What’s Going on in Sherzad District; Part One

This post is over ten years old an being reposted to support a new post about the loss of two Green Berets there yesterday.

Afghanistan is slipping rapidly towards a state of anarchy. The security situation has degraded to the point where the lavish force protection measures adopted by the Department of State Regional Security Officers and the U.S. Military seven years ago now seem prudent. Media reports attribute the decline to a resurgent Taliban movement in Pakistan combined with the explosion in illegal drugs and a corrupt ineffective central government. Many of my colleagues and I believe the crippling of the reconstruction effort by unreasonable risk aversion based security rules has more to do with the current instability than anyone sitting in Washington would care to contemplate let alone admit.

It is easy for those not directly involved in the U.S. effort to highlight and criticize programs which have failed to delivery any quantifiable sign of improvement after years of effort and billions spent on poorly conceived off the shelf solutions. One example; we have spent over 2.5 billion dollars on a police training program which has produced nothing positive on the ground. The Afghan National Police are amongst the least trusted national institutions in Afghanistan with a well earned reputation for corruption and criminal behavior. Similar criticisms could be leveled at every other U.S. Department of State program running in Afghanistan but criticizing is always easy, especially when armed with 20/20 hind sight. In the Marines we had a saying which went something like “if you don’t have a solution you are part of the problem.” In that spirit a group of friends and I been working on finding solutions.

My colleagues and I believe that it is not too late to get effective aid and a permanent presence on the ground in districts currently slipping away and have a rare opportunity to present our views to a few decision makers. This concept paper has taken up most of the week and part of this concept required obtaining a little ground truth which is a good story. Our start point was a dialogue with the Maliks of Sherzad district to try and determine why the area was losing ground so quickly. The term Malik is used in Pashtun tribal areas for tribal leaders. Maliks serve as de facto arbiters in local conflicts, interlocutors in state policy-making, tax-collectors, heads of village and town councils. Although they do not officially represent the district government (they are part of a larger board) they do speak for the people.

Sherzad district is part of what is known as the “Southern Triangle” in Nangarhar Province. This is one of the areas where we have lost ground over the last year. The Sherzad district administrative center has been attacked three times in the past month by AOG fighters. IED discoveries and attacks are routine, night letters are frequently reported, as are other acts of intimidation. This district is the closest point of the southern triangle to our guesthouse and many members of our staff are from there. Finding out what is happening and why may add some weight to our concept paper but is also critical in determining our ability to remain in the Taj and operate the way we do. As the situation in Afghanistan continues to degrade identifying decision making trigger points for determining when to significantly increase our security posture or pull out altogether becomes more and more important.

Nangarhar Province
Nangarhar Province

We took over our primo guesthouse “The Taj” last December from a UN Ops subcontractor (PSS) who had been in this compound for the past three years while building roads deep into the southern triangle. I tagged along on one of their road missions last November all the way to the village of Wazir which is at the foot of Tora Bora in Khogyani district. PSS was a team of Australian and New

The Taliban has Destroyed ISIS-K in Nangarhar Province: Now They Plan to Focus on US

I have no idea why the destruction of ISIS-K by the Taliban in Nangarhar Province has remained virtually uncovered in the legacy media. That has changed with an excellent interview of the Taliban leadership in Nangarhar Province by The Washington Post. The Taliban were celebrating their recent crushing of ISIS-K (or the F’ing Daesh in local lingo). They gave an interview in Khogyani district, which is close to Jalalabad and was once solidly under government control.

This picture is from the back of a UN road building contractors armored vehicle in the Khogyani district center back in 2008.

The Taliban were direct and to the point regarding continued military operations. Check out this quote from one of the Taliban commanders:

Mullah Nik Muhammad Rahbar, 28, a Taliban commander responsible for Kabul province, pointed to the resources freed up by the conclusion of the fight against the Islamic State in Nangahar, saying the Taliban would be able to shift back to conducting more high-profile attacks in Kabul and elsewhere.

“Thank God you saw what we achieved against Bagram today,” he said. “We launch attacks in Kabul because there are many foreigners there, many targets for us.”

The Taliban went on to claim that they are not targeting Afghan civilians (the UN attributes 922 civilians killed and 2,901 wounded just this year by the Taliban) and that they will now shift their attention to the Government and ‘foreigners.’

