Back when I was a youngin, the idea of being directly overflown by a Hind D (big, evil-looking Russian attack helicopter) was a horrifying prospect. Today I was overflown at an altitude of about 100 feet on several occasions by Afghan National Army Hind D’s.

It was vaguely uncomfortable. I knew, on a conscious level, that they were “friendlies,” but all the old aircraft ID classes built in a negative reaction. Something inside me said, “Shoot it! Shooooooot it!”

A 5.56mm rifle will not bring down a Hind D, barring divine intervention.

Sometimes thoughts are just thoughts. Vaguely uncomfortable, but just thoughts.

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Categories: Afghanistan, ANA, General Military
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 20 Aug 2009 @ 01 08 PM

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When George H. W. Bush declared a “New World Order, recipe ” many felt that his pronouncement was arrogant, healing domineering and a bit frightening in an Orwellian way. His words have been mocked, cheap twisted, and held up as an indicator to support conspiracy theories and in the rhetoric of those who oppose American foreign policy. The President may have been correct in his determination that there had been a change, but there was no change in behavior strategically that went along with such a sea change in global politics. The United States simply behaved as if it were the unchallenged superpower, declaring itself the world leader and chief proponent of “freedom.” America announced to the world that the world had changed, but America did not significantly change the way it dealt with this changed world. As globalization changed the world’s markets and political possibilities, the United States remained rooted in foreign policy practices that in many cases exacerbated the very problems that they were intended to ameliorate. Things got worse.

The more American foreign policy sought to “contain” extremism, the more extreme the threats that presented themselves. Numerous turning points were reached, and no turns were made. American success in supporting Afghanistan’s Mujaheddin against the Soviet invasion was widely heralded as a triumph of foreign policy. In the wake of the Soviet withdrawal the United States took no major steps to build capacity of any sort in Afghanistan. No leadership was exerted, and the little influence exerted was spent on warlords who were perceived to be pliable. Afghanistan slid first into civil war and finally into the grip of a group of backwards religious zealots who had no ability to govern and whose actions conflicted more and more with national mores and objectives. No progress was made, either, in persuading Iraq that compliance with any New World Order was unavoidable. Actions meant to bring Iraq to heel only hardened the resolve of Saddam Hussein and tightened his grip on his populace. The carrot and the stick were not working.

America was not leading in the development of human capacities. America was playing power games; games of manipulation that had unintended consequences in their second and third order effects that actually damaged American national interests and security. International terrorism, an outgrowth of Arab frustrations with their inability to defeat Israel on the conventional battlefield, and blamed also on the United States, came to the fore with the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Hijackings became relatively common. The pace of international terrorism waxed and waned, and the methodology evolved, but a widening gap opened between America and the Arab and Persian worlds.

The response of the United States to terrorism was often forceful retaliation. America sought to strengthen security agreements and arrangements with friendly, and not so friendly, countries. The political side brought pressure based on the threat of force, money and sanctions. These were considered the tools of foreign policy. Decades of foreign policy sought to erode Communism rather than trust that it would die a natural death of its own weight. It was a policy born of a lack of faith in our own system; a fear that the other could actually win somehow. While this is understandable in light of the unthinkable tragedy of WW-II, it helped spawn another, asymmetric threat. International extremism was growing, not in the least bit slowed by our old techniques. We had sponsored it in Asia in order to gall the Soviets. Now it became firmly entrenched in Middle Eastern societies.

After the Soviet Union pulled out of Afghanistan, America determined that it had achieved a strategic victory in backing the Mujaheddin. Although there were cries for help in many areas from Afghans, funding for aid to Afghanistan was drastically cut. The Afghans were on their own. Factions fought to a near standstill over control of the country. Former allies fought viciously to control Afghanistan. Local warlords controlled areas of Afghanistan, and depredations were widespread. Kabul lay in ruins as the various factions fought for control of the symbol of power in Afghanistan. The Taliban began as a tiny group rebelling against a local warlord. The ISI began their long association with the Taliban. U.S. foreign policy, confused as ever, backed and then turned against the Taliban. Afghanistan failed as a state. Chaos reigned, concealment and incubation for exportable extremism.

Failed states affect other states. In the era of globalization, they can affect states halfway around the globe. After plenty of actions taken against American citizens and property overseas, we finally got an extreme display on our own soil on 9/11. The disaffected of Afghanistan had a hand in that. The disaffected of the Middle East participated directly. Failed or failing states threaten all.

The root causes of insurgency lie in a combination of factors. We break them into three general areas; a vulnerable population, leadership who are available to direct disaffection and weak government. U.S. foreign policy from WW-II forward often served to exacerbate insurgencies, because very often the actions taken by the American foreign policy organs were to utilize the three main tools of policy (money, sanctions and military power) to either benefit a relatively small slice of society or to punish all. The American carrot and stick were actually making things worse, just as surely as doing nothing but hunt the enemy is not weakening him in modern day Afghanistan. With a very large percentage of people under the age of 25 in Afghanistan, the recruiting pool for disaffected and angry youth is nearly endless. This is the basis for the statement that you cannot kill your way out of an insurgency.

You have to address the root causes. The military can help to secure the physical vulnerability of the population, but the population is not just physically vulnerable. They are also economically, educationally, socially and governmentally vulnerable. The military can help address the leadership issue… but then what? If we kinetically solve the problem of one leader, another will grow in his place. Government may be physically weak, unable to deliver on its mandate… or it can be morally weak in the eyes of the people, rendering it susceptible to attack both physically and rhetorically. The military cannot protect a government from rhetorical attack or the disregard that citizens will show for a morally weak government.

