The FRI Guide to Dangerous Places – The Salang Pass

In May of 2012 my team of Afghan cut throats and I were dispatched to investigate persistent rumors concerning ISAF vehicle convoys transiting the Salang Pass. The complaint was that ISAF units would close the pass causing Afghans to wait up to 24 hours in the freezing cold before they could get through. The international community was up in arms about that and wanted a boots on the ground report which meant me, or my boss (call sign Bot) would have to go, and I was up. This would be my 10th and final trip through the Salang and I was not happy about going, the pass scared me.

The Salang Pass tunnel entrance in 2005

The dangers from being trapped inside the Salang Tunnel were obvious. The lights inside the tunnel didn’t work, nor did the closed-circuit TV cameras that were installed to warn of problems. The tunnel roof leaked massive amounts of water turning the pot-holed roadbed into a mixture of icy mud, broken concrete, and pieces of asphalt.  Ventilator fans in most of the tunnel were broken resulting in such high levels of carbon monoxide that the Afghan government was reportedly exploring ways to pump oxygen into the tunnel. 

History is always a good guide to potential problems and the history of the Salang Tunnel had some grim milestones. On the 3rd of November 1982 two Soviet military convoys collided inside the Salang tunnel causing a massive traffic jam. A fuel tanker in one of the convoys exploded inside the tunnel, unleashing a chain reaction of fiery explosions and death. The cause of the explosion remains in doubt, the Russians claim it was an accident, and the Mujahedeen claimed it resulted from a successful attack. Drivers of cars, trucks and buses evidently continued to enter the tunnel after the explosion. Soviet troops, fearing that the explosion might have been a rebel attack, then closed off both ends with tanks, trapping many inside. Some burned to death; others were killed by smoke or by carbon monoxide poisoning. Although records from the era are suspect up to 700 Soviet troops and 2,000 Afghan soldiers and civilians may have died in the 1983 tunnel fire.

The Salang Tunnel entrance in 2012

What we found in 2012 was ISAF had indeed started to use the Salang Pass for logistic convoys. We did not find any Afghan worker who remembered ISAF closing the tunnel to civilian traffic and suspected that reporting in local media was rumor mongering. We did determine that ISAF convoys routinely hit civilian traffic in the tunnel and did not stop or acknowledge the accidents. The tunnel was only 16 feet high (at the centerline) with a sloping, concave roof over a two lane roadbed and it was routine for overburdened trucks, MRAP’s, and fuel tankers to get pinned to the tunnel wall when trying to pass each other.

Typical minor traffic jam in the tunnel

It was also routine for tankers to tip over inside the tunnel due to the poor roadbed condition. When this happened a giant Soviet Era bulldozer was sent in to drag the truck out.

Dragging a fuel tanker full of fuel was an obvious fire hazard

During the trip we interviewed The Director of Maintenance and Protection of Salang Pass, Lt. Gen. Mohammad Rajab, who claimed that overloaded trucks were destroying the tunnel adding that less than 5% of those trucks were civilians – the rest belong to ISAF. Judging from the traffic we observed in the tunnel that statement was questionable, nobody overloads Jingo Trucks better than Afghans.

The Salang tunnel is one of the few places in Afghanistan where the American Army cannot force all traffic away from their convoys. The open air ventilation to the right is blocked by avalanche rubble for 10 months of the year.

Attempts to interview or even talk to any of the American soldiers transiting the pass were unsuccessful. As usual we found the soldiers to be agitated and aggressive, and completely freaked out when a fellow American in civilian attire walked up to chat with them. The refusal to interact with American citizens in Afghanistan was something new for me, when I was on active duty we did the exact opposite no matter where we were in the world.

This was the preferred method for traversing the tunnel – hauling ass on an empty road but by 2006 finding the tunnel empty like this was not going to happen.

The Salang Pass was a dangerous transit for well maintained vehicles which was a problem in a country famous for its inability to maintain vehicles. Mechanical failures were routine inside the tunnel which cause long delays stranding motorists in subzero temperatures for hours at a time. In response the Salang Pass Department of Maintenance and Protection of the Salang Pass Route constructed a purpose built shelter that provided assistance to 6,700 people during the 2011 -2012 winter. When Gen Rajab told me that it surprised me, Afghans can be incredibly altruistic at the individual level, especially with us foreigners, but at the government level we were conditioned to look for a catch and we detected none.

The Salang Pass Department of Maintenance and Protection of the Salang Pass Route (its official title) had taken the initiative to provide life saving aid for thousands of Afghans because it was the right thing to do. The few locals we talked with confirmed that graft in the pass was a thing of the past. That pithy explanation was met with laughter by the diplomats who funded the trip which was gratifying. It’s not easy to be pithy when working for foreigners.

I’ve done many reckless things in my life but eating Salang Pass crabs is not one of them.
I was partial to the fresh trout served al fresco and I got a discount by providing the frag grenade used to harvest the fish.

In 2019 the Russian film Battle for Afghanistan was released and is now available on Amazon Prime. The movie is reportedly based on true events surrounding the withdrawal of the Soviet Army through the one chokepoint they could not force – the Salang Pass. It’s a good film that captures the craziness of Afghanistan and well worth a watch. You can’t help but notice how Soviet troops frequented local bazaars and Afghan restaurants while off duty. That never happened with ISAF units who were restricted to their FOB’s (forward operating bases). Only a small percentage of the troops deployed to Afghanistan ever got outside the wire, for most perceptions of the land and its people were distorted through the prism of electronic warfare collection, boredom induced gossip, and questionable media reporting.

The force protection mentality of ISAF was made possible by their (American taxpayer funded) unlimited budgets which they used to completely isolate their troops from the local population. In a country famous for its melons every bit of fruit consumed by ISAF soldiers was flown in at enormous expense. Something the Soviets and every other nation on the earth would be unable and unwilling to do. The only reason the pass was being used in 2012 was the number of American units operating north of the Salang Pass after the Obama surge. That forced ISAF into running a lot of logistical convoys over the pass for a couple of years. I don’t think the logisticians in Kabul liked the pass any more than I did but I wonder what the soldiers who made those runs thought about the experience.

Old Soviet combat outpost on the plains north of the Salang Pass
In the early days of our Afghan adventure there were still many abandoned Soviet bases north of the Salang Pass. with all sorts of interesting Soviet army messaging directed at both their soldiers and the Afghan Army. These propoganda paintings were long gone by 2007.

In the early days of the Afghanistan conflict it was easy to see that the money pouring into the country was being used to start business’s like restaurants or to buy used vehicles to be used as taxi’s for another income stream. But Afghanistan is a wild place with wild rivers that often overflow their banks and when they destroy a new business there is no insurance money to collect thus the common refrain Inshallah (if God wills it).

This new restaurant was a great place to stop in 2005.
By 2007 the restaurant was destroyed by raging flood waters.
This gas station lasted about two years before the BTR’s became unstable and it started to wash away. Now the Afghans have HUMVEE’s, MRAP’s and M1 tanks to use as river weirs, maybe they’ll work better.