Taliban fighters showing their weapons to the press in Khogyani. Photo by Lorenzo Tugnoli for the Washington Post

This is not good news because there are bunch of ‘foreigners’ stationed at the Jalalabad Airfield and with ISIS-K gone they have little to do except support the Afghanistan National Army trainers at the nearby whatever the former Camp Gamberi is now called.  Khogyani is not far from J-bad and back in the day the Muj would pick off Soviet Hinds on the approach to the J-bad airfield on an alarmingly regular basis (when they had the Stingers).

The United States cannot afford to throw a bunch of soldiers inside an Airbase without some kind of active patrolling to keep the Jihadis from getting too comfortable squatting within mortar or man packed anti-air missile range. Patrolling like that takes boots on the ground which are in short supply.

Anybody who thinks the Taliban will fail to take a shot at inflicting serious casualties on an American military formation doesn’t understand Afghans. This is what they do and they will pay a steep price if they think they can generate some serious casualties and destroy some aircraft in the process.

The United States Military is not agile enough to withdraw resources from the eastern provinces while maintaining the relentless air campaign that has dropped more air-delivered ordinance this year than any prior year in the Afghan War.  Throwing around 1000 pounders will result in collateral damage and we now know that the generals running this war know that collateral damage incurred while blasting Taliban creates more Taliban and is a losing strategy.

But it is all they have for now; the Generals and senior government Mandarins have no problem stringing this out for years to come. The President isn’t happy with the status quo, I’m not sure what the Democrats position is on Afghanistan as they seem to have lost their minds with the sham impeachment they inflicted on us. I have said before, and will say again, this is not going to end well.

The Mathematical Case For Concealed Carry Aboard Military Installations

I recently read a fascinating article on how Storm Water Hydrologists evaluate the risks of significant flooding events. The article was titled The Surprisingly Solid Mathematical Case of the Tin Foil Hat Gun Prepper and is one of those articles that explains technical details I did not know. The author did the math to show that we have a 37% chance of witnessing a revolution in the United States during our life time. A simplified version of that math is below, but do read the article to get the background behind the formula:

If you think that extreme check out this paragraph from a New Yorker article about super rich preppers:

Yishan Wong, an early Facebook employee, was the C.E.O. of Reddit from 2012 to 2014. He, too, had eye surgery for survival purposes, eliminating his dependence, as he put it, “on a nonsustainable external aid for perfect vision.” In an e-mail, Wong told me, “Most people just assume improbable events don’t happen, but technical people tend to view risk very mathematically.” He continued, “The tech preppers do not necessarily think a collapse is likely. They consider it a remote event, but one with a very severe downside, so, given how much money they have, spending a fraction of their net worth to hedge against this . . . is a logical thing to do.”

In the last ten years there have been six active shooter incidents on American military bases. The list starts with the killing of 13 (wounding of over 30) by Major Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, and ends with yesterdays shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola.

Using the formula above (which is the same formula used to determine flood plain risk) the math predicts your chance of encountering an active shooter event aboard a military base is 47%.

Last month the Department of Defense released a plan to allow concealed carry on military bases. It may surprise most citizens to learn that a concealed weapon aboard a military base now is a serious offense. Any potential active shooter who wants an area with lots of targets where the only chance of armed intervention is from uniformed officers arriving on the scene; an American military base is the perfect venue.

When discussing  the probability of competent armed intervention by concealed carry permit holders into an active shooter scenario there are few places with more people who trained in the use of small arms than an American military base. The last place an active shooter should ever have success is on one.

When the number of armed citizens is unknown, but probable, friction is injected into the active shooter scenario. An example of friction occurred in another shooting on a military base that was not included in our sample.

In 1994 Air Force Staff Sergeant Andy Brown, a Military Policeman, was on bike patrol at Fairchild Air Force in Spokane, Washington. A gunman, armed with an AK 47 started shooting a the base hospital and had already killed four and wounded 19 people before SSgt Brown arrived on scene. He proceeded to stop the shooter with a 70-yard head shot using his M-9 Beretta service pistol.

The Beretta M-9 is a crappy pistol that is difficult to run. The only way to hit someone at 70 yards with one is to cock the hammer to make the shot using the single action feature of the two stage double action/single action (DA/SA in gun talk) trigger set-up. Andy Brown knew this because he was one of those guys who decided he needed proper training to carry a pistol. He paid on the civilian market to get that training and he is the perfect example of the Pareto Principal (that stipulates 80% of the work is done by 20% of the workforce).