We Americans view ourselves as “good guys.” We are the characters who ride into town wearing white hats, sure of the effectiveness and fairness of the “American way.” We see ourselves as the champion of justice. To significant portions of the populations of poorer nations, that is not the way that we are seen. A conventionally-minded military is not the most effective counterinsurgent force. The military is not the answer to insurgency by itself, only a part of the national ability to project real power. We need to change the way that we conduct policy. This begins here in Afghanistan. If the civilian organs of American foreign policy become strong in the ways that they need to in order to assist the Afghan people forward, we stand a chance of developing significant capabilities to transform our foreign policy behavior in ways that will provide greater security than we have known in over 30 years. This is not to say that we should become wimpy. It is to say that we will become a more secure nation by assisting people who are not Americans to be more secure.

It is hard to argue with some assertions made by those in the United States who claim that we are in this position due to our own faults. These folks tend to be in opposition to American foreign policy in general, and their greatest weakness is that they offer no real alternative, only cries of exasperation or excessively isolationist recommendations that no one views as realistic. They are able to diagnose the disconnect between what we say we want and our effects on the other people on this planet. We have indeed contributed greatly to our own problems by propping up strongmen who opposed regimes that we opposed, manipulating the internal politics of nations via intrigue, arming groups and sponsoring regime change.

We helped create failed and failing states. We did nothing to help developing nations to develop the capacity to govern properly and provide essential services that a government needs to provide in order to be legitimate. We failed to assist with mentoring and guidance and examples for developing nations to develop the capacity to begin to serve their populations.

We failed in the good will and good faith departments.

The backward slide ends somewhere. Either that or the relevance of the United States in the world will continually erode. The change in our behavior needs to start in Afghanistan. If the new initiatives are successful, those who participate here are the “seed corn” for a whole new breed in foreign relations, particularly in second and third-world countries. Several Presidents have talked about American “leadership.” The best leaders are also great mentors. They assist others in their development.

By providing the mentoring and leadership to assist developing countries in their capacity building, not just governmental, but also in basic economic development (encouraging investment and partnering,) the United States can help prevent state failure. The true power of the United States is not self-contained in the military. It is also in the economic power, the technical expertise, the ease with which our services are delivered and the competence of our public employees. In return we will assist in preventing state failure and insurgencies from ever really developing by addressing their root causes before they have a chance to develop. We will create markets and opportunity. Security will be secured and enhanced.

In order to be successful in Afghanistan, we will need to develop these competencies in our foreign policy organs. A new breed can be birthed in Afghanistan that will change the way that we deal with the world around us and by being more beneficial reap rewards for our own people at home.

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Categories: Afghanistan, AfPak, analysis, COIN, development
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 19 Aug 2009 @ 01 07 PM

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 17 Aug 2009 @ 1:35 PM 

This week, Abu Muqawama is asking if, in 600 words or less, involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan is in America’s (and her partners’) strategic interests. Well, that depends on whether you believe in World 2.0 or not. By that I mean not some bizarre New World Order. By that I mean that the world is no longer a place that is compartmentalized and insulated. 9/11 was a symptom, not the disease. The disease is that failed or failing states can, will and do have a profound impact on the rest of the world.

If you live in a neighborhood and your next door neighbor, only a few yards away, has major problems with drugs and unruly children, how will that affect you? He has a violent brother-in-law living in a Winnebago in the driveway. Their house and yard will likely be unsightly, which will affect your property values. You will occasionally have trash blown into your yard. Eventually, when they get rats in their garage, you will get them, too. You will be affected, though they do not have the keys to your house.

What if you live a block away? Perhaps your yard will not be messy due to the neighbor a block away. Will your children be affected by their interactions with the unruly children? What about when the rats breed really well… is there a possibility that some may find their way into your house? The violent brother-in-law keeps a guest in his Winnebago who has taken a strong dislike to you and has attacked you, breaking your nose and destroying your mailbox by smashing a car into it. He vows to burn down your house. You and your friends go over to confront him, but he has left a note saying, “I’m gonna get you, sucka,” and fled. You suspect he is still hiding in the neighborhood. He and his friends still leave you threatening voice mails.

Whoops… now their neighbor is partying with them, too. Taking the same drugs. He owns weapons and explosives. Explosives that can knock down the house of his other neighbor, with whom he does not get along. They constantly bicker about which one of them owns a large tree they both covet. It’s not in your interest for these neighbors to get some help though, is it? When the one blows up the other, will that not affect your house as well? In World 2.0, the world is a neighborhood. No longer are we separated by economies that are completely unaffected by the failed families states of the world. No longer do the disaffected and violent of Asia remain only a Central Asian problem. We cannot hide from the world any more than our auto manufacturers can wish Honda, Toyota and Hyundai away.

I know it’s a simplistic analogy. Sure, it’s flawed. If you do not buy into the fact that the world is getting smaller, that we are more a global ecosystem and society than just some global warming debate, then the chances are that you will not see any strategic interest here. If you do believe that we live in a global society, then what affects some strongly affects all to some extent. Can we ever really have security in our own home if our neighbor is unstable, violent, drug-addicted and generally out of control? Can we sleep easily when that neighbor blames us for all or some of his problems?

Now, if there is nothing to my analogy, and you don’t buy into it at all, then the answer is likely, “No, it’s not entirely in our strategic interest.” You will likely subscribe to Bacevich’s “Blood and Treasure” equation. But, even with a flawed analogy, what if there is something to what I’m saying? What if the events in little valleys in Afghanistan can send ripples around the entire planet?

Is that not what happened on 9/11?