The biggest surprise I found in Afghanistan over the years was their high regard for Russians. If you could speak Russian you could talk with most Afghans in any part of the country. If you asked about the difference between the Soviet military and ISAF you got the same answer in every part of the country. The Soviets were brave and supported the local people but the ISAF soldiers are cowards who hide on their bases and never interact with local people when off duty. The Afghans never understood that and it infuriated me to hear it because I knew cowards among American infantry were astonishingly rare. I’m a retired grunt myself and know. our infantry well.

The number of American soldiers who could speak Dari or Pashto numbered less than 100 for most of the war. The number of American soldiers who spent enough time to learn the country, its people, and the limitations of its central government cannot be counted because there were none. Check that, there was one – Commander Baba D turned special contractor Baba D who worked directly for the ISAF commanders for several years in RC East .

And there he is Baba D photo bombing me during an interview with ABC news. Ms. Raddatz taped an hour or so of Baba Tim explaining in detail why we were losing the war and never aired a second of it.

It is impossible to gauge the consequences of our humiliating retreat from Kabul. The military/political leadership responsible for that fiasco remains in charge of our depleted military to this day. The only military leader held to account over the Kabul evacuation fiasco was a Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel who was thrown out for pointing out the disgraceful lack of accountability of our flag officers (generals and admirals) responsible for the mess.

The northern side of the Salang Pass and yes that herd of goats was heading up and over the pass but I’m not sure how because they weren’t allowed on the roadway inside the tunnel.

After spending 20 years floundering about in Afghanistan what is the senior leadership of the uniformed military concerned with now? Fixing the force? You wish . . . the real emergency our country faces is climate change according to the Army War College.

Watching a great power implode is unpleasant because there are bills that will come due. There is a price to pay for rampaging around the world sending “carefully calibrated messages” with killer drones just as there will be a leveling for the folly of introducing women into the combat arms. The military/government duopoly used brute digital force to try and alter reality in Afghanistan to construct a reasonable narrative. Here’s what that looked like:

It’s important to note that I supported our approach throughout most of my time in Afghanistan. I once battled the media contention that Marjha was a bleeding ulcer by driving to Marjah and blogging about it. I was not an impartial observer but a retired Marine and my friends were the running the show in the Helmand Province allowing me to embed with their units and write really cool blog posts.

In time the average Afghan correctly deduced that the Kabul government was installed and maintained at the point of infidel bayonets. And that was all most Afghans ever knew or needed to know. They hadn’t heard of 9/11, they had no idea why we showed up and spanked the Taliban in 2001. The Afghans supported us at first because we appeared to be the strong horse but any chance of maintaining that perception ended with the invasion of Iraq.

Get some Army! This is how you fix recruiting woes

What I learned in Afghanistan (besides don’t drive over the Salang Pass if you can avoid it) was our senior military and government leadership have lost sight of the stewardship function integral to their posts. That was reflected by their inability to define a coherent military mission or articulate a reasonable end state. They were incapable of vigorously defending the interests of the United States because those interests were never adequately defined. When unable to determine or accomplish what is important the unimportant becomes important. A lesson the smartest kids in the room never learned while supervising a war we could not lose . . . or win.

The John Paul Vann of Afghanistan Speaks

In the book The Operators by Michael Hastings there is a quote from Command Sergeant Major Michael Hall comparing General Stan McChrystal to John Paul Vann. John Paul Vann was a former army officer who went to Vietnam as a soldier and stayed on working as a Provincial aid advisor. He was famous for his ability to drive around and live in contested districts (alone) and was a tireless advocate for the Vietnamese people. He was also a compulsive womanizer, an alcoholic, and  a shameless self promoter. Remove those negative traits, replace them with a typical all-American Midwest kid raised in a stable two parent household where he developed a strong sense of commitment, a bias for action combined with the ability to thrive while taking calculated risks, and you have Chris Corsten. He was the John Paul Vann of Afghanistan

Our two-decade long involvement in Afghanistan has been a fiasco. Every aspect of our performance had major issues, none more so than the herculean efforts at re-building and rehabilitating the war-torn infrastructure. Yet buried deep inside the legacy of failure are stories of remarkable success. Carter Malkasain described one example of competent development leading directly to local prosperity (briefly) in the book The War Comes to Garmser.

Another example has just been published by my friend Chris Corsten detailing his decade in Afghanistan working both as a soldier and heavily armed humanitarian. The book is 3000 Days in Afghanistan, but I need to reveal something that you will not glean from Chris’s writing. In the world of outside the wire contractors, men (and a few women) who worked in contested districts infested with Taliban, who lived in local compounds, drove local cars, rarely spoke English outside their compound, wore local clothes and lived off the local economy to deliver massive aid projects on time and on budget, Chris Corsten was the best there ever was.

Chris stayed the longest, he had the most impact, he did, by orders of magnitude, the most projects and he was a shura ninja when it came to working through problems with tribal elders. Chris Corsten is a legend – to those of us who knew what accomplished and also to thousands of Afghans who became self-sufficient as hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland became productive again thanks to his irrigation programs.

The book is a clear reflection of Chris and if you know him the two personality traits that stand are conscientious and integrity. Those two traits were combined with an attitude that was the common denominator among all of us working outside the wire; zero tolerance for wasted efforts, make work stupidity, and excuses. Add to this mix the fact that Chris is a modest man who is not prone to exaggeration, routinely attributed all success to his subordinates, and loathes the idea of self-promotion and you have a writer who is going to lay out the facts. Which he does in a manner that is almost business like.

As you get towards the end of this remarkable story Chris lists the spectacular amount of work accomplished during the 2010-2011 surge, and if you know what was going on then in Afghanistan, it is easy to get confused. It seems impossible that Expats (mostly American, British, South African and Australian) were living and working in local Afghan communities while supervising massive irrigation projects in districts where the military was sustaining casualties on a regular basis.

If you don’t know much about Afghanistan, you can read through what Chris accomplished and miss what he accomplished. If you don’t know what was happening in provinces like Khost, Kandahar, Paktia, Kunar, Helmand, Farah, Nangarhar, Herat etc… in 2010 it is hard to appreciate the feat of finishing every project you started with supervision by expats who were out and about in Taliban contested areas daily.

What Chris and his crew proved was aid in contested areas can be delivered effectively, but it has to be done by guys who know what they are doing and have skin in the game. And, at least in Afghanistan, they needed to be armed.

Let me explain the weapons. Our model was if you can’t be safe be hard to kill. The threat to outside the wire contractors took many forms. The biggest was getting kidnapped, the other major problem was we had to store, transport, and distribute large amounts of cash. You are not safe when you are living in a local Afghan compound that contains a safe with over a million dollars in cash. You are not safe when you go to the local branch of the Kabul Bank and withdraw $700,000 for your monthly project payroll. You have to know what you are doing to convert $700,000 in Benjamins into small denomination Afghani’s.