Andy Brown was a uniformed officer who responded to the event which seems to bolster the argument for allowing only the police to react. But he is no ordinary police officer, he’s an outlier. You can study thousands of active shooter responses and you will not find one where an officer, after riding a bike as fast as he could for several miles, took and made a 70 yard head shot.

That is extraordinary gun handling and marksmanship, fortune favors the prepared, in my opinion Andy Brown earned whatever luck he had on hitting the x-ring from so far away. Not many police officers could do that.  I can name, off the top of my head, over a 100 guys who could make that shot without breaking a sweat. None of them are current police officers, some of them have no police or military experience. They are out there by the thousands and most have made the decision to carry.

Andy Brown was not your average Air Force policeman. On most bases, there are plenty of servicemen and women who could have intervened, as effectively as he did,  if they were allowed to  be armed. Historically unarmed service members (and civilians) have run to the sound of the guns during these incidents to try and intervene. The recent derailing of a terrorist attack on the London Bridge by citizens who armed themselves with found objects (including a Narwhale tusk) is a good example.

Sheepdogs in action against an Islamic Terrorist with two knives taped to his hands. Armed citizens can end these events quicker and with less mayhem using legally owned and licensed firearms.

I mentioned the Pareto Principal because my best guess is around 20% of the service members (and civilians) serving on American bases would choose to carry. If my guess is in the ballpark that is enough friction to make a difference with the problem of active shooters on military bases. The same would be true of public schools.

An added benefit to allowing concealed carry on military bases is the propensity for commanding officers to insist on additional training on the employment of concealed pistols if their troops are going to be allowed to carry them. Here’s why that is a benefit:  do you know the one segment of the American military that does not have a problem with negligent discharges into clearing barrels? The United States Air Force Military Police. Do you know who routinely carries their pistols in condition 1 at all times? The Air Force Military Police.*

I’m not a fan of these damn things and they have become very expensive to manufacture because they are now designed to mitigate ND’s into clearing barrells

Condition one on a M-9 service pistol is a round in the chamber, hammer de-cocked, and the de-cocking lever up in the fire position.  On every FOB overseas the military has soldiers clear their weapons (magazine out, chamber empty de-cocker down in the de-cocked mode). Every FOB has been plagued by an alarming number of negligent discharges into clearing barrels.

One would think the example set by Air Force MP’s would be more widely duplicated; allowing concealed carry on base essentially does that. You don’t clear concealed weapons, not knowing they are there is the point of concealment. Maybe if commanders grew acclimated to troops with condition 1 weapons at all times they would  more away from the “clearing weapons” problem.

I never actually “cleared” my pistol at any FOB in Afghanistan but I was running a 1911 and the only way to engage the safety is in the locked and cocked configuration. A cleared 1911 looks identical to a hot one and I don’t understand carrying a pistol that is not hot.

There is a 37% chance that I could see a revolution in this country during my  lifetime but, there is very little I can do to mitigate that risk. The 47% chance that I could run into an active shooter aboard a military base, while not that much more likely, is something I can mitigate easily. My next post will explain the gold standard for American Sheepdogs as explained to me by the man who first coined the term. He is David Grossman, the founder of the Killology Research Group, and for the last 20 years the most sought after police trainer in the world.

*Special thanks to Kerry Patton for the inside scoop of Air Force MP’s 

FRI Reviews Trust-Based Leadership

I opened a large package that arrived in the mail last week and out fell an encyclopedia sized book on leadership. There on the cover, larger than life, was Mike Ettore, who I served with in the Marines 20 years ago. He was staring off in the distance with a sense of purpose and the moral rectitude that one associates with famous men like Vince Lombardi. I was elated; my friend Mike Ettore must have become a famous football coach because who the hell is going to read 549 pages on trust-based leadership if there was no insight into how to approach a third and long with just seconds to go in some kind of game? I stopped watching the NFL over a decade ago, long before it was cool, so he could have been dominating there for all I knew.

I held it up to my wife and said, “hey I know this guy he must have gotten into football coaching or something and become famous”.

My wife held out her hand, she has a Ph.D. in organizational leadership and is an educator, so she knows the industry. She starts scanning the chapters and looks at me;

“You know Mike Ettore”?

“Of course, he sent me the book, but I didn’t know he was a pro football coach”.

“He’s not, he runs executive leadership training and I’ve heard of his Fidelis Group; …. they’re out of Tampa”, she adds just in case I thought she was joking me.

