backed up by the Commander of CENTCOM, General Mattis who has a well earned reputation as an exceptionally aggressive and successful general. General Allen also spent three years as the Deputy Commander CENTCOM and the Marine Corps rarely leaves a three start general in one job for three years. During those years General Allen was General Petraeus’s right hand man and he did that while, for the most part, remaining off the main stream press radar. General Allen has juice – and it is not the kind of juice one normally associates with politically powerful people because it is not obvious main stream media juice. It is back channel juice and that is powerful stuff.

The topic is Pakistan and I thought it the perfect place to put in photos of my travels through the Khyber Pass. I’ve done the low budget Khyber Pass visit and the high budget (escorting a senior diplomat from Japan) tour too. The pictures calm me as I’m venting my spleen about the stupidity of our political class below – hopefully they do the same for you too.

Lunch at the best kabob stand in Landi Kotal - the last Pakistani town before the Torkham border with Afghanistan
Lunch at the best kabob stand in Landi Kotal – the last Pakistani town before the Torkham border with Afghanistan.  This is where low budget travelers eat.  It was good kabob too.  Honest.

Lunch when you go the VIP route is a lot better
Lunch when you go the VIP route is a lot better

Herschel Smith is unimpressed with the reported build up in the east of Afghanistan and I can’t remember a time he’s been wrong about anything. His assessment could prove to be spot on but this is one time I hope it isn’t. And for more bad news check this out: President Karzai has threatened to back Pakistan if the US conducts cross border operations. Secretary of State Clinton stopped by for a few words with President Karzai who immediately gave a TV interview telling the world he would side with Pakistan. I guess the SecState failed to get her message across. Big frigging surprise there.

The low rent way to visit the Khyber Pass; you need a permit and a tribal policeman and of course some Afridi's never hurt to have along too
The low rent way to visit the Khyber Pass; you need a permit and a tribal policeman and of course some Afridi’s never hurt to have along too

The VIP trip scores you a good 40 minute brief in a glass room in the Michni Post overlooking the eastern end of the Khyber
The VIP trip scores you a good 40 minute brief in a glass room of the Michni Post overlooking the western end of the Khyber

There was once a time when world leaders would travel into the Northwest Frontier because Pakistan was a trusted ally
There was once a time when world leaders would travel into the Northwest Frontier because Pakistan was a trusted ally

That time is well within living memory
That time is well within living memory

The story behind Michni Post so you can get an idea of how far into the NWF international leaders once traveled
The story behind Michni Post so you can get an idea of how far into the NWF international leaders once traveled

Suppose for a moment that the one glaring problem we face is no longer considered acceptable. That problem is that our enemies have sanctuary once they cross over the border to Pakistan. What if we have reached a point where we are no longer going to tolerate it?  The reason I ask is because what exactly are the Pakistani’s going to do about it?

They can threaten to cut off our supply lines. We have alternative supply lines running out of Central Asia and seem to have stockpiled enough of the 4- B’s (beans bullets, bandages, and beer). Wait, that can’t be right as everyone in the military knows drinking beer is one step away from consorting with Satan (according to Armed Forces TV and radio and social media outlets). Drink just one beer and the next thing you know your thumping the wife and trying to sell the baby for poker money.  So we have stocked up the three B’s and we can hold out with our stash much longer than the Pakistani economy can withstand a sea and air blockade because that is the level of punishment you have to be ready to dish out if you plan to go into Waziristan and start taking scalps.

Part of the VIP brief at Michni Post is the use of large reference points marking their side of the international boarder
Part of the VIP brief at Michni Post is the use of large reference points marking their side of the international boarder

We have known since the very first days of this conflict that the Taliban use the border area for sanctuary.  We have been good about not going across in “hot pursuit” having limited incursions into Pakistan to one that I know of.