Not all of us carried firearms either – Jeff “Raybo” Radan, a former Marine infantry officer and Ranger School graduate (thus the Raybo call sign), worked a year in the Helmand and never carried a weapon. He did projects in contested towns like Now Zad but being a former Marine he knew how to get a ride on Marine air and thus was able to travel safely. But most of us were armed, and all of us had weapons, including belt fed machine guns (in some provinces), inside our living compounds. Our arming authority came from the Provincial governors and if we ever used our weapons, we were accountable to them as well as the US Embassy.

Chris explains why former, experienced, military men, who have already acquired knowledge of local atmospherics and a solid understanding of local culture, are the best option for staffing aid programs in conflict zones. All the men mentioned in Chris’s book (he uses assumed names) were prior military and all of us had years on the ground before we were able to transition into what I term “Free Range” contracting.

3000 Days in Afghanistan should be required reading at both US AID and the Department of State as they sift through 20 years of lessons learned in Afghanistan. This week a senior USAID executive, who had extensive Afghanistan time, released a paper titled USAID Afghanistan: What Have We Learned. He concludes his assessment with four lessons;

  1. do not try to do everything
  2. stick to proven development principals
  3. flexibility and adaptability are key, and
  4. expect and plan for high levels of oversight.

All four of these lessons are addressed in detail by Chris as he explains how he avoided graft, corruption, security services shake downs, how he dealt (effectively) with theft, and delivered aid that was meaningful while injecting cash directly into local economies. The added benefit of taking Taliban off the battlefield by exchanging a couple months of hard labor for a decent amount of pay was something we discovered early in the program but had not anticipated.

Chris throws no stones as he explains what we were doing and why we felt we should do more. He describes his disappointment at not getting traction with USAID and the State Department and then moves on. The program he was running got plenty of attention in the press at the time. There were NPR radio interviews, 60 minutes segments, multiple magazine articles including this classic account in the Toronto Star about our team in Kandahar. The FRI blog was booming back then as I documented our massive infrastructure projects in Nimroz province. In the end none of that mattered, it turns out being successful where everyone else is failing can be problematic.

As William Hammink admits in his review of USAID in Afghanistan, we threw too much money into a country that could not absorb it. What is now obvious is that Chris Cortsen showed USAID exactly how to do Afghanistan aid. Spend a few years and a few million dollars to get all the irrigation systems back up and running, build a few schools, pave a few roads, bring in engineers with some commercial demo to blast rock and build runways in remote mountain-top towns, and you have done about all that should be done to get the country heading towards self-sufficiency.  Then you can leave.

3000 Days in Afghanistan is an easy read about a remarkable guy who sticks to the facts to make a case on how sustainable development in conflict zones should be done. Buried behind the facts and the business-like narrative are the stories that someday will emerge from this program as historians start to comb through the records in the search of what really happened in Afghanistan. They will find plenty about Chris, hopefully telling  his story in rich detail. There is a lot there and although Chris may not be seeking recognition for what he accomplished he certainly has earned it.

Assessing Trust in The Afghan Peace Deal

Editor’s Note: Chim Chim is back with a post on FRI. It has been over a decade since we last heard from him  He is a friend of mine with years of experience in Afghanistan at the higher levels of the U.S. Intelligence community. It is fitting that he once again reaches out to Free Range International to weigh in with some thoughts on the Afghanistan peace deal.

 

Trust. It’s a mysterious term and rarely understood. Per its definition, key attributes exist such as reliability, truth, ability, and strength. Contrary to popular belief, trust is not earned but rather obtained through a leap of faith. It is natural and can easily be broken. When it comes to the Afghan Peace Deal, trust is non-existent amongst the three players involved—The US Government, the Afghan Government, and the Taliban.

But should one look closely at the situation from an historical perspective, how can trust exist? More importantly, who can be trusted most? Better yet, who SHOULD be trusted most?

During the Russian-Afghan War, the United States was heavily involved in supporting multiple Afghan militias fighting against our greatest adversary. We gave and gave and gave but then, once the Russians were defeated, we put on the brakes. It was arguably one of the most devastating moments in US National Security that would inevitably come back and bite us hard.

We made countless promises to the Afghans and never came through with any of those promises which led to a major civil war between dozens of local tribes and militias. This civil war allowed the Taliban to blossom into a major organization which ruled Afghanistan for many years.

Immediately following 9-11, the United States went into a reactionary mode and was quick to invade Afghanistan on the logic that the Taliban were harboring Al Qaeda. Few realize during this time several nation states were providing safe haven to Al Qaeda during this time as Al Qaeda cells were spread across the globe. Another point of contention is the fact that the Taliban were in talks with Al Qaeda in an attempt to push them out of country instead forcing them into safe-haven in western Pakistan.

Our decision was made and teams of special operators infiltrated Afghanistan initiating America’s longest war. We did this with virtually zero ground truth, meaning, we had no sources or assets for intelligence on the ground prior to our invasion. Many whom we initially engaged in combat operations were nothing more than localized militias whom had little if anything to do with the Taliban (Central) meaning we were fighting tribesmen who would later turn to the Taliban due to our own actions.

Immediately following 9-11, Russia became an American strategic partner. We actually relied on Russia’s past to procure our initial network on the ground in Afghanistan.  The one country Afghans despise most, we became strategic partners with.

As time unfolded and upon immediate successes in achieving two goals set forth from US SOF elements (eliminate Al Qaeda’s safe-haven and rid Taliban of government control), a new force was inserted shortly after—the US Conventional military and State Department.

During this time, the United States threw billions of dollars into Afghanistan. It was during this period which continues even today, the United States implementation of a “quantifiable” approach to warfighting which completely overshadows anything qualitative.

America spent billions on programs that had virtually zero oversight. One example is based on school text books in which the United States and our coalition threw an estimated $30 million into the contract however it is estimated less than $1 million worth of product ever entered the country. HeraldExtra.com shows just a portion of the issue in their article titled, Textbooks not arriving in Afghan school.

The vast majority of funds displaced were not displaced. They were handed to local warlords, provincial governors, tribal leaders, etc. But if people want to see who the vast majority of individuals pocketed these funds, just walk down “Millionaire Row” in Kabul where you will find Afghan mansions vacant—vacant because those whom had such homes built have now fled the nation in fear of a Taliban takeover.

Prior to leaving, these local Afghans milked every last penny they could from the United States. It was the easiest way for anyone to get rich fast and rich as in millionaire rich. Simply put, the Afghan power-players created a racket and the United States didn’t care. More interesting is why we did not care.

We did not care about the misappropriations of funds because of the quantifiable war which we created. Those who held the money needed to get rid of it. And they did. And in doing so, they wrote their own tickets of success be it military personnel boasting numbers on OPER’s/EPR’s or State Department, NGO’s, etc fluffing resumes for permanent hire needs upon completion of their time in country.

What the United States did in Afghanistan does not demonstrate reliability, truth, ability, and strength hence, our inept methods in Afghanistan demonstrate how untrustworthy we are in our Afghan mission.

As bad as we were, the locals and politicians also demonstrated a lack of trust.

Afghan leaders saw how much money was going into Afghanistan. They witnessed their pockets flood with cash. They were empowered on a level most Americans should be jealous of. And as crazy as this sounds, many of these Afghans were closely aligned with Russia and Iran.