I never saw the book again, off it went to her office and a week or so later I’m sitting at my computer doing writer stuff and up pops this notification from LinkedIn, a platform I rarely visit,  it’s a note from Mike Ettore asking if I got the book. I had to move a yellow sticky on my screen that said “send Ettore a thank you for the book” to read the notification.

I wrote to Mike immediately explaining the book had been highjacked (as if that meant anything) and then apologized for being a scumbag. I added I’d write a review on Amazon and retrieved my copy, but realized the book needed a blog post. Mike took the time to write what I consider the definitive book on leadership and it’s entertaining. I want to be entertaining back with the review.

Mike wrote this book as a text to be used for developing leaders in every human endeavor where there is a hierarchy. His biggest, dare I say controversial, contention is that leaders are made, not born. Coming from Mike Ettore that is hard to believe, at first, as is the idea that Marine Crops leadership doctrine can be injected, in any meaningful way, into a civilian business environment. I could easily see Mike as a successful, innovative, football coach because Mike was an exceptionally gifted infantry leader. But coaching executives on the importance of eating last? That seemed to be a bridge too far.

Mike Ettore, at age 20, after just two year in the Marine Corps, was a drill instructor at Parris Island. First term enlisted drill instructors are as rare as finding a diamond in a goat’s butt. Ettore left the Marines after his first enlistment to complete college and returned as an infantry officer. As a rifle platoon commander, he saw action in Grenada and Beirut making him one of the rare combat vets back in the 80’s and 90’s when we served together. As a company commander he won the Leftwich Trophy, an annual award presented to the best infantry company commander in the Fleet Marine Forces. An award that means little to most people but everything to an infantry officer.

When I met Mike, he was heading up the tactics department at The Basic School (TBS) which is a six-month course every newly commissioned officer of Marines must attend after their commissioning. TBS is designed to train new lieutenants in the art of leading Marines by training them how to be infantry platoon commanders. The Marine Corps takes the “every man a rifleman” thing seriously so every Marine, regardless of gender or military occupational specialty (MOS) is trained to fight as dismounted infantry.

I was an instructor at the Infantry Officer Course (IOC) and for reasons that need not be explained here there was friction between the tactics department and IOC. That ended soon after Mike’s arrival, he understood the difference between entry and advanced level fire and maneuver. He also understood our need to start at the squad level in an aggressive 10-week course that had over twenty, increasingly difficult, live fire events.

Drill Instructor at 20, rare combat leadership experience as a Lieutenant, winner of the Leftwich as a Captain; one would think Ettore is one of those hard asses who insists on blind obedience to regulations and strict attention to orders. He’s not and that his the first of many family jewels in the Marine Corps leadership doctrine revealed to readers who did not enjoy the opportunity to experience them firsthand. Despite what you have seen in movies or read in books a successful Marine infantry leader can only be successful if his troops respect and love him.

Not every man who passes through the Marine Corps leadership training pipeline masters the nuances of infantry leadership. There are both bad leaders and bad units in the Marine Corps as there are in every large organization. I’ve always thought bad leaders were missing an ingredient the successful leader obviously enjoyed. In other words, I thought good leaders were born to the task.

Readers who are not familiar with the military in general or the Marine Corps specifically will be overwhelmed by the exacting standards of Marine Corps Leadership. You will be dubious at the contention that the Marine Corps instills these traits and principals in young men and women who have just completed High School.

I have a short cut to understanding the dynamic, but it’s a little long. Listen to this 4-hour 15 minute Jocko Willink podcast about an incident that played out in less than 10 seconds; 15 years ago, involving a young Marine Corporal named Jason Dunham. Jocko is joined by four Marines who were with Jason that day. They explain who Jason was, how he became a squad leader at such a young age, his training for Iraq and the events leading up to the day he was mortally wounded. All four of the Marines and Jocko lose their composure several times during the discussion. It is fascinating listening;  a truly inspiring tale about an iconic Marine Corps small unit leader.

USS Jason Dunham DDG 109

Executives in the civilian business world do not lead men in mortal combat so what does the leadership system designed to do just that have to do with running a for profit enterprise? Everything. The Marine Corps trains to fight but combat is not where any Marine spends a majority of his career. Unlike Mike I am not a combat veteran, but I have seen infantry battalions fold in the field after 96 hours of cold, wet, wind driven rain in the normally sunny Southern California winter.