The Pakistani army has a big display of all the Soviet rockets shot at them back in the day. Of course if we wanted to get shitty with the Pakistanis instead of shooting some low rent rockets we could turn the whole Michni Post into a big smoking hole in the ground. Rockets my ass
The Pakistani army has a big display of all the Soviet rockets shot at them back in the day. Of course if we wanted to get it on with the Pakistanis instead of shooting some low rent rockets we could turn the whole Michni Post into a big smoking hole in the ground. Nothing gets your attention faster than watching a fort full of soldiers get blown sky high.  Remember the World Trade Center?  Did that get your attention?  I have no ill will for the Khyber Rifles who are a good group of guys with a formidable Polo team but we’re talking business here.

We have alternate supply lines, we have stocks of stuff on hand, we still need to move supplies through Pakistan so what to do?  How about this famous quote “Never take counsel in your fears”.  The Pakistani’s have been playing us for fools since about December of 2001 when we let them rescue Osama bin Laden. Before that they were all about cooperation, as was every other country in the world except the ones that don’t matter anyway. The reason they were so cooperative was they knew we were in the blind rage stage of being pissed off about 9/11. That is several steps up the pissed off ladder and nobody at that time was sure what we were going to do. All they knew was that we were capable of doing whatever the hell we wanted to do. We still are. In fact given the billions spent on high tech platforms we could destroy more, faster, and with greater efficiency than we could a decade ago.

Looking east at the Khyber Pass from the Michni Fort. The narrow pass has been militarily significant since the assent of man but it isn't now - we could roll through it, fly over it, or take it with infantry in a matter of hours.
Looking east at the Khyber Pass from the Michni Fort. The narrow pass has been militarily significant since the assent of man but it isn’t now – we could roll through it, fly over it, or take it with infantry in a matter of hours.

After watching the 60 minutes segment with General Allen I am certain of one thing.  He’s pissed.  And he’s pissed about how Pakistan has been playing us and he is not the kind of man you want pissed at you. Take it from me because I’ve been there with him and it’s not pleasant. Most of you do not know General Allen or anything about him.  What you need to know is he understands that unlimited sanctuary is no way to fight a war. And even though he doesn’t have the political capitol of General Petraeus he has his confidence.  As he does with General Mattis – another fighting general who is not too keen on granting anyone sanctuary.  I know calls like going across the border in hot pursuit are the Presidents to make but we all now know (thanks to Ron Suskind) that the White House is dysfunctional and getting the President to make a firm decision about anything almost impossible. National level leadership of that kind allows for subordinates to make “interpretations of intent”. A fancy way of saying they can make their own decisions and take the actions they think fit Obama’s intent.

At the moment nobody is too sure about Obama’s intent on anything let alone Pakistan. Pakistan has proved a most unworthy ally. They actively support cross border incursion and have done so with impunity.  What is to stop General Allen from coming across the border and reducing Miramshaw to a heap of smoking ashes?  Nothing.  And when Pakistan starts wailing and moaning about it do you know what we should tell them?  First word starts with an F  the second with a Y. What are they going to do about it?  Fight us?  That one would be over quick.

There’s Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good Don’t Always Die Young

The Godfather of Free Range International – the man who pioneered the techniques, tactics and procedures we use to travel in remote districts was executed last week in Badakhshan Province. Dan Terry had been living in Afghanistan with his family for decades.  He was fluent in both Dari and Pashto, and despite knowing him for over 5 years, I don’t know really much more about him other than he was a humble man who was not comfortable talking about himself. I met Dan in 2005 when he was in Kabul through my physician friend Dr Keith Rose who also volunteers his expertise in Afghanistan. I learned later he was in town because he had brought in several children for free cleft palate surgery provided by the excellent CURE hospital in Kabul where they were his wife Seija head the nursing department. Dan was a religious man who used his love of God as inner strength to help lift up the poor he chose to live among – he had no interest in recounting his years of aid work for attention or pay.

When we were starting out in the security business he taught us how to operate safely, how easy it was to travel around the country (as long as you didn’t have big armored SUV’s) and how to seek food and shelter in remote districts if we ended up on foot for some reason. Dan taught how to operate as a westerner in Afghanistan; be true to your word, speak openly, greet warmly, and always smile.

om right to left Dan Terry, Dr. Keith Rose, and one of Dan's Drivers. This photo is a few years old and taken in front of the CURE hospital. Dr. Rose is one of those self funded doctors (in his case a plastic surgeon who fixes cleft palates and builds ears and noses for kids who had theirs removed by the Taliban) volunteering at the CURE hospital in Afghanistan.
One of the volunteer surgeons and Dan Terry outside the CURE hospital in 2006.