The Afghan Government was and continues to be incredibly corrupt.

In 2008, an Afghan warlord once said, “You expect us to believe in your own Rule of Law? You want us to trust the newly established Afghan Government’s Rule of Law which you, the Americans implemented? Do you not see how corrupt your own nation is? Look at the case of OJ Simpson.”

Think about this sentiment for a moment. Reflect on what this warlord was saying. You do not need to agree with what was said but think of the perception held. Perception is reality.

Another warlord once explained why the United States tactical intelligence was flawed. He explained that we would hand out cash to “walk-ins” for information about potential Taliban. We would take that information and execute a mission to kill or capture that individual. But what we seldom knew was the “walk-in” was merely in a tribal dispute with the target. And oftentimes, the “walk-in” was actually the one more aligned with the Taliban than the target itself.

The Afghans manipulated the United States every waking chance they could. And, they succeeded in doing what they wished on individual levels as well as within different political parties. Simply put, the Afghan politicians as well as local leaders demonstrated virtually zero reliability or truth which showcases why they were and remain untrustworthy.

The United States knew the Taliban were our enemy in Afghanistan. The Taliban ensured we were never to forget this. Through video’s published online, a plethora of kidnappings, to constantly attacking our assets, the Taliban and the array of Anti-Afghan Forces never led up.

If early warnings existed pertaining a potential attack, the Taliban came through with it. If the Taliban claimed they would allow for a temporary ceasefire, that ceasefire pretty much always happened. If a break of the ceasefire was sent through the air waves, expect the attack. They TOLD us pretty much every single move they were going to make. Their information was reliable, it was constantly set in truth, and they demonstrated over and over again their ability to do what they said. And, their strength came from not just their numbers but rather the constant support they obtained through the Pakistani ISI, Iranian assets, and the Kremlin itself.

If you watch the evening news and see a report on a serial murderer then take a walk in the woods and come across that serial murderer, do you trust the serial murderer’s potential? You would be a fool not to. The point is, trust in an entity you do not like does not mean trust should not exist. Bad people and bad organizations should be trusted to do bad things.

What is difficult to swallow is when we possess trust in something we cherish and realize that which we cherish most should be the least trusted. In the case of the Afghan Peace Deal, maybe, just maybe, it is not the Taliban who should NOT be trusted. Rather, maybe we should be skeptical over the amount of trust we place in the Afghan Government and that of our own.

Peace in Afghanistan Inshallah

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo landed in Qatar’s capital city, Doha today for the signing of a peace deal with the Taliban. In a rare demonstration of presenting both sides of a contentious deal the Washington Post opinion section featured dueling pieces that capture this unique moment in time. The peace deal is a clear win for both the Trump administration and the Afghan people. As usual the devil is in the details but it appears we are on the way out of Afghanistan.

Barnett Rubin who is a senior fellow and associate director of the Center on International Cooperation of New York University and non-resident senior fellow at the Quincy Institute, outlines the agreement in his WaPo OpEd.

The agreement provides a timetable for troop withdrawal, counterterrorism guarantees, a path to a cease-fire and a process for political settlement. Implementation would also require dismantling Taliban infrastructure in neighboring Pakistan and assurances by external powers that none will use Afghanistan against others.

Mr. Rubin has considerable time on the ground in the region and his take on the peace deal (which is it is a good deal)  is identical to mine.

Max Boot, who is a Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, took the opposite view. In his WaPo OpEd he outlines three different scenarios for the near future in Afghanistan. He then goes onto to predict the worst case scenario (the Taliban rolling into Kabul and taking over the country) as the most likely. I can tell you unequivocally that is the least likely scenario.

Many of our foreign policy experts and more than a few of my friends caution that the Taliban is not a cohesive monolithic organization, and that negotiators are only speaking for the Quetta, Peshawar, and Miranshaw Shura’s. This is a fact that is true, but means nothing now. The Taliban were able to enforce the peace during last years Eid celebration across the country and I believe they can do so again. Regardless of what I and my friends believe the only thing that counts is how the Afghans feel about the deal.

Taliban fighters taking selfies with Afghan army troops during the Eid ceasefire last year.

The Senior Vice President-elect of Afghanistan, Amrullah Saleh, published his opinion on the Time website. I Fought the Taliban. Now I’m Ready to Meet Them at the Ballot Box is the title of his piece and that’s a strong endorsement of the process. Amrullah Saleh is the former head of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), a former Interior Minister and he survived a serious assault on his election headquarters last July. That assault started with a car bomb and was continued by suicide vest equipped assault teams. Amrullah Saleh survived by jumping off the roof of his four story headquarters onto the roof of a neighboring building.

It is reasonable to assume Mr. Saleh had engaged in a running gun battle before escaping to safety, he is that kind of guy.

In another fascinating development the Military Times published an article today with the headline ISIS taking a beating in Afghanistan setting  the stage for a potential a U.S. troop withdrawal.  Buried deep in the article is this:

The recent campaign in Nangarhar is one example. Effective operations by US/Coalition & Afghan security forces, as well as the Taliban, led to ISIS-K losing territory & fighters. Hundreds surrendered. ISIS-K hasn’t been eliminated but this is real progress,” Khalilzad tweeted Tuesday

Remember a few posts back I highlighted this article in the Washington Post about the defeat of ISIS because it failed to mention the Taliban’s direct role? It seem like the first draft of history is up for grabs regarding the defeat of ISIS-K in Eastern Afghanistan.  There is little to gain but much to lose in suppression of the truth. I doubt an experienced reporter would have not known about the Taliban’s role in fighting ISIS-K so it is hard to figure out why the WaPo would print such obviously fake news.

Regardless, ISIS is now gone in Eastern Afghanistan and the remaining pockets in the north now the problem of the Taliban. Who seem to be very efficient at rooting them out.

What I cannot determine is how many troops will stay and what those troops will be doing. If the plan is to leave the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force – Afghanistan (CJSOTF-A) in place to hunt down ISIS and al Qaida that is not going to work. ISIS doesn’t need to be serviced by us any longer and separating al Qaida trainers from Taliban students is impossible.

If Amrullah Saleh is willing to give the Taliban a chance, and they reach an agreement, men like Sirajuddin Haqqani, who have been at the top of the JPEL for years, will be allowed to go in peace. The JPEL is the Joint Prioritized Effects List which is essentially a lethal version of the FBI’s most wanted. Allowing the men on that list to walk free, get passports and travel  is going to be a bitter blow to the people who have been hunting them. But that may be the price of peace.

I have to add that CJSOTF-A is not going to be able to operate behind the back of the Senior VP. Mr. Saleh has decades of experience working with the CIA and CJSTOF and he will have a say on what the Americans can and cannot do if they leave CJSTOF-A in Afghanistan.

This deal with the Taliban is how it ends. It is the only way it can end. The only question in Afghanistan was when, not if, we were leaving. The Taliban cannot beat the Kabul government in battle. The Kabul government cannot beat the Taliban in battle. The continued presence of American SF teams, tactical aircraft and trainers brought the Taliban to the negotiating table which is the best they could do.  It is up to the Afghans to decide what happens next. It is also time for us to leave.