Good units with solid leadership thrive in nasty weather, they consider it a challenge, and answer it with solid sleep and foot hygiene and active, aggressive tactical measures (patrolling, digging, fire support planning etc..) while ignoring the cold wet. Good units with solid leadership cannot be beaten by terrain or weather. Units without it fold every time they are exposed to a good dose of adverse weather.

Every leader faces diversity and it is through navigating that diversity that effective leadership is demonstrated. This seems to be a self-evident truth that is often absent in today’s business and social environment. I suspect that is because leadership training is confused with leadership techniques and procedures. Good leaders work by developing and implementing effective techniques and procedures, poor leaders mimic the techniques but never achieve the same results. Tactics and techniques cannot be substituted for leadership if you are in a dynamic environment where rote routine and detailed instructions are counterproductive.

I take that back; Amazon fulfillment centers have got to run on rote routine, I would think, and if the management of those centers adopted Mike’s approach to the tasks at hand I doubt the media would be full of stories about dismal employee morale.

If you are in the military and aspire to a leadership role at any level, buy this book, read it, highlight it, and then read it again, and again, and you will accelerate through the ranks at a blistering pace. If you are a Marine Corps Officer or SNCO and have not ordered this book yet you’re wrong, so fix that quickly. For everyone else I am telling you that this book will make you a more productive leader and better human being if you accept the challenge Mike has laid out for you.

When you read and understand this textbook you will know exactly how to develop and manage human capitol.  Mike Ettore has distilled 244 years of Marine Corps Leadership guidance and doctrine into one book designed to be used throughout a career of ever-increasing responsibilities. If you desire to excel in any leadership role this book will grow your talent stack exponentially. If you put the work in to master the material and make the effort to mentor and develop your subordinates.

As I said in the beginning not everybody who is exposed to Marine Corps Leadership doctrine gets it. Those that do become legends, everybody likes being associated with a good solid leader. Now there is a book to tell you how to become one. If you have the drive and the desire to work at it. Nothing worth having comes easy in life.

Some Positive News Out of Afghanistan

Two news items popped up yesterday that are certainly good news, possibly great news. The first was the release of two American University professors, one American, the other Australian; who were kidnapped in 2016. The other is the apparent mass surrender of Daesh (ISIS-K) fighters to Afghanistan Security Forces.

The always reliable Mohammad Jawad (a.k.a. JD) of DPS reported:

US citizen Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks were released by the Taliban on Tuesday, three years after being kidnapped, as part of a prisoner-swap deal.

The two professors were taken by the Taliban in August 2016 on their way home from the American University of Afghanistan, where both taught.

They were freed in exchange for the release of three senior Taliban members being held by the Afghan government.

Earlier in the day I had to chance to ask JD about the Daesh story when we were chatting on messenger. He told me he had heard the story is true but that he would not be able to verify it with sources in Nangarhar. Shortly after signing off I received a phone call from a former Jalalabad colleague (who is still in Jbad) and he said that the word in Jbad is the Daesh have quit the battlefield en masse and are asking for Melmastia (the Pashtunwali  requirement of hospitality and profound respect for all visitors, without any hope of remuneration or favor) from the central government.

That is exactly how the Daesh, who were Pakistani Taliban trying to get away from the Pakistan Army operations Khyber 1 and 2, ended up in the Achin district of Nangarhar province in the first place. In Afghanistan nothing is easy to plan be they military campaigns, infrastructure development projects, or a program to welcome former combatants. Those types of plans do not survive contact when implemented. Afghans just don’t work that way but somehow, when left alone, they will reach a compromise all interested parties involved can live with.

Plus there is this:

This is the land title storage room of the Nangarhar Provincial Agriculture Department. Some of these papers date back a hundred years and fall apart if you touch them. They are not cataloged or organized

Giving away land in Nangarhar Province is not something the government is in the position to do effectively. I imagine Kabul will want to spread non Afghan Daesh fighters out in marginal, thinly populated areas not near the most important border crossing (Torkham) in the country. But who knows? It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

My prediction has been the Daesh in Nangarhar would be destroyed as soon as the Taliban (who have wiped them out once before as noted in this excellent post) were allowed to have at them. The Daesh (ISIS K) were never a real threat because the Afghan people are tired of dealing with radical Sunni orthodoxy and the militants who force it on them. They like to smoke cigarets, and occasioanlly they enjoy getting drunk too. Vat 69 Scotch (brewed in Rawalpindi, Pakistan) and Cossack Vodka (brewed in Quetta, Pakistan) are always available as are The Green Meanies (Heineken in the can). Alcohol is not used as a social lubricant in Central Asia  and it is haram, (as well as illegal) which is why you don’t hear much about it but it’s there and no big deal to your average Afghan.