The story  about his loss broke yesterday after authorities recovered the remains of Dan and seven international doctors who had conducted an eye clinic in Nuristan Province. The team decided to take the longer, harder route back to Kabul through Badakshan Province because that part of the country is relatively free of Taliban gangs.

Press reports indicated that the local people warned Dan and Tom Little (team lead and another friend who’s been here for more than 3 decades) that the woods they were going to camp in were not safe but they went as planned telling the people they were doctors and that the Taliban would not molest them. That last fact has been true for many years in Afghanistan. Despite this precedent the Taliban claimed credit for this multiple murder but I find that hard to believe. Afghan Taliban groups don’t do that to western doctors who are traveling in harms way, unarmed and unafraid, to treat people in remote districts. At least they never have before.

Dan’s wife Seija is the director of nursing at CURE international and also makes long trips into the bad lands to bring modern midwife techniques to a population of women facing the highest childbirth mortality rate in the world. Dan and Seija, who raised their daughters in Afghanistan, worked for the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Global Ministries which is an ecumenical NGO based in Central Asia.

There are few men as selfless, patient, kind or as good as Dan Terry. So often it seems in life and especially in war that the good go first. Dan wasn’t a young man, he had lived a long life but he was, to all who knew him, a good man.

Dan was exceptionally gifted at operating outside the wire in the most remote areas of Afghanistan. He was the Godfather of Free Rangers and now we are forced to determine if the deteriorating security situation is going to allow us to or operate in the open. Clearly Dan thought he had a solid plan to get in and out of Nuristan Province. This time the plan failed and the manner in which his team was murdered portends poorly.  This is yet another indicator of how fast the security situation is changing in Afghanistan.  If there is any indication that things will turn around soon I’m not seeing it. Goodbye and God Bless to Dan and his crew…we are better people for having known you.

Violence of Action

My latest trip included a quick stop in a dusty, sparsely populated corner of Afghanistan where I found my best friend Colonel Paul Kennedy USMC. Paul and I were instructors at the Infantry Officer Course (IOC) 20 years ago, after IOC we were both pulled out of the last quarter of the Amphibious Warfare School to work together on a project for then LtGen Krulak. We later ended up in Okinawa at the same time where we were battalion operations officers (we were still captains then). We both were selected to be Recruiting Station commanders back in the late 90’s when every other service were failing to make their annual recruiting quotas. When it comes to leading Marines and accomplishing the mission, regardless of what that mission may be, Paul is one of the guys I’ll admit is better than I was at leading Marines.

RCT 2 base camp in a remote corner of southern Afghanistan. There was nothing here two weeks ago and there will be a lot more in the weeks to come. Say what you will about the big contractors like KBR but they have learned how to put up a solid camp quickly and there is nothing easy about that
RCT 2 base camp in a remote corner of southern Afghanistan. There was nothing here two weeks ago and there will be a lot more in the weeks to come. Say what you will about the big contractors like KBR but they have learned how to put up a solid camp quickly and there is nothing easy about that

Paul is currently commanding Regimental Combat Team 2, which has around 6000 Marines on its rolls. They will ultimately comprise half of the ground combat power for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (forward) when it arrives in country sometime this spring. Paul has developed into one of the finest combat commanders of his generation. His combat tour in Ramadi, Iraq where he commanded the 2nd Battalion 4th Marines (2/4) was a battle from the start, which has been documented in books by Bing West and Oliver North. He was hard pressed on several occasions, sustaining heavy casualties while inflicting much heavier losses on his attackers. Despite fighting virtually every day during his year in Ramadi he was able to restore city infrastructure, open local schools and he never shot an artillery round or ran tac air into the city. We are capable of having serious professional coversations with each other but nobody who has seen the two of us together believes that