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Categories: Afghanistan, AfPak
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 17 Aug 2009 @ 01 35 PM

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 15 Aug 2009 @ 6:23 PM 

Due to the recent trip to the provinces, we had to pass through the space/time portal known as Bagram, which has been dubbed by some of those who operate outside the wire but have frequent brushes with it, “Pogadishu.” As many others have noted, it is a world separated from the war by a million miles of cultural and tactical vacuum. A rocket attack on the base in the recent past brought home to the denizens of this burgeoning city of tens of thousands that there is a war on… but on a daily basis you couldn’t tell it from Disney Drive.

You can’t tell from the actions of those running the place, either.

Whether in business or in warfare, processes are developed. Processes are what are performed by bureaucracies. Bureaucracies are created to serve people, but they exist to serve processes. Once a process is developed, it becomes the goal, the purpose. The people and their needs, which the processes were developed to service most efficiently, become the pain in the system. The very need that spawned the beast becomes the fleas infesting its fur, driving the beast mad. Add some paranoia to it, and you have a beast that is not only ungainly and unproductive, but actually counterproductive and dangerous.

Pogadishu is the petri dish of fobbitry. At all times of the day you can find its denizens unconcernedly strolling the main road, Disney Drive, often in PT gear of whatever service sentenced them to their tour there. There are two PX’s, movie theaters, the famous clamshell where they have Karaoke Night and Country and Western Night, two Green Beans Coffee establishments, Burger King, Dairy Queen, shops, an expensive and inefficient private internet service with charges scaling from less than $50 to over $100 depending on the bandwidth purchased, and 24-hour shuttle buses. That’s just for starters. Sergeants Major and bored officers lurk like trap door spiders to pounce on the unwary who sport any semblance of field wear or who do not wear their reflective belt. For most, the workday is similar to that performed back home, if under more crude circumstances. Only 7% of them will ever leave the wire. Many arrive at Bagram, leave only to go on leave, and finish their tours without ever having left the wire save by air. There is no end to the fobbitry inherent to the streets of Pogadishu.

On a recent trip, one of our junior NCO’s was confronted by a Lieutenant Colonel who stopped in mid-jog to assail him for having turned the cuffs of his ACU jacket inward, a common alteration that allows more air to circulate around the arms, increasing the ability of the body to cool itself. However, this alteration, while I don’t believe it is specifically forbidden by the AR’s, is sometimes expressly forbidden by certain units, due to the fact that some Sergeant Major doesn’t feel that it’s a “good look” to be sporting. Also, should the street suddenly burst into flames, the Soldier so attired could suffer burns to parts of the arms that may have been retrieved less well-done than other parts of his corpse had the cuffs been tightly sealed against his wrists.

In any case, the LTC stopped in mid-stride to assail the young NCO, berating him for his wear of the uniform as well as his mustache. This young soldier, who leaves the wire every day, may wear his mustache slightly outside the bounds of AR’s, but it is tolerated operationally based on the commander’s evaluation of the cost/benefit analysis. The LTC demanded that the NCO remove his mustache, apparently on the spot. The Soldier was unable to comply and so the LTC demanded that the NCO present himself to some Sergeant Major at 1400. Having been sent on a mission by a full Colonel that included drawing certain equipment and returning forthwith on a convoy that left Pogadishu at 1300, the NCO regretfully left the wire without sating the bloodlust of the LTC.

The NCO duly informed the Colonel, upon his return, of the confrontation.

“Screw him,” the Colonel replied, “If he wants to call me, I’ll tell him the same thing to his face.”

Our Colonel is not a Pirate of Pogadishu. What matters to him is getting the job done, not looking like some hackneyed recruiting poster while you do it. That’s not to say that there is no discipline, but it’s not about sweating the small stuff that has no bearing on the mission. It’s about sweating everything that does.

Instead of stopping to chew out junior NCO’s over field modifications to uniforms and moustaches that are not in direct contravention of mission accomplishment, it might be a better idea to identify when four or five teams of people are trying to accomplish a similar goal within a single organization inside his battlespace and putting one person in charge of them all so that they actually work together to get it done. Then, after that’s accomplished, if the LTC still has time on his hands, perhaps chewing out random NCO’s over what is NCO business might be more productive behavior.

The LTC at one point screamed at the NCO that other Soldiers were going to die because they would burn up, howling in pain because they had seen this NCO and would emulate his jacket cuff style. This, ladies and gentlemen is a Pirate of Pogadishu.

Our trip would be a dozen times more challenging because of the Pirates of Pogadishu. Like many teams in this country, we are dependent upon our interpreters to accomplish our mission. They are members of our team. We travelled with two terps, both combat veterans with more than three years of service, to Pogadishu. Upon arrival we were greeted with, “Oh… them. You shouldn’t have brought them.”

“No?” we queried.

“Oh, no. No, no, no. You can’t bring terps in here like that.” Three heads shook in unison.

“But we need them to do our job,” we pled. A quick conference followed. Eye patches were donned. The Underpirates talked quickly amongst themselves, the uncovered eyes darting to and fro nervously.

“You must go and see the wizard,” came the decision from what appeared to be the Chief Underpirate for Domestic Placement.

“The Wizard?” we asked. “Who and where is this wizard?”

“The Wizard is the Chief Overpirate of Fobbit Tranquility, and may be found in the Directorate of Overpiracy, just down the way.”

“Uh……huh. Okay. And if they do not heed our cries?” we explored.

“Then your local nationals shall be banished to the vagaries of the outside world, that which is forbidden to be seen, from which you quite obviously plucked them at random just prior to your entry to Pogadishu.”

“And if the great Wizardly Overpirate deems them to be less than fatally harmful to our alien life processes?”

“Oh, well in that case, they can stay with you. But they cannot eat,” they stated in unison, which had a creepy echo effect.

“They can’t eat.” More a statement than a question at this point, all disbelief having been suspended over the course of the prior several minutes.

“No. They cannot eat. See their ID cards? They have no priveledges. They cannot eat. Not in Pogadishu, anyway.” Again with the stereo effect.

