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 23 Nov 2009 @ 12:34 PM 

…When they’ve killed 13 people and wounded 42 more in a botched rocket attack?

“We didn’t do it.”

We were cordially invited to stay at FOB Kutschbach for a few extra days by the rotary wing folks, who bumped our return flight to a day earlier than scheduled. So, as we had some extra time on the ground, we did a foot patrol with the French, the PMT and the ANP through the Tagab bazaar a couple of days after the attack. Being that there were two of us, and we each had an interpreter, we were able to talk with the people we ran into at the bazaar. That is, when we weren’t being hurried along.

While asking people what village they were from, if their village and/or family had suffered any casualties, and how they felt about the attack, the story the Taliban was telling came out. First, they insisted that only one rocket was fired… so the other round must have come from either the Americans or the French on the FOB. Right there they shucked off half of the responsibility. Secondly, they insisted that the rocket was not fired by a Talib. They had, they insisted, “arrested” the man who had fired the “single” rocket, and they were investigating to discover who had paid him to fire the rocket into the crowded bazaar.

“Really?” I asked the man who conveyed this. “They are really saying this?”

“Yes. This is what they say,” he asserted.

“They really think that you are so stupid that you would believe something so ridiculous?”

Blank stare. The man searched for something… something that wasn’t coming.

“I’ve been talking with you for several minutes. You are going to go to college in Jalalabad to be a lawyer. I know that you are too smart to believe such a ridiculous lie.” Clearly, he wasn’t; but it was beginning to work on his brain.

He stammered a bit… the corners of his mouth began to curl upwards a little. He was stuck.

“If a man kills someone and you ask him if he’s done it, he comes up with a stupid story about how it wasn’t him, right?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied, hesitantly.

“So that you won’t want to kill him,” I continued.

“Well…” he shifted uncomfortably.

“So then he thinks that if you believe him, then you are a fool. You would be foolish then, right?” I pressed.

“Yes, that would be foolish,” he agreed.

“But you are too smart to believe a foolish lie, aren’t you? You are smarter than that, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am smarter than that,” he agreed.

“The Taliban think you are very stupid people, but you are not so stupid, right?” I offered him a way out.

“Right. We are smarter than that.” The men gathered around began nodding their heads.

It’s not like I could undo the damage done after the Taliban IO (Information Operation) had time, unfettered, to respond to the catastrophe that they had caused among their neighbors. Their gaff was like a kid who throws rocks at a house and breaks a window and then runs away. If confronted by the homeowner later, he comes up with a creative story about someone else breaking the window. Except this rock-throwing nimrod was throwing rockets, and he had killed innocent people.

The French had found rocket fragments from two rockets. One was Chinese and the other of Russian manufacture. They did not get the word out immediately. In fact, the reaction of the French leadership was to cancel a mission that they had planned and “wait it out.” They did not hit the streets immediately, telling the story and showing the rocket fragments to everyone they could find. This gave the Taliban time to concoct a ludicrous lie that, in the absence of any information to the contrary, some people were believing.

The fact is that on the morning of the attack, we were informed that there was some intelligence to indicate that the Taliban were going to attack the District Center that day. The reason was that there was a French General who would be participating in a Shura with local elders and the Sub-governor of Tagab District. COL Z, the local ANP Chief who is much-hated by the Taliban, and the ANA commander would also be there. As with all intelligence, there are a lot of red herrings. The PMT joked about the odds of actually being attacked. But, at roughly 12:30, twin booms rang out from the nearby bazaar. The French quickly identified the site of the launch, a site that the Taliban frequently use to launch rockets at FOB Kutschbach… often missing. This time they missed their mark by a scant 200 meters… just enough to land them in the bazaar, crowded by shoppers stocking up for the Eid celebration on a market day.

The 107mm (4.2 inch) rocket is not a precision weapon system. When tube launched, it is an area weapon. You can get it into a general area, but you cannot ensure a precision hit. When launched Afghan-style… propped up on rocks… it is an order of magnitude less certain. To launch these weapons from four kilometers away at a site which is so close to the bazaar on a bazaar day is criminally negligent at best.
These weapons were fired with a total disregard for civilian lives. It was akin to firing high explosives into a mall during the Christmas shopping season.

The 107mm warhead packs a wallop, but it is notorious for its horrible fragmentation pattern. The warhead casing fragments unevenly, often throwing out very large fragments in a haphazard manner. This undoubtedly spared some while mutilating others. Civilians were torn asunder, some left in bloody heaps while others lost limbs instantly. Still others were injured by flying chunks of rock. One rocket impacted near the place where people shopped for livestock for their Eid feast, not unlike our Thanksgiving Dinner. Livestock and citizens alike were shredded by razor-sharp, white-hot fragments. The carnage was horrendous.

As the shocked survivors gathered themselves and the bazaar emptied in a frenzy, severely wounded shoppers dragged themselves away from the center of the disaster. Colonel Z sprinted out the gate of the District Center, four ANP running to keep pace as their Chief ran into the dust and smoke left on the wake of the high explosive warheads. The Colonel lifted injured people into vehicles and dispatched them to either the FOB or the District Center. Within minutes, casualties began to arrive for French and American medics to triage and treat. The Colonel helped retrieve six dead from the litter of blood and body parts. The families took their dead directly home. More would die later from their wounds. Few villages were left unscathed by the toll. Everyone I spoke with a couple of days later knew someone who had perished or been wounded.