Paul and the 6000 or so of his closest friends here with him have a very tough road ahead of them. They are taking over towns which have been giving the British army fits over the past years while simultaneously taking on new areas under solid Taliban control. Paul has no intention of using the “penny packet” outpost system currently being used by allied forces in places like Musa Qala. He has no intention of allowing his main lines of communications (LOC’s) to be cut or dominated by the Taliban. He has no intention of leaving his maneuver battalions on FOB’s, nor does he plan to be on his for very much of the next year. He intends to find, fix and destroy every armed group operating in his AO so that he can get to the real mission assigned to him, which is to hold and build. Nobody knows how to use violence of action to take the fight to insurgents better than the Marines.

The Osprey is way cool fast, quiet, and no transmission fluid leaking all over your clothes and gear from the overhead. I have never been on a Marine Corps transport which does not leak transmission fluid all over you
The MV 22 Osprey is way cool; fast, quiet and no transmission fluid leaking all over your clothes and gear from the overhead. I have never been on Marine Corps rotary wing transport which does not leak transmission fluid all over you. My first reaction was to panic assuming the transmission box was dry but you get used to it after a while.

Paul already has one of his maneuver battalions on deck, the 1st Battalion 2nd Marines (pronounce one/two in Marine speak), commanded by LtCol Mike Manning, a student of ours back when we were on the IOC staff.  Mike and his battalion command group spend four to five days a week on operations with joint Marine/Afghan Army patrols, living and sleeping in the rough like traditional infantry. Two of his three rifle companies are out in the boonies at all times. They are not finding too many bad guys in the Naw Zad area, so they spend most of their time interacting with and helping out the local population.  As I have said in the past, there are very few places in this country which do not welcome American infantry. The caveat is that the Afghans would prefer the Americans- or British or Canadian or Norwegians to  hang around for a year or two to eradicate the conditions that drive the cycle of violence. One of the places I would not have expected to welcome the Marines would be Naw Zad because most of the farmers in that area have fought for or support the other side in this conflict. That makes little difference to the Marines who are more than willing to let bygones be bygones as long as everyone can get along. It is when the local villains decide not to play nice that the true difference between the Marine way of fighting and theirs  becomes evident.

Raybo and 1/2 Marines in Now Zad chatting up the local leaders, Note the number of black turbans and also note that the Marines do not wear body armor, helmets nor are their weapons in easy reach. Everybody probably has a pistol and frag grenade in their pockets but that's what you do here and is not considered impolite. This is how you do COIN - the locals who accepted this shura are responsible for the security of all participants.
Raybo (see below) and 1/2 Marines in Now Zad chatting up the local leaders. Note the number of black turbans and also note that the Marines do not wear body armor or helmets – their weapons are in easy reach which is expected by all participants and no big deal.   An armed society is a polite society.   This is what COIN looks like;   the locals who accepted this shura are responsible for the security of all participants. The Americans are responsible for acting the part of guests.   Trust is built upon actions not words.

Western armies have three options upon enemy contact: violence of action in the form of direct assault by heavy infantry, using supporting arms to soften the enemy followed by a direct assault, or using direct arms in combination with direct fire to punish the enemy before withdrawing without making physical contact. The last option, although the most common response by NATO units, is the least preferred. Fire without maneuver is a waste of resources and accomplishes little.

As I have said in the past humans can adapt to aerial bombardment over time but they can never adapt to another human who has come to kill them at close range. Bombs ultimately do not scare humans; humans scare humans.  Just as the Koreans and Chinese learned to avoid the “yellow legs” during the Korean War and Somalis learned to fear the “black boots” and the Haitians rapidly figured out not to tangle with the “white sleeves“, the Taliban in Northern Helmand are about to get the same graduate-level education that their southern brethren started receiving over a year ago when Duffy White and his Regimental Combat Team arrived in country. Trying to play shoot and scoot with the Marines is a dead mans game. Use IED attacks on the Marines and they will quickly get “left of the boom” to collect the scalps they are due. The local Talib leaders can stay here and go with the program to reap the benefits of American generosity as we re-build this shattered land or they can leave for some other shit hole to cause mischief or they can try to fight. There are no longer any other options for them in the Helmand Province.