Well, we were off to see the wizard. After a brief ceremoney involving a hair from each of their heads, two ID cards, chicken bones, two separate drums and another set that were joined together, and a strange but very sweet-smelling metallic powder that burst into flame delightfully when the wizard cast it into a small fire, it was determined that if the Captain ever has children they will belong to the wizard and our terps could stay. Everyone was happpy save for our deeply insulted interpreters.

“It is like being in a prison, Sir,” they told me.

“I know.”

That’s not the best part.

The best part is that after having risked their lives, finding an IED, driving through an reported ambush which did not materialize and doing a fabulous job of interpreting, our two interpreters were removed from the manifest for the return flight (which turned out to be on the exact same Canadian C-130 we had flown up on,) escorted to the gates of Pogadishu and forced to ride back to Kabul in a taxi while still wearing American uniforms, thereby endangering their lives.

Without their luggage, which had already been palletized.

Our two team members were humiliated; which is one of the worst emotions in the world for an Afghan. “It is not your fault, Sir,” one of our terps told us. “It is our fault for working with you and putting ourselves in the position where someone can do this to us.”

The Pirates of Pogadishu had had their revenge.

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Categories: Afghanistan, COINiots
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 15 Aug 2009 @ 06 42 AM

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I’ve got a number of things I’d like to write about, and I would ignore this tripe as being inane; but it is filled with the type of self-righteous drivel that is heard in America from time to time. It passes for “academic” thought, I suppose, but it shouldn’t. It is at least presented as if it were academic thought, because the author couches his blog with a term that refers to a social science, anthropology. The author claims academic credit. He teaches at a university, although that doesn’t speak well for the school. In fact, it speaks rather poorly for it. I’ve come to view the author with a very jaded eye. I lump him in with such charlatans as Robert Young Pelton. It’s amazing how charlatans tend to clump together into clots. Pelton is quoted in the posting to which I am referring today.

Maximillian Forte, the author of “Open Anthropology,” and an outspoken critic of the Human Terrain System, posted began his post today by framing further discussion on terms of rape, shoplifting and gangsterism. Having thus childishly explained his reasoning process he examines the Marine efforts in Helmand Province in the same light. While it is a bumbling literary trick, it does cast illumination on the thinking of the “anti-war” crowd. While Mr. Forte is a Canadian and teaches in Canada, a fact for which I do not blame the Canadians as a whole, he has managed to congeal in one gelatinous clot the arguments of many of the “anti-war” crowd. He has also captured the essence of a festering affinity for extremist propaganda that exists in North America, notably in some small but significant numbers in the United States. That is the only reason that I’m even giving his self-righteous polemic the dignity of a response; because it gives me the opportunity to address some truly egregious lies that exist in the open in America. Those who read this blog regularly don’t buy into such lies. This is for those who may stray across these words, that they may be offered a the choice to listen to one who has been on the ground over one who hasn’t.

Yes, it means that much to have walked the actual dust and stones of Afghanistan rather than sitting in an office at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada.

Forte asks a question that begs an answer about the Marines in Helmand.

It begins with this article posted prominently on Yahoo! by the Associated Press for this date, titled “Marine mission to protect Afghans slows progress.” It was to me, and hopefully to anyone with a memory capacity larger than a gnat’s, possibly the most outlandish headline to be seen in a long time. The Marines are protecting Afghans? The Marines? Protecting?

Yes, protecting. The Marines are there to clear the Taliban from the area, a group that is supported the a greater proportion of the population of Helmand than in most areas of the country, but still much less than the 51% that would be required in a developed, well-governed country like Canada, or the United States for that matter, for a particular group to hold sway. They hold sway there because they have weapons and they are not afraid to use them. They hold sway in part because they have, during their bloody reign, mostly destroyed the beneficial tribal and village leadership structures which used to provide a social framework that held together communities, filling the void with their own twisted brand of political leadership. As an anthropologist, Mr. Forte would do well to actually do some research on the destruction of these traditional structures, structures which the Taliban have found to be obstacles in the path of their dominance.

Mr. Forte then goes on to paint the Marines as bloodthirsty and wanton destroyers of villages.

The Marines, in not being allowed to raze a village and mow everyone in their path, are “protecting” civilians, clearly from the Marines themselves:

The British jet called in by the U.S. Marines had the Taliban position in sight, but the pilot refused to fire, a decision that frustrated Marines on the ground….

Forte clearly has no grip on the reality of Afghanistan. Marines don’t, nor have they ever, razed any villages in Afghanistan. They suffer from no compunction to “mow everything in their path.” The Marines are actually much better versed in counterinsurgency warfare than the Army is, on the whole. My Army cohorts may not like to hear that, but the ones in the know realize this and say it readily themselves. The Marines tend to “get it” more than the Army does. They are not there to “raze a village.”

No matter how much you “get it,” it is frustrating to get shot at and not be able to shoot back, or to have decisive firepower refused when you know where the enemy hides is frustrating. That frustration does not equate to a desire to raze a village. Now Forte becomes a Hague lawyer:

Since the Marines are frustrated that they cannot fire, they are “protecting” civilians, as if they should be praised for doing what is legally required of US/NATO occupation forces under the international legal conventions that they signed on to, and that acquired force as part of their domestic laws. Not being excessively aggressive, and committing war crimes, is reconstructed as benevolence, rather than a basic minimum. Not being an outright brute, is represented as moderation. It’s a very short and smooth road to sainthood for warriors forced to respect the mandates of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (1949) (see also here). This is humanitarianism, as a default starting point.