Brookings Institute Fires a Broadside at Haqqani and Misses

General John Allen, USMC (ret) who is the president of the Brookings Institute, lashed out at the New York Times for publishing an  Op-Ed  Sirajuddin Haqqani. His article, Sirajuddin Haqqani, Terrorist was an unfortunate response that reinforces a growing narrative regarding incompetence in the elite, ruling class.

The most glaring mistake in General Allen’s  attack on the New York Times was repeating the thoroughly debunked “very fine people on both sides” hoax. That hoax was spread by the legacy media despite the fact that President Trump was talking about people protesting the removal of Confederate battle monuments.  He specifically condemned the white supremest’s if you listen to the whole quote.  General Allen is the direct descendant  of a Confederate Cavalry officer (I forget his name but remember he fought at Culpepper), for which is he justifiably proud and I suspect he , too was not happy about the removal of confederate battle monuments.  I know General Allen, he was my boss at the Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course, I respect and admire him greatly so it is disturbing  to see him trafficking in hoaxes.

Worse was his endorsement of Forever War by implying we should renege on our Peace Agreement with the Taliban. This is his discussion of the Haqqani group:

This organization was and continues to be a central component of the Taliban, a major connecting file into al-Qaida, and a darling of Pakistan’s ISI. The Haqqanis, the Taliban, and al-Qaida endorse a radical interpretation of sharia that deprives women of any meaningful rights, to include the right to an education, and the freedom to pursue their own wants and interests, such as, for example, the legal profession. Countless lives were lost – and many, many more were wounded and otherwise terrorized – at the hands of this group and its peer terrorist entities, and had they not been formally designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism, we would have had little means to diminish their influence and stop their violent activities. And at the very center of this violence was Sirajuddin Haqqani, operational commander of the Haqqani network as well as the #2 of the Taliban.

All of that is true and every bit of it irrelevant if we intend to sign a peace deal with the Taliban. It is none of our business if the Afghans decide to reconcile withTaliban leaders including Sirajuddin Haqqani. Haqqani is a bad man, so is Gulbaddin Hekmatyar, who reconciled years ago, and ran in the recent Presidential election. The notorious warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who has been a member of the Kabul government when he wasn’t in exile dodging human rights tribunals, is a bad man. He was nominally on our side, so he’s a good, bad man, but to the Afghans he’s little better than Haqqani.

What the Afghans do to reconcile the rift in their civil society is their business. If they want to reconcile with and guarantee the freedom of warlords like Haqqani it is their right to do so. There are reasons to doubt Taliban commitment to a more inclusive civil process, but again, it is no longer our concern.

It is important to acknowledge the reality on the ground and that reality is the Taliban cannot win militarily and the same holds true for the Central Government. Given that context I believe it is time to let the Afghans work this out for themselves.

Light at the End of the Tunnel in Afghanistan

Last week news broke of a possible peace deal in Afghanistan leading to a firestorm of speculation in the media about what’s really going on. The reporting was not consistent but the consensus is the peace deal would call for negotiations between Afghans on both sides of the conflict to start next month, an eventual countrywide cease-fire and a commitment from the Taliban not to harbor terrorist groups like al Qaida, while setting a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

A famous quote incorrectly attributed to Winston Churchill dictates “Jaw Jaw is better than War War” (actually he said “Meeting jaw to jaw is better than war” which makes more sense ) reinforces this is (potentially)  good news. The devil is in the details and we do not know what “reduction of violence”means to the United States  or “withdrawal of U.S. troops” means to the Taliban.

TheTaliban are not a monolithic organization but several competing factions. We have been dealing with the Quetta Shura who is representing, but cannot speak for, the other players like the Miranshah Shura (primarily the Haqqani Network) or the Peshawar Shura. That being said the Taliban did deliver on an Eid ceasefire agreement last year and that ceasefire held.

Taliban fighters taking selfies with Afghan army troops during Eid ceasefire last year.

We can get a reliable read on what the Taliban considers a reduction of violence in this detailed report from the always reliable Afghan Analysts Network. From the linked report:

Another Pakistani newspaper, quoting an un-named Taleban official, reported that the movement had agreed not to carry out attacks in major cities including Kabul and would not use car bombs and that the Taleban had also offered not to attack US bases and US soldiers, and that they wanted the US to cease air strikes in return. The newspaper said it had learnt “that Khalilzad had urged” the Taleban to agree to more measures, including a halt to IED attacks, but that they did not agree “as they have planted IEDs in many areas and it is difficult for them to remove all [of them].” Furthermore, the paper reported, the US also wanted a pause in Taleban attacks on Afghan government forces’ check posts, “which was also a concern of the Afghan government.”

Senior U.S. military officials (speaking off the recored)  in Afghanistan stressed that U.S. counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan against the Islamic State group and al-Qaida will continue, separate from the truce agreement. This is problematic for several reasons, not the least of which is that ISIS-K in Nangarhar Province has been defeated.

Their fighters have mostly surrendered to the government or gone to ground. There are ISIS-K cells in the north of the country but they are not large or powerful and are in the sights of the same fighters who rid Nangarhar Province of ISIS and those fighters are Taliban.

The counterterrorism mission in the eastern part of Afghanistan has been focused on ISIS-K (Daesh to the locals) for years. Now that ISIS-K is gone the Special Forces teams are flying around the province conducting ‘Key Leadership  Engagements’ like the one I wrote about last week. That occurred in the Sherzad district which is very close to Jalalabad and full of former HiG fighters who have cooperated with the Taliban  on and off over the years. They cooperate mostly because Taliban shadow courts settle land disputes quickly and, they feel, fairly.

The land deed office for Nangarhar Province – some of these documents are hundreds of years old

The time for our SF troops and the Afghans varsity Commandos to be running around district centers meeting with key elders seems long past. The local elders know all about the dysfunctional government in Kabul and are not going to be convinced it has their interests at heart until the government  demonstrates it.

With ISIS-K on the ropes trying to separate Taliban connected fighters from al Qaida will be problematic. The remaining senior al Qaida leaders have successfully gone to ground inside the tribal areas of Pakistan and have no need to move anywhere. al Qaida has a presence at Taliban training camps and may even run a few but I have no doubt the Taliban understand the consequences of allowing them to use their territory  for international Jihad.

If there no independent al-Qaida formations so if you go after them you are still going after the Taliban.

The incident rate in Afghanistan has plummeted this year. Some of this is due to the pounding the Taliban have taken from American air attacks which increased dramatically in 2019. Some of this can also be attributed to the Taliban winding down operations as the peace talks continued. The stats below come from The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

This is from The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) – note the sudden steep drop in incident rates as we move into 2020

Time will tell but it seems that the end to American involvement in Afghanistan is near. But if you pull all the training support mission out and leave a Special Forces task force to continue hunting “al-Qaida and ISIS” it will test, if not break, the fragile peace. We need to pull everyone out and let the Afghans settle things themselves. Continuing night raids and killing bad guys in Afghanistan does not reduce any threats to our homeland. It’s time to admit that and act accordingly.