Paul (on the left) with his Bennelli pump action 12 gauge in Ramadi talking to one of his company commanders. The Iraqis could handle units which returned fire and withdrew in their vehicles. They could not handle units who dismounted and directly assaulted them. Direct assaults like that break up the cycle of violence by stripping the bad guys of experience fighters who might be able to keep their wits in the face of direct assault by heavy infantry. Less experience cadres have three options; stand and die, run and die, or quickly surrender
Paul (on the left) with his Benelli M4 12 gauge shotgun in Ramadi talking to one of his company commanders. The Iraqis could handle units which returned fire and withdrew in their vehicles. They could not handle units who dismounted and directly assaulted them. Although counter-intuitive violence of action keeps friendly and noncombat casualties down by forcing villains to break contact quickly making them easier to target with direct fire. Which is the polite professional way of saying smoke their dumb asses.

The Marines from RCT 2 are going to prove predictable too. When attacked they will respond with direct assaults and once contact is made they will not let go until their tormentors are decimated. Direct assaults break the cycle of violence by stripping the bad guys of experienced fighters. Experienced fighters who keep their wits in the face of direct assault are dangerous adversaries. They can cost you a fortune in time, ammo, or blood – the three commodities you never have enough of in combat. Less experienced cadres will do one of three things: stay in place because they are too freaked out to move; break contact and run because they are too freaked out to stay; or quickly surrender because they are too freaked out to fight. Afghans do not have a cultural history of standing firm in battle and slugging it out toe to toe with heavy infantry. Only men of the west fight using that style of warfare, which is why western armies have dominated those of other lands since the battle of Plataea in 479 B.C. I am not saying the Afghan Taliban does not have brave fighters….they do, but brave individual fighters do not a cohesive combat unit make. The shock of rapid, violent assault by multiple platoons from multiple angles is something only a well trained, well equipped, well supported western army can handle. The Talibs of Helmand Province are accustomed to ISAF forces engaging from a 1000 meters out, dropping some tac air or arty on them and withdrawing. RCT 2 doesn’t play the drop ordinance and withdraw game. They play the close with you and stay on your ass until you are dead game.

Jeff "Raybo" Radan and I heading out to the far reaches of Helmand Province. Raybo was an instructor with Paul and I at Quantico but he got out after that tour and became a hippy. He is now working for The Boss under Mullah John as the USAID implemtor for Helmand Province cash for work programs. Like me Raybo is here for the duration and like me his long close relationship wiht the current Marine Corps battle leaders allows him to flatten the complex aid hierarchie which is critical to making complex prgrams effective.
Jeff “Raybo” Radan and I heading into the far reaches of Helmand Province. Raybo was an instructor with Paul and I at Quantico but he got out after that tour and became a hippy. He is now working for The Boss under Mullah John as the USAID implementer for Helmand Province cash for work programs. Like me Raybo is here for the duration and like me his established relationship with the current Marine Corps battle leaders allows him to flatten the complex aid hierarchy which is critical to making complex programs effective.

Although I was able to talk at great length with Paul about his combat experience that was not why he wanted to see me. I have always wondered if the theories about human factors in combat we studied so diligently, argued over so passionately and taught to our students 20 years ago turned out to be true. They did but I don’t want to bore you with that least I catch you know what from you know who. Paul has the combat part of his mission down cold but understands that his band of Killer Angels has a much harder mission than seeking out and destroying their enemies. They need to master the “hold and build”, which is not something combat units train to do. The true mission of RCT 2 is described perfectly in today’s excellent post by Richard Fernandez at the Belmont Club.

“Kaplan describes how in the process of muddling along through intractable situations, the US military has become the master of the possible, simply because they have had to be. Kaplan predicts they may succeed in Afghanistan yet again and that very success will become a poisoned pawn.