Forte shows an amazing lack of knowledge of the laws of war to which he presumes to lecture. Belligerents are not required to refrain from applying firepower to their enemy. Not at all. They are merely required to avoid collateral (meaning unintended) damage to the greatest extent possible while in the course of defending themselves. They are also permitted to continue offensive operations, and any dwelling, church, mosque, hospital or other structure which the enemy is using as a firing or observation position is not afforded any special protection under the laws of war, having forfeited any such protection upon being used as a fighting position. No, Forte has no concept. I’ve got news for him; thousands of civilians have been killed since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in late 2001 and early 2002. Most of them have been killed by those selfsame Taliban that Mr. Forte so fawningly worships as “freedom fighters” and “Mujaheddin.”

While the casualties that have been caused by the coalition have been unintentional, those of the Taliban have not been. The deaths of innocents, and particularly of government supporters, are carefully orchestrated for effect. We have not left bombs in crowded civilian areas. We have not hung men for having currency in their pockets that we found disagreeable. We have not shot women in the head after dragging them from a car for working on a Taliban installation. We have at times been gullible. Each of those bombed wedding parties was bombed due to poor intelligence, usually provided by a person who had a grudge against the family, and sometimes because the Taliban wanted a family harmed and planted “intelligence” which gave them the double whammy of harming their opponent while giving them a visible sign of American or Coalition “disregard” for Afghan lives.

Forte also quotes a section of the Geneva Conventions that applies to occupying powers, which the United States and its NATO partners are not. Regardless of the rantings of Forte, the coalition members are here to assist the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. That is not an occupation. The United Nations passed a resolution and is here in force. The NATO forces in Afghanistan are engaged in assisting a lawfully elected and constituted government in establishing control over its territory and in the construction/reconstruction of a war-torn country besieged from within and without by an extremist insurgency which the people of Afghanistan overwhelmingly do not support.

Now, there are various and sundry other dynamics at work, the complexities of which Forte shows no grasp of whatsoever, which is interesting for an anthropologist. This demonstrates why, after many years in the field, he is an Associate professor of Anthropology, instead of a full professor. It be can surmised from his unwillingness and inability to plumb the depths of the troubles and challenges of Afghan society as being due to his propensity for grasping at low-hanging fruit and his propensity for emotional outbursts such as the one we are delving into now. This, tainted with the brush of his political ineptitude, demonstrated by his insistence on attempting to portray a band of criminals as being on the same par as the Mujaheddin who were part of a very popular resistance to the Soviet Union’s expedition into Afghanistan in the 1980’s. Afghans themselves would tell Forte that he’s way off base on that point. I’ve had countless Afghans explain to me precisely why the Taliban don’t rate the name, “Mujaheddin.” Their logic is impeccable. It is Muslim, and it is local. Forte wouldn’t have any idea what to do with indigenous opinions, being that he is the caliber of anthropologist that he is.

Just today in Twitter, I spotted this statement: “Rough time 4 soldiers fighting terrorists and building communities in Afghanistan.” Building communities — after massive aerial bombings over a period of eight years. Building communities — as if Afghanistan had no communities before Americans slammed into the country. “Fighting terrorists” as if those who fight soldiers, foreign invaders, can now be re-branded as “terrorists” in spite of common definitions premised on the idea that terrorism involves the deliberate, indiscriminate killing of non-combatants, a category that automatically excludes soldiers.

Mass bombings is a powerful term. It brings visions of Arclight B-52 bombings to mind. Now, granted there were B-52 sorties against entrenched Taliban positions in the early days of the rout of the Taliban from power by the US-assisted Northern Alliance, but ladies gents, I’m here to tell you that the bombings in Afghanistan that I have had personal knowledge of involved one or two weapons per event and they were precision weapons. Precision weapons don’t mean “no mistakes.” They mean that nobody was dropping ordnance willy-nilly with absolutely no regard for civilian deaths. So, Forte waxes theatrical again. So do any who parrot his dissemblings.

It does bring one to wonder what Forte and his ilk think of the always deliberate, sometimes indiscriminate and sometimes targeted killing of non-combatants by the Taliban, HiG and other anti-government elements in Afghanistan. It makes one wonder what Forte thinks of hanging a man and leaving his body in public for days under threat of death to anyone who would give the corpse the decency of a burial in accordance with Islamic rules. It also demonstrates the absolute ignorance of the fact that the Taliban have killed more Afghan civilians, by far, than they have NATO Soldiers. Yet Forte lauds these types of mean as “freedom fighters.” What a strange, sad little man to be so led by his hatred of Soldiers and Marines into praising men who would perform such acts; acts of barbarism which are not performed by NATO forces or the Afghan National Security Forces. Forte misguidedly quotes Reagan, a man whom he despises and attempts to use as some sort of boomerang against his foes, as being somehow supportive, in death, of the Taliban.

Let us not forget that many of these gallant, freedom loving, heroic mujahideen became what we know today as the Taliban.

While it is true that some Taliban fought as part of a couple of factions as Mujaheddin, the great majority of Mujaheddin are not Taliban. I’ve met many Mujaheddin who are now members of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. One day in early August, 2007, I sat in the home of one of the key Mujaheddin leaders in Kapisa Province, who explained to me why he saw no reason to take up arms against the United States. He did not see the US as an occupation force. He saw that our intentions were good. He also reserved the right to decide at any point that his opinion had changed and that he would again pick up arms. He supported the Afghan Government, and while he saw huge challenges and was dismayed with the ineptitude and corruption, he preferred an elected government to a dictatorial theocracy.

Had Forte, or any who share his twisted concepts, ever bothered to get the dust of Afghanistan upon their loafers, they would know such things as naturally as they draw breath. Forte would be deeply disillusioned by what he would find in Afghanistan. He would find that he was totally, completely and irretrievably clueless. If he were half the scientist he claims to be on his CV, he would realize that speaking so with absolutely no real knowledge of his subject is, well, unscientific.