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.

It’s Groundhog Day for Afghansitan

Fellow Afghanistan Free Ranger Dr. Keith Rose released a podcast the other day describing where we are now in Afghanistan as Ground Hog Day. The people of Afghanistan are talking a beating with no end on the horizon which is 180 degrees out from where I thought they would be when I flew into Kabul in 2005.

Using Keith’s analysis as a point of departure (it’s a great podcast) there are some dynamics in play with Afghanistan that need require emphasis as our involvement continues. Fans of the international hit podcast The Lynch/Kenny Hour on All Marine Radio have heard Jeff, Mac and I talk about our campaign in AF/PAK  at length using blunt terms that sound harsh to those not familiar with infantry guy talk.

As I pointed out last week, that podcast (and this blog) have a ton of Afghan fans who know me. Afghans do not communicate with each other in blunt, no- BS terms, but I know they appreciate it when we do. Nothing will freak out Afghan project managers more then saying the word “inshallah” at the conclusion of a discussion about a scheduled payday.

Blunt fact number one is our stated reason for remaining in Afghanistan is an obvious fabrication. The US Government has consistently maintained we have to stay to make sure al-Qeada does not come back, establish training camps, and conduct terrorist deprivations on the international community from safe havens in Afghanistan.

The fact is they already have training camps in Afghanistan, we took out “Probably the largest” one in Kandahar province back in 2015. The leader of al Qaeda, Ayman Al-Zawahiri has had a safe haven in Pakistan since 2001, and has now (obviously) drone proofed his lifestyle. Why would he leave Miranshah to live in Khost or Kandahar?  The international airport in Peshawar is much nicer than any airport in Afghanistan, it is served by more international airlines (including Emirates, my favorite), and it services more destinations. Who in their right mind would fly Kam Air Kabul to Dubai when you can fly Emirates from Peshawar and rack up the sky miles?

Ayman Al-Zawahir and bin Laden in a file photo released in 2002. I would bet big money (based on the finger behind them) is on the Jbad this photo was taken on the Jbad-Kabul road just west of the old Soviet hydro dam  outside Jalalabad.  There was an al Qaeda training camp out that way (ISAF still uses it and calls it Gamberi)

You are thinking terrorist don’t use sky miles but I must point out the largest covert operation ever launched by CIA agents (not contractors which is the norm) was compromised because the agents used their covert ID to fly into Italy but had used their own credit cards to book the flights and hotels. That’s the CIA who are supposed to be high speed and low drag – the Taliban has to be worse on the operational security vs. sky miles test.

Blunt fact number two is that the American people in general, and her military veterans specifically, believe we have done more than our fair share to give Afghanistan a chance, and they blew it, so the hell with them. Clearly President Trump is looking for a way out and is willing to do almost anything (to include inviting former Gitmo detainees to Camp David for a round of ‘Let’s Make a Deal’)  to end our commitments in the region. President Trump has said we are not getting any return on our considerable investments and asks why should we stay in Afghanistan or Pakistan?

The reasons to remain in the region are no doubt varied and complex but the fact is that as long as we have thousands of servicemen, along with thousands more internationals in the country, we have to keep funding the government in Kabul. The next round of international funding is in 2020 and the funds are tied to anticorruption metrics that have not been met. If the international money pipeline closed suddenly how do you think the tens of thousands of internationals would get out of the country as the government folds and the security services crumble?

That is a scenario you don’t have to worry about because the specter of Gandamak II will keep funding going indefinitely. Nothing terrifies western government politicians more than the slaughter of their citizens for which their accountability is unavoidable. The Taliban will continue to attack both military and civilian targets because they are terrorists and that is what terrorists do. The Taliban no longer resembles the popular uprising of the religiously righteous in the face of anarchy. They are now narco-terrorists first, Islamic Jihadi’s second, and Afghan nationalists (maybe) third.

TheTaliban were once competent enough to protect the people of Afghanistan from anarchic violence, but they are now the source of anarchic violence. Tyrannical rule is bad, but chaos is worse and there are many Afghans who have lived through both. The Afghan people will side with the side that delivers them from chaos; especially if that side is committed to keeping Pakistan the hell out of the country.

That is the other great unknown; what happens to the safe havens in Pakistan when the Taliban cut a deal with us? The Afghan Taliban claim to be their own movement but they are Pakistan’s puppets just as sure as the government Kabul is America’s. In fact it is obvious Pakistan exerts more direct control over the Taliban then America has ever been able to establish in Kabul. For the past 50 years the Taliban have been Pakistan’s bitch.

The investment in Afghanistan’s human capitol came from every corner of the globe to include Burning Man

America no longer has the stomach for staying in Afghanistan but that’s too bad; we’re not going anywhere for the reasons outlined above. So how does this end? I have no idea but I’m a fan of the Afghan people and I believe they can, and will, sort things out given time and space. It is arguable if our  continued meddling is helping, but that is irrelevant now.  We aren’t leaving and are incapable of staying without meddling, so there it is.

Groundhog Day

We (the international community) have made serious investments in Afghanistan’s human capitol. We have no idea how that is going to pay off in the long run. There are plenty of smart, dedicated, tough Afghans who want nothing to do with Taliban rule (but aren’t too thrilled with us either).  Inshallah they will prove decisive at some point in the future.

There is one known (in my mind) regarding Afghanistan and that is the Taliban will never rule that country again. Their day has passed and they are now little more than petty narco traffickers with mortars and a ton of machine-guns. They no longer have a route to legitimacy as a governing entity but it may years before they figure this out on their own. In the meantime…..Groundhog Day.

We Are Being Oppressed

I was finishing up a post for the Freq about riot control and migrants when I suddenly discovered I was being oppressed, endnote just a little, but on all four recognized levels of oppression. This insight jumped out at me when I went looking for information on a topic I know something about. When I first saw it I didn’t think much of it but after spending hours on additional research and days thinking it through I decided it was time to write a post, an important one, free of F bombs (to show I’m serious)  in hopes of restoring a sense of calm. Calm is good when dealing with “isms”.

Let me set this up; the discussion was about the requirement to use overwhelming force to remove leaders, agitators and natural fighters from a rioting mob. I was writing about the Marine Corps experience with Haitian and Cuban asylum seekers in the early 90’s. The post on that topic can be found here on The Freq website that I contribute to weekly.

As I was describing how the SNCO’s managed their snatch teams I mentioned the “rule of opposites”, a term first coined by Gavin Debecker, in his world famous (should be mandatory reading) book The Gift of Fear.

The rule of oppisates is mentioned frequently in law enforcement and shooting publications, I searched FRI for that term and four articles with that phrase pop up.  I went to goggle to get a hyper link and guess what I found?

What are the chances there are more people looking for Native American counseling paradigms then the definition of the most common heuristic used in the law enforcement and firearms training industry? They are zero, the results from that phrase are being manipulated to present material considered, by the companies running the search engines,  more acceptable.