The secret to their success, Kaplan says in his article Man Versus Afghanistan, is that the men in the field have discovered what their political masters have long forgotten: legal concepts are not enough. Governance doesn’t just mean installing someone, anyone – let alone someone as corrupt as Karzai- and recognizing them as sovereign. Governance means the ability to harness a population’s aspirations to make things work. To paraphrase Lenin’s famous observation on Communism, counterinsurgency is the freedom agenda plus competence. And the worst thing about the US military, Kaplan says, is that they’ve learned to do it. Kaplan describes how McChrystal has approached the problem and is at some level alarmed at how good at it they’ve become.”

The Marines have the Darth Vader helmet rig too which prevents wind burn while alowing the crew chief to talk over the intercom while leaning outside the bird. This is a Marine CH 53 which is leaking transmission fluid all over us. We always thought that was a good thuing because it meant that the damn thing had transmission fluid to spare. As big and fast as the 53 E model is the Osprey leaves them in the dust
The Marines have the Darth Vader helmet rig too which prevents wind burn while allowing the crew chief to talk over the intercom while leaning outside the bird. This is a Marine CH 53 which is leaking transmission fluid all over us as we hitched a ride north. We always thought that was a good thing because it meant that there was transmission fluid to spare. As big and fast as the 53 E model is the Osprey leaves them in the dust without getting corrosive fluid all over your new kindle which retired knuckleheads like me are prone to pull out and read when bored during long flights.

Mullah John and Raybo who are working the southwest for Ghost Team are going to be helping with the hold and build as they implement a very clever USAID project, which has flat lines of authority, flexibility, and speedy implementation built into the project design. This program is the follow-on to the very small project Panjwai Tim and I did last summer, and to the everlasting credit of USAID, has been reinforced by extra cash. Mullah John has over 10,000 Afghans working in Helmand, Farah and Nimroz Provinces and the only internationals involved are Raybo, an Aussie bloke I don’t know in Farah, and Mullah John. That is an unbelievable accomplishment considering the project started last December. Despite this success the best thing one can say about the other US Government agencies who are responsible for the “hold and build” is that they do not hinder our efforts in the cash for work programs currently being implemented by Ghost Team. The various funding streams for reconstruction, with their associated rules and multiple agencies who manage these complex programs from the safety of big box FOB’s makes the job of executing the “build” portion a supremely difficult task.

USMC 7 ton truck which are unique to the Marine Corps. It is a powerful truck which can travel off road with ease. It has a lot of ground clearnce which mitigates IED blasts because the power of IED's diminishes by some factor for every inch the blast must travel upwards from the point of detination. Amy or Keith from MIT probably know the formula but what I know is that the Marines have not lost anyone riding on these trucks to an IED. Better yet the back box can hold a squad plus of infantry who are primed to pour out of the thing and launch directly into the attack in good order. You just cannot do that when getting out of an MRAP nor can an MRAP carry that many men. This truck allows the Marines to do what they do best when ambushed - rapidly take the fight to the villains
A USMC 7 ton truck which is unique to the Marine Corps. It is a powerful truck which can travel off road with ease. It has a lot of ground clearance which mitigates IED blasts because the power of IED’s diminishes by some factor for every inch the blast must travel upwards from the point of detnation. Amy or Keith from MIT probably know the formula but what I know is that the Marines have not lost anyone riding on these trucks to an IED. Better yet the back box can hold a squad plus of infantry who are primed to pour out of the thing and launch directly into the attack in good order. You just cannot do that when getting out of an MRAP nor can an MRAP carry that many men. This truck allows the Marines to do what they do best when ambushed – rapidly take the fight to the villains

What is going to be even more difficult is reinforcing the success of Team Canada and crew as they grow what was once a small cash for work program into a regional reconstruction vehicle. The big boys in the reconstruction biz did not hire a platoon of former AID executives and a squad of retired Marine Colonels to lose business and prestige to a band of   small upstarts who have accomplished in months what they have not been able to do in years. The Marine Corps, given their history of innovation, their institutional bias for action and our personal relationships with the current commanders are a perfect match to do effective hold and build.