He would also know better than to quote Robert Young Pelton about Afghanistan. A scientist should have the knowledge to recognize a lying charlatan when he meets one. Instead this “scientist” quotes him, as if lies would carry buffoonery forward into becoming fact.

Finally, Forte reflexively cannot resist another reference to the Human Terrain System; the perpetual bug up his bum. He retells the tragic story of a female researcher, Paula Loyd, who was murdered by an angry Afghan man. No one knows for sure why Abdul Salam set her on fire. Don Ayala, a colleague, fatally shot Salam immediately after the murderous attack. Now Forte paints Ayala as a mercenary and Loyd as very much deserving of her fate. Forte displays a picture of Ayala and Loyd, claiming that, “few would be willing to bet their wages that there is a woman in that photo.” Why? Because she is wearing a helmet? She is very obviously a woman. This criticism is very strange coming from a man who apparently purposely created an avatar of himself on his website bearing a remarkable resemblance to Vladimir Lenin. Forte muses that because she didn’t look like a woman, and did resemble a soldier, she was a legitimate target of an Afghan civilian. He leaves us with this bizarre bit of nonsense:

Salam was a liberator. He liberated Loyd from a prolonged career of selling her services to militarism, and thus to terrorism. Never again would she be used as a human shield by the American terrorists. However, Salam did not kill everyone on her patrol: that’s because he was protecting them.

That is some of the most heinous and hateful speech I’ve ever seen directed against what should have been a colleague in Forte’s mind. His malevolent misogyny belies his portrayal of himself as the fair-minded arbiter of Taliban legitmacy as “freedom fighters” or Mujaheddin.

Some day, I would like to have a chat with the board of regents of Concordia University and ask them what in the bloody hell they were thinking about when they hired this so-called “scientist.” I’m even more amazed that they have tolerated his bizarre ramblings over the course of the time that I have been aware of Forte’s gymnastic buffoonery.

As I said when I started this deconstruction of the self-proclaimed “scientist,” it should have been left in the dustbin of obscurity; but there are others who mimic his line of dislogic. This is more to demonstrate the absolute buffoonery of those who even raise the term, “occupation,” those who would deign to call Taliban and HiG insurgents “freedom fighters” or “Mujaheddin.” They have no idea what they are talking about.

Afghanistan has deep challenges on many levels. Many are self-inflicted, and many are the result of a society literally eviscerated by 30 years of conflict, both externally and internally motivated. These problems will not be solved overnight. Forte and his ilk are politically motivated, but thank God that they are not as motivated as the men and women that I work with, who are willing to risk their lives in order to make our nations safer by securing this society, one of the poorest nations in the world. Afghans are a mix of many ethnic groups, and they struggle to find an “Afghan” identity, even in the middle of a siege brought upon them by those who would seize power and again govern by fear of physical abuse, torture, deprivation and death. An officer recently stood and spoke about how we should all be here just for Afghanistan. I told him, “No, I’m here to protect my children. It just so happens that in order for my children to be secure, the children of Afghanistan must be secure. That’s why I am willing to do this.”

The great thing is that Max Forte and his ilk are only willing to run their mouths. Words have great power, but words have considerably less power when there is no willingness to put one’s life on the line for them. Forte will not risk his life for his words.

I am for mine.

It is up to the reader to decide who to believe; the “scientist,” or the Soldier.

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Categories: Afghanistan, analysis, COIN, COINiots
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 14 Aug 2009 @ 02 57 PM

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 13 Aug 2009 @ 10:35 AM 

A few days ago I had the opportunity to visit my old stomping grounds in Kapisa, and stay at FOB Morales-Frazier, the scene of many adventures in Kapisa. It was surprising, pleasant, poignant, encouraging and disappointing all rolled up into one big ball. First, the FOB, which was still called a Firebase when I left, a step down from a FOB in the hierarchy of combat structures, has exploded. FOB Morales-Frazier, or M-F to the local military speakers, has now become home to hundreds. When SFC O, SSG Maniac and I arrived there in late May of 2007, this large area was occupied by a Special Forces ODA (Operational Detachment Alpha) and a light company of ANA and their ETT’s; a few dozen people. The entire compound, an area of approximately 400 x 600 meters, is full of tents, structures and vehicles. It is a small town of its own.

Amazed, I climbed the tower in what used to be the ODA compound and looked over the scene. I could easily see the original structures and the original Hesco boundaries of previous fiefdoms; the Special Forces, the compound that the SF referred to as the “overflow” compound, which those of us who suffered its privations called “GITFO” for “Git The Freak Out,” and what the few American Soldiers there now call “The Alamo;” the scene of O, the Maniac and my first good shelling.

The American Provincial Police Mentor Team (PMT-P) for Kapisa occupies structures that my group had built. What was built for us to use as a kitchen/chow hall has now been divided in half and is used for offices for the PMT-P and the PRT. The Hesco compound boundary has had a hole knocked out of it, allowing a pass-through to the French area beyond where French Soldiers and Marines live, for the most part, in tents. Many tents.

The erstwhile Special Forces compound has been partially opened up as well, and at one point I walked through the old front gate, now vestigial. This was the site where, for several weeks during our time there as the Bastard Children, O, Maniac and I had to wait for the precise time of chow in order to be permitted entrance to ODA 744’s compound so that we might share in their victuals… after most of them had eaten, of course. If we arrived a minute too early, the ODA’s hired Afghan guards would hold us in place until the appointed hour. We used to joke that we were like dogs waiting to be fed. I could still see the adhesive marks on the remnants of the gate where the ODA had posted their sign decreeing that we could have access only at those times.