That has little impact on news consumers like myself who know what they are looking for. But what is the impact, over time, of this kind of deliberate manipulation of search engine results?

Keep in mind references to the “rule of opposites” in law enforcement journals appear just after the examples in the screen shot above. I’m not trafficking in conspiracy theories,  just pointing out an inconvenient fact when it comes to search engines.

I can promise you one thing about search engine manipulation; it will not work as planned and the unintended consequences could be significant. They always are when you launch a cleaver plan inside a complex system in the belief everything will work out exactly as you  think they will.

As I was milling this over while procrastinating (i.e. looking at facebook) I saw a post about Global Warming by my FB buddy and fellow IMOA Frank Gallagher; look what was inserted below it:

I challenge anyone to go through that cimatefeedback.org rebuttal and find one citation that backs the claims they are making in their report. It is difficult to decipher their academic speak, but I can sum up their point. It is an argument from authority and the authorities say that climate change is real therefore skepticism is wrong.

The author of Manhattan Contrarian, Francis Menton, is a partner in the Litigation Department and Co-Chair of the Business Litigation Practice Group of Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP in New York.  Mr. Menton specializes in complex and technical commercial litigation, and has a nationwide trial practice. Mr. Menton is not a climate scientist, he is a demonstrably competent man with a passion for analytics coupled with a refusal to be bullied by “experts”. That is a very American trait which is interesting because what is, or is not, an “American trait” is now a point of bitter partisan debate.

I don’t care what you believe about climate change. I find the argument from authority approach suspect after living through global cooling, the population bomb, the “running out of food” scare,  the  “you can’t drill your way out of energy dependence” fraud, AIDs, bird flu, acid rain, alar on apples, etc… All of these emerging global emergencies proved to be wrong; and not a little wrong; completely wrong.

This is why I self identify as a “public defense intellectual” during my weekly gig on All Marine Radio with my fellow expert Jeff Kenney. It’s an ironic dig at the pretensions of self identification validated through ‘lived experiences’. Mac, Jeff, and I aren’t experts on American foreign policy, we are victims of it, which is why our weekly podcast is so popular.

In a perfect trifecta of outrage I then stumbled upon the new trailer for Top Gun II. I even wrote an intemperate comment a friends FB page about the trailer I was so pissed, but it took me hours to figure out why. And it is not just this:

It’s the premise of the movie that I found so offensive. Cruise is a 30-year Maverick who refused promotion like the other corporate shills and stayed in the cockpit. He routinely flies along the southwestern desert mere feet off the deck and keeps his cat like reflexes sharp with some sort of vertical ascent high speed, low drag move used to inverted over a Mig. The admirals admonish him saying he should be in command like them, not bumming around navy fighter squadrons for 30 years, but Cruise knows better, he’s a singleton with his own creed. In the end he’ll show them all that he, the anti social, non-conformist, was right all along and is the true hero.

We have long known that China dictates to Hollywood what is and is not acceptable for new releases and Hollywood always complies. It does not work the other way around. The newest Chinese hit, Wolf Warrior II, pits elite Chinese Special Operators in Africa battling former US Marines turned corporate mercenaries for some international evil corporation that I assume is not Goggle.

Top Gun II is not a movie about naval aviators or naval aviation, it’s not about the American military – non conformists don’t last there and “mavericks” fly desks, not aircraft in the American armed forces. It’s not about traditional American military virtue or an accurate reflection of the military culture. It seems the Top Gun movie is about Tom Cruise and making big bucks off nostalgia for another re-boot.

The character in the Tom Cruise movie is an anti-American he is used to show that our traditional values, mores, and systems are corrupt. Read this description of Wolf Warrior 2 from the National Review article linked above:

“In Wolf II, China is the only powerful, responsible, and benevolent world power. Chinese workers help Africans build their economy. Chinese doctors work to discover a cure for a deadly endemic. And the film unabashedly takes several swipes at the U.S. When African and Chinese civilians inside a factory are under attack by rebels and mercenaries, the only good American in the movie, Rachel Smith, a Chinese-American volunteer, fanatically tries to contact the U.S. embassy for help. Leng asks her, “Why are you calling the Americans? Where are they? It is a waste of time.” After she tells him that she tried to reach American government by Twitter, Leng responds that “the Americans are good for nothing.”

Why do I care that Hollywood movies bash America just like Chinese movies?

Consider the following propositions:

  • There is no truth, only competing agendas.
  • All Western (and especially American) claims to moral superiority over Communism/Fascism/Islam are vitiated by the West’s history of racism and colonialism.
  • There are no objective standards by which we may judge one culture to be better than another. Anyone who claims that there are such standards is an evil oppressor.
  • The prosperity of the West is built on ruthless exploitation of the Third World; therefore Westerners actually deserve to be impoverished and miserable.
  • Crime is the fault of society, not the individual criminal. Poor criminals are entitled to what they take. Submitting to criminal predation is more virtuous than resisting it.
  • The poor are victims. Criminals are victims. And only victims are virtuous. Therefore only the poor and criminals are virtuous. (Rich people can borrow some virtue by identifying with poor people and criminals.)
  • For a virtuous person, violence and war are never justified. It is always better to be a victim than to fight, or even to defend oneself. But “oppressed” people are allowed to use violence anyway, they are merely reflecting the evil of their oppressors.
  • When confronted with terror, the only moral course for a Westerner is to apologize for past sins, understand the terrorist’s point of view, and make concessions.

That was a list of objectives from Department V of the old Soviet KGB as distilled by the blogger esr on the Armed and Dangerous  blog. He goes on to note:

As I previously observed, if you trace any of these back far enough, you’ll find a Stalinist intellectual at the bottom. (The last two items on the list, for example, came to us courtesy of Frantz Fanon. The fourth item is the Baran-Wallerstein “world system” thesis.) Most were staples of Soviet propaganda at the same time they were being promoted by “progressives” (read: Marxists and the dupes of Marxists) within the Western intelligentsia

esr and the (actual) intellectuals he references in his writings may be spot on or they may be wrong. It does not matter how that list of propositions got here; it has been here, for decades.

What I know is that 50 years ago, on this very day, when I stayed up all day and night with my family to watch Apollo 11 land on the moon; the ideas listed above would have seemed alien, absurd, and repulsive to most people — at best, the beliefs of a nutty left-wing fringe, and at worst instruments of deliberate subversion intended to destroy the American way of life.

Joel Kotkin, in his post Age of Amniessia at Quillette, describes the consequences of progressive policies as they are manifesting today:

Liberals like Cass Sunstein suggest that students raised in an atmosphere of homogeneity “are less likely to get a good education, and faculty members are likely to learn less from one another, if there is a prevailing political orthodoxy.” Yet too few university administrators counter these trends. One college President in Canada, for example, justified efforts to tamp down on “free speech” by arguing that doing so created “better speech.” At many schools, professors are now asked to sign “diversity” pledges that eerily reprise the kind of “loyalty” pledges common during the darkest days of the Cold War. This passion for thought control extends even to comments such as “America is the land of  opportunity” or professing to believe in a colorblind society, views which can now be categorized as punishable “microagressions.”