Pay to Play

As the cool weather finally moves into Afghanistan I have to tell you that from my perspective not much is happening. I am not talking about security incidents – they almost doubled last week from a near all time high the week before. There is lots of villianary going on – the weather is perfect for it – but nothing seems to be really changing. One gets the impression that the players from all sides want to maintain the current status quo because all the sides are benefiting.

The bad guys continue to pick off lone fuel tankers a few time each month on the main road between Jalalabad and Kabul. The level of activity seems seems artificaly low. If a small armed group really wanted to cause problems on this vital road they could do so without too much difficulty
The bad guys continue to pick off lone fuel tankers  on the main road between Jalalabad and Kabul. The level of activity seems seems artificially low. If a small armed group really wanted to cause problems on this vital road they could do so without too much difficulty

Last week yet another story about one of the ISAF countries paying the Taliban to keep things on the down low came out. This story implied the French losses in last August action around the Uzbin Valley were directly tied to them failing to maintain the financial arrangements of their predecessors from Italy. There are hundreds of stories about how the Taliban and their various allies are benefiting from the current war as are various government officials and a rouges gallery of warlords. NATO has issued a strong denial that any of its members are paying off potential trouble makers.

fight pos
This is the closest ANA post to the truck attack pictured above. The six men manning this position have no transport and seem to stay on post for weeks at a time. They really do not have the ability nor inclination to interdict bad guys attacking the road below them.

I don’t believe the NATO spokesman nor do I believe there is a direct correlation between payments to local centers of influence by the Italians and the attack on the French patrol in the Uzbin. If the French had known about such an arrangement and refused to honor it one suspects they would have been better prepared when they ran into their first ambush. However there is no question that “centers of influence” on every side of this conflict are making a lot of money by allowing or protecting or stealing from the unbelievable amount of supplies moving into Afghanistan. This is a fact which is not in dispute – many people including myself believe the various Taliban units make much more cash in the protection racket than they make in the poppy trade.

Most of the money being paid for protection is coming from the reconstruction effort and as with most things in life is not as straight forward as paying cash to the head bad guy to be left alone. The cash comes from establishing local monopolies such as vehicle and heavy equipment rentals. If people had any idea how much money there is in waste removal trucks servicing the many different FOB’s and COP’s which dot the countryside we would have a Gold Rush of poop removal prospectors combing Central Asia for honey dipper trucks. Having a monopoly on poop trucks, or fuel tankers, or rock crushers, could make a man millions quickly in Afghanistan. The other way money is extracted from the effort is by providing security or a construction services. Much has been written about the efforts in Kabul to regulate the security industry but once outside the capitol every local power broker has both his own security and construction company and failing to utilize these services invites attack.

107mm Rocket dug out of a vegetable field near the Jalalabad Airport last week. These weapons are only effective when fired in large numbers which is why the one or two a week being shot at the Jbad airport is not getting the local folks or the soldiers too excitied.
107mm Rocket dug out of a vegetable field near the Jalalabad Airport last week. These weapons are only effective when fired in large numbers which is why the one or two a week being shot at the Jbad airport is not getting the local folks or the soldiers too excited.

There are persistent rumors that the local Army FOB at the Jalalabad Airport is being targeted with rockets by local “land owners” because they are not paying enough rent. My Army friends have heard this too and have not a clue about what it is all about because they don’t pay rent. It is possible that some locals are not happy with the current unit. The CO banned the weekly bazaar in which dozens of local vendors would participate. This was an economic loss to local businessmen but given the amount of aircraft, drones and munitions on the base a reasonable precaution. It is hard to believe that somehow somebody important is no longer getting their cut and is letting lose with 107mm rockets as a result. But they are shooting one or two every week or so. The skipper hired well diggers to go out into the fields next to the base to dig up the dud rockers (they function about 50% of the time) but the army remains convinced they aren’t being shot at.

I’ll tell you this … when us outside the wire contractors fall behind of paying local subcontractors our personal security goes right out of the window. Many a firm has had important local national staff kidnapped and in some cases international staff attacked over money issues. As I have observed in the past experienced mafia leaders would feel very at home operating businesses in Afghanistan.