I passed the place where O and I put my four ANP KIA in body bags on my worst day of the first tour. I thought about them for a moment. I can still see their torn bodies when I do think of them. I can still smell the scent of fresh death and torn bowels. I can still see the lifeless eyes, the shroud of death having emptied them of light, and the rendered parts. I remember my surgical-gloved hand resisting against the cloth of their clothing as I searched for identification. I remember the heartbreak of recognizing the young radio operator who had always been near me for over a month as we operated in The Valley from the picture on his ANP identification card. Suddenly I could see the resemblance to the grinning youth in the mask of death, eyes akimbo, missing the top of the skull. I remember seeing deeply into the young man’s head, brokenhearted and at the same time detached; a portion of my brain noting surprise at the small amount of brain matter remaining after what appeared to be a nearly surgical removal of the top rear of his skull. I found this stray, detached thought mildly shocking in its own right. How can one be so emotionally shredded and yet almost clinically detached at the same moment? I still find this dichotomy notable. The events, sensations, and even thoughts of those short hours remain embedded in my memory like few others in my life. They will never go away; and I do not wish them to.

Those men, and that place, are part of me now.

Kapisa is a part of me, and I am a tiny part of it. I am still there, the light of recognition in the eyes of ANP officers and soldiers who recognized me revealing that my time there is still a part of the individual histories of these men’s lives. They greeted me with enthusiasm, there being no doubt that the sign of deep friendship, the handshake followed by the hug with cheeks pressed, was to be exchanged. As others who did not know me looked on curiously, the ANP would explain that I had been in many fights with them. I recognized Dari words in the rapid explanations, “jang” (fight), “Afghanya,” “Tag Ab,” “Ala Say,” “bisyar khoobas” (very good.) I knew the general drift before our interpreter told me in English what the full interpretation was. I felt a deep sense of pride in having reached that level with the Afghan soldiers who I had mentored and operated with. I recall wondering if I would earn such respect from such men; men for whom the stripes on my uniform and the patch on my sleeve matter less than my actions on the dusty ground in the obscure valleys where Afghan life and death are to be found. They judge me on actions that few, if any, Americans were there to witness. Many asked also about others who had impacted them deeply; SFC O, LTC Cold, and SFC Pulvier. Absent were other names. It seems that Afghans have very little time for those who had no real regard for them. Certain things can’t be faked, regardless of the fairy tales told on forms. Some names are left for dead in the dusty past.

There were many such reunions, but none so deeply satisfying as seeing once more the constant thread in Kapisa since the time of LTC SFowski. Sam, the combat terp, dismounted from the MRAP when the team arrived at Bagram to retrieve us from that circus of fobbitry. (I will have an entire post about Bagram soon.) Seeing Sam again was like a bowl of ice cream on an Afghan summer day; so cool I couldn’t believe it. We inquired as to each other’s health, family and after old friends. Again, names were raised from what seems the long ago past, less than two years ago.

Our business at Kapisa was slightly less successful, mostly due to the changing of some leadership and the reluctance of the new leadership to really extend an effort regarding any new training. Excusing his lack of coordination with explanations about the elections and difficulties having to do with that, we were not provided access to the district and provincial leadership who could really drive new ways of organizing information. However, after seeing what we have to offer, I think that upon our return sometime in the future, we will find more cooperation.

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Categories: Afghan National Police, Afghanistan, COIN, doctrine
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 13 Aug 2009 @ 10 54 AM

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 05 Aug 2009 @ 6:53 AM 

Ahhh, wild Afghanistan. There are many natural wonders here, but to truly appreciate the experience of Afghanistan, you must examine the landscape, the local flavors, and of course the many creatures that inhabit the environment. Tonight we will take a closer look at two of these denizens of Wild Afghanistan.

First, we will take a look at the famous (or infamous) creature that has been known to send a shiver through certain French Special Forces Soldiers; the camel spider. This is the creature which evoked a response that had to have been heard in person to be truly appreciated. Bearing in mind the limitations of the medium, you will have to add your own French accent.

“Ah do not like zees ahni-mal!”

I almost fell down laughing. Here is the offending creature:

Camel Spider

Camel Spider

Just so you know, that is a full-sized fire extinguisher in the right side of the picture. This is a medium-sized camel spider.

Well, that was fun.

Now let’s turn our attention to the Wily Afghan Fobcat. Fobcats are a special breed of feral feline which, while appearing disarmingly similar to your average housecat, are an entirely different animal. When unmolested, the fobcat behaves much the same as an American felinus domesticus, and may even approach humans with the same adorable mannerisms which could lead one to believe that a charming social interaction is about to take place.

Then, suddenly and without warning, a change occurs. It is not a subtle change, like when the wind shifts slightly. No, this shift is abrupt and vicious, as was discovered recently by an Australian officer here at El Rancho Julien who was approached in the mincing, disarming manner of the fobcat.

The Wiley Afghan Fobcat

The Wily Afghan Fobcat

The Aussie quickly found himself embroiled in a struggle of life and death in what is normally considered to be a place safe from most dangers, the FOB. But the FOB is exactly this place which provides the perfect habitat for this unpredictably violent beast. Just look at the name. Bitten severely, he managed by sheer advantage in mass, aided by opposable thumbs, to gain a stranglehold on the fobcat. Try as he might, he could not extinguish the wily beast and so he was eventually satisfied to cast it away from himself. Both beings retreated; the fobcat to replenish her hemoglobin, the Major to seek medical treatment. The wily Afghan fobcat had claimed another victim.

The Major was subjected to a full round of rabies shots for his troubles. He survived the ordeal and, the damage done having cast his future as a jellyfish juggler into doubt, has since returned to Australia to train funnel web spiders and eastern brown snakes as helper animals for those with special needs.