Although I never felt the Daesh a legitimate threat to Afghanistan or the United States they have destabilized Nangarhar Province to the point that I’m getting panicked phone calls from Jalalabad City. Only once in the last seven years have I received a call from J-bad and that was about the death of my friend Hedayatullah Zaheer Khan (Zee). Zee had been killed in a Daesh bombing of a Eid Cricket Tournament he had organized. This time the call was about employment verification certificates and letters of support for the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applications of a half dozen former colleagues. These requests are from Pashtuns who had intended to stay in Afghanistan for the duration. The rise of Daesh in the province has unnerved them (to put it mildly).

I’m not too optimistic about the chances of my former colleagues getting SIV’s. I’ve sent notarized statements verifying their employment with me and their faithful service implementing multiple aid projects in the province. I’m trying to get the corporate headquarters from the agencies I worked for the send verifications but they never even had records of local employees in Afghanistan. That seems to be dead end.

To say I hope this news about Daesh is true would be an understatement.  The prisoner swap is another indicator of progress at getting theTaliban and the government in Kabul to start talking. At some point the Trump administration is going to try for another deal and the next time around I believe the players understand they need to stick to the terms they agreed to with the  President or he’ll drop the deal like a hot potato. That’s as strong a negotiation position as we have seen in a long time.

The Afghan Endgame Emerges and it is Not Going to Work

There is one point that I have hammered home on blogs and podcast interviews concerning Afghanistan and that is the next round of funding is a game changer. I thought we would be seeing some serious budget slashing in 2020 but it has already started.  Over the weekend the State Department cut 100 million dollars designated for Afghanistan energy infrastructure projects . They are also withholding another 60 million in payments to the Afghanistan’s National Procurement Authority.

The aid is being withheld because of the endemic corruption found in Afghanistan (and every other country in the region). The sums involved look massive but they aren’t, keeping Afghanistan’s  military and government solvent has a price tag of billions annually.  Cutting of programed funds is long overdue, but I am guessing this is a test run to see what happens when the real funding crisis strikes next year.

My concern is that once the Afghan people understand we are doing the old cut and run they may “complicate” our continued presence in the country.

Adding fuel to the fire is yet another ridiculous massacre of Afghan civilians by our armed forces.  A drone strike in Nangarhar province killed 30 workers who were gathering pine nuts. This is not the first time we have slaughtered pine nut gatherers. For 18 years we have been bombing Afghans who were going about their day because people watching drone feeds thought they were up to nefarious activities. We seem to be incapable of learning.

Just yesterday 3 American soldiers were wounded in a insider attack on their convoy by a member of Afghan Civil Order Police. This attack, were I to guess, has something to do with the loss of General Abdul Raziq last year. The Afghans know that the only reason Raziq was in that vulnerable situation was because General Miller invited him to the Kandahar Governors compound.

The guy who perpetrated this assault may well have been a Taliban plant, just like the one who nailed Raziq. Or he could be pissed about the death of Raziq and took it out on those he thought responsible. Who knows? But the timing of this attack is ominous to those like myself (and maybe it is just me) who are worried about pulling the cut and run while thousands of troops and  tens of thousands of internationals are resident in country.

The Afghan people are not stupid. When the news of 160 million dollar cut broke my Afghan friends in Kabul took to facebook to lament an act they knew was a long time coming.  Here are some of their comments from my Facebook page:

Can’t really blame the US for doing this..

That peace deal is coming the conditions are gearing up for anti-USA climate, when the money stops then why are you in Afghanistan? You gotta pay to play otherwise the Afghans are switching their attitudes. Try governing Afghans who haven’t been paid.

But it’s so right! There is no transparency in AFG gov procurement and especially large projects. Nobody can audit NPA, u can’t complain against them and they can award projects to people of their choice.

It’s about time! Bad news for some people.

This is the tragedy; there are plenty of Afghans who want our help, who respect and actually are inspired by the the idea of America, and who, if the Taliban return to total control (which I do not think possible) are in serious trouble.