ISAF and the US Department of State have closed all roads leading away from the International Airport with the exception of this one which runs through Wazar Akbra Khan. Every year Afghan politicians try to pass legislation forcing the military and others who feel they have to live behind blast walls out of the city. Every year ISAF and DS just ignore the problem - which to them isn't really a probelm at all because they don't move much from behind their blast walls and when they do they can use the three other roads they have cut to civilian traffic
ISAF and the US Department of State have closed all roads leading away from the International Airport with the exception of this one which runs through Wazar Akbar Khan. Every year Afghan politicians try to pass legislation forcing the military and others who feel they have to live behind blast walls out of the city. Every year ISAF and DS just ignore the problem – which to them isn’t really a problem at all because they don’t move much from behind their blast walls and when they do they can use the three other roads they have cut to civilian traffic.   Unless they are taking the senior folks out for a 3 martini lunch in which case they clog up the road moving the VIP’s to Boccacio

One of these days the local shooter is going to get lucky with his 107 rockets and hit the fuel pit or ammo dump which will get every-one’s attention for about four or five days.   I doubt he is aiming at those sites or even wants to hit them which is why it seems that everything is just moving along the same way it always does.   We lose a fuel tanker here, a few men in a MRAP there, the drones continue to kill with scary precision, the military talks COIN but when you observe them operating in and around Kabul you see a attrition warfare oriented army of occupation completely removed and divorced from the locals they are supposed to be protecting.

The Nangarhar PRT got right on the Sachria Bridge and have already awarded the work - this is a great sign of progress and one of the only examples I know of where the local PRT reacted with speed to a serious problem. Most PRT's are just not that useful and the people trapped inside them should be let free and sent home because we cannot afford to keep hundreds of fobbits confined on PRT bases where they earn yet another college degree - we need people who are off the FOB's doing work...not on the FOB's talking about doing work
The Nangarhar PRT got right on the Saracha Bridge and have already awarded the work – this is a great sign of progress.   Most PRT’s are just not that useful and the people trapped inside them should be free ranging about the countryside doing similar major projects like repairs the 30 or so bridges which are still down in most of the eastern provinces.

My prediction for the future is that nothing will change.   The President has made it clear he intends to continue vote present.   Now he is waiting for the election results in order to determine the best way forward to pursue our goals (whatever the hell they may be) in Afghanistan.   John Kerry, who was a CAB Chaser before there were CAB’s, has weighed into the debate helping out President Obama by declaring that targeted strikes combined with Special Forces missions will not be enough to “win” in Afghanistan.   It always helps to have a senior senator like Kerry coming out in direct opposition to your Vice President’s new strategary when you are running the clock.

John Kerry was for CAB Chasing before he was against it
John Kerry was for CAB Chasing before he was against it.   This badge was designed to reward non infantry soldiers who have fought in combat but like all silly devices and patches and most medals it is now meaningless.   There are hundreds of Junior John Kerry’s out here who will go outside the FOB until they earn a CAB and then it takes a block of C4 under the butts to ever get them off again.   Upon embarking on a career as a Marine infantry officer my Dad gave this one bit of advice; “watch what the Army does son and do the exact opposite.”   He could not have been more correct and the Army’s extravagant use of badges, tabs, and other shiny reflective objects placed about the uniform has rendered all of them meaningless because everyone has them.   Looks goofy too but that is just my opinion.

Several trial balloons being floated out of the White House.   The Pakistan First idea which is favored by VP Biden and maybe three other people; the we are “prepared to accept some Taliban involvement in Afghanistan’s political future” idea – the quote is from a White House press briefing.   The third option (which I believe will be the one Obama goes with) is to declare status quo as victory and start to wind things down real slow like.   The only problem with that last option is that the bad guys get a vote on your plan too and once they see the money train is leaving the station it is hard to predict just how poorly they will react.   It is safe to say that regardless of the direction our current administration takes Afghanistan is going to continue to get more unstable and more violent.   The Afghans I know don’t want this but they also understand just how little they can influence current events.   Life is hard; harder when you are stupid and there seems to be an inordinate amount of stupid people on all sides trying to “manage” the fight in Afghanistan.