Among the lessons learned from these exercises is that of the many dangerous animals in the world, some of them are present in Afghanistan. The ones that reside here are as unpredictable and inscrutable as the land itself; sometimes welcoming, sometimes seemingly so but with a propensity to turn on interlopers with dire consequences. We can also observe that the French display a tendency towards assessing the potential ferocity of an animal quickly and, having determined the result of violence as offering no gain for the human, avoid it. In contrast, Australians appear to exhibit a more Irwinian model of natural selection, with the results of any wildlife interaction largely determined by the relative mass and ferocity of whatever animal they may encounter. If they stray upon something large enough or venomous enough to kill them before medical aid is rendered, they are subject to immediate ejection from from the gene pool.

Thank you for joining us for this edition of “Wild Afghanistan.” Please join us next time when we will examine the intriguing dynamics and nuanced interactions of a chance encounter between an Aussie, a rare and endangered snow leopard, and several golden jackals.

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Categories: Afghanistan, Wild Afghanistan
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 05 Aug 2009 @ 06 56 AM

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 04 Aug 2009 @ 8:55 AM 

A Week


What a week it’s been. In order to become a full-fledged, card-carrying member of the Academy of Bellicose Numismatists you have to study hard, know the curriculum and class materials, and you have to complete the 5 day course as a student. It’s a rite of passage. Well, it’s a little more than that, but I’m simplifying it.

So that was fun.

After a day to change gears and get prepped, a couple of other instructors and I trundled off early each morning to teach a more focused, shorter course at a branch school for Afghan officers. This was an advanced course. These officers had already completed their basic course. They also had combat experience and knew a fair amount about enemy behavior. We have been teaching the Afghans classic AirLand Battle doctrine for nearly 7 years now. Here we come all of a sudden with a new plan for them; COIN. One of them did ask the obvious question; “Why did you wait until now to come up with this?”

I didn’t want to tell them that the book was published two and a half years ago and we just got around to reading it. Uh… that would be some of us. We still get field grade officers in the course here who have not read the book. A significant portion of company grade officers have not read it.

Most of them are taking to it like a duck takes to water. There are a couple of die-hards, but most of them see the truth in what we have told them. The strange thing is that in the Afghan National Army you have a mixture of Mujaheddin and leftovers from the Najibullah regime; the Communists who the Soviets invaded to “assist.” Many of these officers were insurgents. But that was a different insurgency. Question that all you will, but I can tell you, and so can they, that it was another matter altogether.

Part of the training is, “Be the insurgent,” a take on the Caddyshack golfing philosophy of, “Be the ball.” One ANA officer briefed a plan that had an ANA Colonel wondering if he needed to run a background check on the officer. It was that good. When you can think like an insurgent, you can get inside his loop and get in between him and the cookie that he strives to possess… the acquiescence, if not active participation, of the populace.

If you don’t like the term, “cookie,” then insert your word of choice for something that someone wants to possess and strives for by hook or by crook. I think of the kid and the cookie jar, or in some cases the schoolkid who gets a cookie of he/she behaves. But, suit yourself by all means.

Most of the ANA officers nod their heads knowingly at the way that information is now interrelated. It makes sense to them. They understand the challenges of appealing to the people intrinsically… they are the people. They know who in the village they looked up to as children. It was usually not the Provincial Governor. No, it was an elder, a mullah, a big brother, a father, an uncle. These are the men who shape the minds and opinions in Afghanistan. The Afghans understand that some men are fighting for money, some for other grievances, and some to take over their own corner of the world.

They know that they will likely have to kill the would-be warlords. They can live without killing the part-time insurgent, the aggrieved, the threatened or the misled. They can live without killing “The Accidental Guerrilla” of Kilcullen’s writings.

There are many problems to be solved. There are more ethnic tensions in Afghanistan than when Cleavon Little wore a hood in Blazing Saddles. These guys need a Cleavon Kabuli to break the tension a little. The problem is that the direct material correlation would be a burqa, and a comic actor in a burqa just isn’t going to cut it here. No way. The ethnic tension isn’t impossible to break; but it’s like racism in the States… it’s going to take a generation of intolerance to it before it really begins to melt. Many feel that it can never be broken, but I don’t believe that. The world is getting smaller, and Afghans will eventually be forced to bond with the folks in the other valley to deal with the pressures of the outside world.

There are other problems, like illiteracy. This is more of a problem than on the surface, because while ignorance is the devil’s playground, it has to be realized that there is an element of religious manipulation involved that is not possible among the literate. Religiosity is built into daily lives to a much greater extent here than is generally realized. It is part of greetings. It is part of institutions. Every briefing starts with, “In the name of Almighty Allah…” Islam is woven so tightly into the normal events of daily life that the religious authority has as much, if not more, sway than the local political apparatus. So, with an illiterate, religious mass it’s possible for an unscrupulous mullah (naaaaaaah, there aren’t any of those…) to mislead people into directions that aren’t in line with the real meaning of spiritual Islam. It’s as if some evangelist in the United States were to tell an illiterate audience that the Bible says it’s okay to abuse a group of people because God doesn’t like them. Not that such a thing would ever happen, of course. We’re much too advanced for anyone to, say, picket funerals of fallen Soldiers because of some misbegotten religious zealotry.

Lawyers are supposed to be able to read, aren’t they?

Anyway, I’m trying to draw a parallel here. The funny thing is that when I draw such parallels, I see that the Afghans really aren’t much different from us. In fact, when I look at them, I see what our great-grandparents were going through in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. Just add some technologies like wireless and there you have it. This country is a mix of Biblical times and the Wild West with a hint of Mad Max.

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Categories: Afghanistan, ANA, COIN, doctrine
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 04 Aug 2009 @ 08 55 AM

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