This ideological rigidity has shaped a generation of progressive activists who also now represent the best educated, whitest,and most politically intolerant portion of the American polity. A common tendency among progressives is to designate certain conversations as “hate speech,” an approach to free speech recently endorsed by the California Democratic Party.

That doesn’t sound like trends that bode well for a free peoples. My considered opinion on the topic , and I am a self identified defense intellectual, is that the progressive experiment is creating an enormous backlash that will sweep it into the dust bin of history.

It will not happen soon, there are potential large setbacks that could derail progress against progressives. I am confident that a major political change is at least six years away but Trump could lose in 2020. If he does the promises being made by the current field of democrat candidates will spell doom for their party if attempted. My post at the Freq talks about the last time they did that (Clinton’s first inauguration) and the consequences that followed. Consequences the press did not report on extensively and that are hard to find in search engines today. But the consequences were real and we now have an internet full of reliable sources who are not connected with the media or government. The next time around burying the story will not work.

Change is coming because the one thing you can take to the bank is our political system is functioning on borrowed time in its current configuration. Reality is going to introduce this change, let us hope the lesson it inflicts is not too painful.

 

 

Digging for Truth in the Age of Fake News

I have articulated a theory based on two known facts concerning the loss of our newest national hero, Droney McDroneface, to Iran last month. I based my theory from two known facts; the drone that was shot down was a demonstration model for a program that has been completed. It was, to the pentagon, an expendable asset, and it was shot down four days after arriving in theater.

To buttress my speculation I have  been searching the news for more information the cyber attack. What I have found was not what I was looking for.

First up is the New York Times and I have the perfect cartoon to set this up:

On February 13th the New York Times published this article: U.S. Revives Secret Program to Sabotage Iranian Missiles and Rockets.  The article was based on the current failure rate of Iranian orbital missile launches as seen in the graphic below:

The article states that the CIA has been running a program for years targeting the supply chain for Iranian missile components. It  implied that allies such as Great Britain, France and Germany are cooperating with us on this program. There is something the observant professional knows to be true, but is rarely written about, and that is the CIA’s use of leaks to disseminate misinformation. when I read a story saying the CIA has gotten dozens of  parts manufacturers, in Europe (where the CIA is less popular than President Trump), to insert flawed parts into a supply chain,  I am skeptical.

The CIA historical record regarding human intelligence is spotty at best. An intelligence operation involving some many different people, firms, governments and international organizations would be an extraordinary achievement requiring  extraordinary evidence to be considered  believable.

Who needs to sabotage supply chains when you have Droney McDroneface?

Then I noted the insertion of legacy media spin as fact to enhance the believability of the story. Here is an example:

When Mr. Pompeo arrived at the C.I.A., there was relatively little nuclear activity underway in Iran. Most of Tehran’s centrifuges had been dismantled under the 2015 agreement, and 97 percent of the country’s nuclear fuel had been shipped to Russia.

There is not a shred of evidence to back that claim. The United States (and the UN) have no idea where the 8.5 tons of enriched Iranian Uranium, reportedly turned over to Russia, is currently located. Hit this link and you can watch youtube footage of Ambassador Stephen Mull, the Obama administration’s State Department lead coordinator on Iran, tell the house exactly that back when he was testifying before congress.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to tease facts from the media narrative.  The New York Times does some excellent, in depth reporting, but they have often been accused of publishing damaging national security secrets. Everyone in the game knows this, and it is another reason to doubt their sources are intentionally revealing real secrets. If I were concerned with information operations for the United States Government the first thing I would do is establish a reliable back channel feed to the New York Times. That way I could get them to print deception pieces when I needed that done. It’s not like it’s hard to get a bite from the press these days; any Orange Man Bad angle will do.

Digging deeper into the mystery of Cyber Warfare I turned to my facebook buddy and managing editor of the Lima Charlie website, John Sjoholm who just published Cyber Warfare Now – Tales From the Digital Battlefield.  John is a former Swedish Army Ranger as well as a contractor who I consider a trustworthy source, particularly in the cyber warfare realm.

John had some awesome graphics, like this one in his piece. There is some serious evil afoot in the cyber warfare world.

I was working my way briskly through the piece thinking it was great stuff (and it is an excellent read that I recommend highly) when I ran into this:

One of the premier Russian hacker signatures, Guccifer 2.0 has been tied to the GRU as well. Guccifer 2.0 became known for the so-called “DNC Hack”, the 2016 Democratic National Committee email theft which appeared on Wikileaks.

In March 2018, details from the Mueller investigation leaked attesting that Guccifer 2.0 was in fact a collective of persons working for GRU’s Unit 26165 and Unit 74455. This after server logs revealed that on at least one occasion someone utilising the Guccifer 2.0 persona had failed to activate a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to obfuscate his IP address. It was then revealed to investigators that his connection originated from a computer at the GRU headquarters on Grizodubovoy Street in Moscow.

I don’t know John well enough to know his political leanings (if any) and I acknowledge that the Muller report may well make this claim. What I also know, for a fact, is the data breach on the DNC server was an inside job. The data transfer rates were too high. The narrative has always ignored this point which is how it finds it way into legitimate reporting by guys like John. This is from the website  Knowledge is Good:

The time stamps contained in the released computer files’ metadata establish that, at 6:45 p.m. July 5, 2016, 1,976 megabytes (not megabits) of data were downloaded from the DNC’s server. This took 87 seconds, which means the transfer rate was 22.7 megabytes per second, a speed, according to VIPS, that “is much faster than what is physically possible with a hack.” Such a speed could be accomplished only by direct connection of a portable storage device to the server. Accordingly, VIPS concluded that the DNC data theft was an inside job by someone with physical access to the server.

The truth is that Muller and the FBI never examined the DNC servers and have no idea what was or was not on them. The reporting concerning the data breach was done by a firm hired by the DNC. My assumption is whoever included the time stamp did not realize that it invalidated everything that followed regarding “Lucifer 2.0.”. But it did, and it is the one fact that cannot be explained away, so the narrative moves on knowing full well their story is false, but that you won’t care because Orange Man Bad.

For two years and counting the American public debate has been focused, by our media and elites, on a story concocted out of thin air, and paid for by the DNC, concerning the legitimacy of our elected President. While that has been happening our economy, stock markets,  and jobs have grown while federal taxes dropped. North Korea is not launching missiles over Japan or South Korea. Iran’s missile control systems are crippled, the European powers are escorting their own tankers through the Persian Gulf. Which caused the Iranian President to accuse the United Kingdom of being “scared” of Iran’s military prowess.

Things appear to be on a positive trend which defies the predictions of imminent doom, by our credentialed elites, featured prominently in the recent resignation of the British Ambassador to America. The reason President Trump is so popular with the American people is he is not a politician or one of the credentialed elite. He is getting things down while pissing off all the right people.

For progressives virtue signalling has replaced civic virtue. This is how open borders and giving free health care and a college education to any person in the world who wants to come here becomes acceptable rhetoric.