Afghanistan is a mess but the only way for us to extract ourselves from that mess is slowly. The imperative now for NATO and the Afghanistan Security Forces is to not cede the initiative to the Taliban.  The Taliban continue to attack, they are not going to stop applying pressure because it  is working well for them.

We need to keep hammering away at them too, but when we do that we kill pine nut workers, or smoke check wedding parties. The reason behind that is lack of human intelligence , lack of local atmospherics, and (I hate to say this) lack of American boots on the ground.

I do not see how we are going to square the Afghan circle but know contractors are one option that has potential because contractors can loiter in country longer than military and they can return to the same unit over and over to build cohesion and competence. There are thousands of American combat vets (and contractors)  who would willingly return and stay to see the fight through. I’m one of them.

Like General Mattis I believe we should have bagged bin Laden in 2001 and left the country to its own devices. We didn’t, and for those of us who went to Afghanistan and stayed a bit; there is an obligation to the Afghan we assumed when we decided to stay. I love Afghans (most of them) and I love the country too but (I’ll say it again) – this is not going to end well.

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.

Remembering Droney McDroneface

This morning at the Imam Khomeini Space Center in Semnan province, Iran a rocket, reportedly carrying a Nahid-1 telecommunication satellite, blew up on its launch pad.

This is the third  failed launch in a row for Iran. Three times this year they have tried to launch a rocket and three times it blew up in place. I think this might not be a coincidence. Rockets designed to launch satellites don’t routinely blow up, and the Iranians certainly have the human capitol required  to launch satellites safely, but they’re having a moment this year. I think I know why.

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

I think the Iranians are suddenly having missile dysfunction secondary to a Droney McDroneface infection.. Earlier in the summer I proposed that the sudden appearance and subsequent disappearance of an old washed up RQ-4N BAMS-D (Broad Area Maritime Surveillance-Demonstrator) drone I named Drone McDroneface.

That story was picked up by Soldier of Fortune Magazine and trended on twitter for 37 seconds. Media experts, like Alex Hollings, carefully examined my theory and patiently explained why it was ridiculous. It may well be, but it’s a good story, and about as accurate as your average legacy media story about President Trump.

Plus, the Droney story chunks information in a easily understood manner. When you hear that another Iranian missile blew up and killed its satellite you’ll already have a good understanding of why that happened.  Efficiency in digesting complex news about international events can be difficult, so I’m doing my part to make it easier with simple stores about complex things I think I know something about. The stories may or may not be true but you and I wouldn’t know it they were or weren’t true, so who cares?

This Labor Day Americans have much be excited about. But the Oregon/Auburn game will be over by midnight Saturday; what are you going to be excited about then? You can get excited about whatever, but at some point during the weekend festivities,you might might want to take a second to remember the sacrifice of Drone McDroneface.

I know what you are thinking; I’ve been watching Better Than Us on Netflix too. That killer robot, yoga instructor- looking- woman lead character is truly scary. Figures it’s a Russian TV show, but that’s not what I’m talking about.  And who cares about Russian TV shows during Labor Day anyway? If you do, you shouldn’t, you should get outside more and while outside pause, look up into the sky and think about our hero Droney. He (or she or zir…Droney was unarmed and PC)  is giving the Mullahs fits to this day and that is a record to be proud of.

A Not Happy Afghanistan Independence Day

Monday marked the 100 year anniversary of Afghanistan independence. August 19, 1919 marked the end of the third Anglo-Afghan war and joins Al-Faath day(a Muslim military victory) and Mujahedin Victory Day (the victory over the Soviets) as a public holiday celebrating Afghan martial virtue. This holiday was heavily anticipated and the road up to Dar-ur Aman  palace strung with lights and vendor stalls to mark the celebration. My good friend JD wrote an excellent man on the street piece for dpa International that can be found here. It is worth reading.

JD had published an article just yesterday in dpa International that was seething in undisguised rage at yet another bombing targeting civilian Afghans. A bomb went off in the vicinity of Dar-ul Aman road targeting a wedding party  killing 63 people. Hundreds more were injured. What JD could not say (because he is a reporter) was what we both (and everybody watching Afghanistan) knew and that was this was the work of Daesh-K (ISIS). We knew this because the area along Dar-ul Aman road is predominantly Hazara, who are Shia, and thus enemies to the Sunni ISIS movement.

DSCF1363
The Dar-ul Aman palace has taken a beating over the years. I took this picture in 2006 and I bet not much has changed…and it turns out I was wrong 
My friend Farshid Ghyasi  sent this after I posted. I am glad to see the Palace restored. Inshallah it will stay that way

This comes as the United States prepares to significantly draw down its military commitment, just like we did in Vietnam, but this time we cannot pin this on a hostile  congress. Well that is not technically true, we can blame congress for failing to use the war powers act. They could have tied funding to an achievable end-state allowing the military to tell them the forces needed to achieve that end-state. That is how the system is supposed to work, but it never seems to work that way. I think that’s because politicians are much more comfortable making decisions about foreign commitments after they’ve started. Stands on principal are not how congress people get to congress, that they failed to use their own laws to bring some order to the chaos is not a bug in our electoral system, It’s a feature.

ISAF
This is a graphic depiction of mission creep. The military has to take some of the tasks outlined in this ridiculously complex PowerPoint on, but not all of them. Congress is supposed to have a say, on behalf of the people, in this mess.

As Afghanistan recovers from yet another senseless attack on the people the Taliban leadership received a dose of Kummerspeck inspiring bad news.  This came in the form of a report from Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency detailing their lavish life styles and investments.

wonderful german wrods

It turns out that Taliban politicians are every bit a venal and corrupt as the non Taliban type. But the leaders of the Taliban are not savvy to the ways of media or that bright when it comes to Pakistan because they reacted to this report with undisguised fury. They do not know what they do not know, and one of the knows is that the Streisand Effect is real.

Why the Pakistan Federal Investigation Agency released this report is an interesting topic to speculate about. I doubt the press will do much speculating because most paths are going to lead to the recent statements by President Trump concerning the need for both Pakistan and India to do more about the terrorist in their midsts.

Remember Daesh-K started out as Pakistani Taliban who fled across the border into Nangarhar province to escape from Pakistans military operations Khyber I and II. And calling out India…I don’t think I’ve seen that before and that too is interesting. Maybe there is diplomacy occurring that is actually producing results. Pakistan called out the Taliban leadership and face smashed them. Afghans are excellent volleyball players and they know exactly what face smash is and what it means.

I am running out of things to say about the tragedy unfolding in Afghanistan. It breaks my heart because I love the people of Afghanistan. When I arrived in that country I had no knowledge of the place. I learned fast because I was never on a FOB and lived in the ville with the locals for most of my time there. They taught me how to navigate the social systems, they taught what was real risk and what was not. They protected me, feed me and gave my children the experience of a lifetime. I  like to think I returned their investment in spades but who knows? That is not for me to judge.

I’m going to start writing Afghanistan stories about things like having my children there with me, meeting interesting people and visiting interesting places. In the end, the families of the dead, those that served there in the military, and the contractors who served with the military and outside the wire  are always going to ask was it worth it. I say that too is not for us to judge.

We have no idea  how the thousands of acts of kindness towards average Afghans will germinate over the years. Just as we have no idea how the innocents – the collateral which I railed about when I was there – it’s why I started the blog – we have no idea how that will germinate.

I know some of the Afghans caught in crossfire knew we did not do that intentionally. I’ve talked to plenty of them, I too got shot at for getting to close an army convoy, I understand Afghan frustration about that well.

But I bet in 20 years if you are American in Afghanistan you will treated like an American in Vietnam. Which means very well.

Time for the first Afghan sea story.

 

In the photo above I am with senior Islamic Cleric, but I cannot remember his name. I’m wearing recycled contractor clothes, where there once a name-tag I had a South Park cartoon character saying “You sent me to Iraq You Bastards”.  I thought that was funny because I just came from Iraq. I was to learn that Afghans were not amused by American curse words. But having a stupid shirt on is not why I remember this meeting with embarrassment. That Cleric was one of the most charismatic, wise, men I have ever met. In an effort to impress I remember telling him how quickly we would re-build the country, get the hydro generators working, build the roads and schools, etc…

I remember him looking at me and smiling and shaking his head. He said something like this; “the buildings and the roads and the electricity are not important. It is the people who have been damaged by decades of war that are important and it is the spirit of the people that must be restored. America cannot do this for Afghanistan, we must do this ourselves”.

What do you say to a profound statement like that? I don’t remember what I said, but I never forgot that conversation. It was humbling and a harbinger for the failure our efforts in Afghanistan were destined to have.

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.