“You notice,” Colonel Z mentioned later, “that no one took their casualties to the Taliban for medical treatment. They brought them to the FOB, or to the District Center. They depended on the government or its allies for help when they needed it.”

This is true. That’s what the people did.

There is a “Radio-in-a-box” setup at FOB Kutschbach, broadcasting to the people of the Tagab Valley. The local commander offered the elders an opportunity to come and denounce the attack on the radio. Only one man, Colonel Z, came and denounced the Taliban for their cowardly act. All the other elders declined. So, as they sat watching, the enemy began their damage-control campaign.

“We didn’t do it. We caught the man who did, but he only fired one rocket. The Americans or the French fired the other one. We didn’t do it…”

 16 Nov 2009 @ 5:13 AM 

Just as when untrained nimrods in the United States have money for weapons that they have no business possessing, the same is true in Afghanistan. The Afghan version of a drive-by is the 107mm rocket. Another wondrous Russian invention, it, along with the Kalashnikov and the RPG are the cheap, profligate weapons of the world. The 107 is relatively simple, and while not all that easily transportable, it can be moved significant distances by primitive means. They are often hauled by donkeys in Afghanistan.

I returned to Tagab (Tag Ab) a few days ago on a mission. FOB Kutschbach has really grown. Those who were here when the FOB was started would scarcely recognize the place. This morning, shortly after our arrival at the District Center where we were going to work with the ANP for the day, there was a report that insurgents were going to target the District Center with rockets. Such reports are often without merit, and we joked with the Police Mentor Team about the odds that it would actually happen. A Shura was in progress with the new French commander, his ANA and ANP counterparts, and local leaders. A little after 12:30, two explosions rocked the crowded bazaar just past the gates of the District Center. The insurgents had missed an area large enough to play several soccer games simultaneously and instead hit the bustling market about midday on bazaar day.

A CROW gunner in one of the MRAPS nearby announced that he had spotted a group on a nearby mountain that he thought may have been involved. Mortars at FOB Kutschbach launched a number of rounds at the probable POO (Point Of Origin) site. The local ANP Chief, a heroic individual who I’ve written about before, ran up into the bazaar with four ANP. Soon ANP trucks were summoned to assist with evacuating the casualties. The Chief later stated that at least six civilians had been killed and another 26 wounded. Four casualties were brought to the District Center, where French and American medics stabilized them before loading them into French vehicles and rushing to them to FOB Kutschbach for further treatment.

One man had a serious wound to his upper thigh. Bloody clothing lay against his skin over the pressure bandage the French had placed on him. He had clearly lost a good deal of blood, but he was conscious and able to talk. An apparently secondary bloody wound on his left temple awaited treatment while the medics started an IV. Fluids began to flow into the wounded man. A family member clutched his ankle, staying just out of the way as the medics worked to ensure that the man did not sink into deadly shock.

The ANP said that a small boy with a chest wound was being brought in. SFC Tobago, the PMT Medic, called for his bag. As I arrived with the medical bag the boy, on a stretcher, was placed on the ground. His shirt was open, a bandage on his chest. Terror showed through his pain-clouded eyes. Dried blood streaked his chest, his navel a pool of blood. One of my interpreters assisted in communicating with the boy, who was able to talk in spite of his great pain. He was very frightened, the fear clearly communicated in his small voice; but he did not cry. He bore his pain stoically.

The insurgents will claim a successful attack or, failing that, will claim that the civilians died or were seriously wounded because of the presence of coalition troops. “If the coalition were not here,” they will say, “we would have no reason to be shooting in the first place.” This is like a criminal blaming his victim for having had possessions in the first place. In May of 2007, Tagab was a home of terror. The Taliban and HiG were clearly in control of this area. An NDS agent was hung in the central circle of the bazaar, his murderers forbidding the removal of the body for three days, in violation of Islamic law. Two days after I first arrived in Afghanistan in April, 2007, the local insurgents pinned the ANP down for an entire day in what served at the time as a District Center, firing thousands of rounds in that same bazaar area. The coalition were nowhere near. If the Coalition weren’t here, the people would still be living under the sway of the types of people who hang their rivals in the square and forbid people from cutting down the body for a decent burial. The people of Tagab would still be living in a world where supposedly religious people violate religious principles in order to make their political statements. Civilians would still be dying… but there would be no one to blame. They would have no need to blame anyone. The answer at that point was simply, “We are in control, and you are not. If you don’t like it, and you complain, we may kill you; so shut up.”

If the Coalition weren’t here, there would be no reason to be insurgents. They could return to the civil war that tore Afghanistan to pieces after the Soviets left and also when the Taliban fought the Northern Alliance for years. Of course they are going to blame the coalition; because they cannot take responsibility for a couple of things.

First, they cannot live within the social contract. They want so desperately to be in charge that they refuse to work within the political framework to try to include their ideas in the national dialogue. They don’t want a dialogue; they want to make all the rules. So they blame others for the result of their sociopathic behavior.

Secondly, they cannot take responsibility for their own horrible proficiency with weapons. Afghan insurgents are notoriously inaccurate, rarely actually hit what they are shooting at, and frequently kill civilians with their idiotic use of explosives, small arms and rockets. Monkeys from any zoo would be able to engage targets more effectively than the average Taliban. This idiotic “military” or “insurgent” behavior has resulted in many more civilian deaths than the Afghan Government and Coalition militaries combined.

To take responsibility for not only their lack of political acceptance and acceptability but also their total amateur status with weapons ranging from jugs of homemade explosives to rockets in excess of four inches in diameter would seriously alienate not only Afghan civilians but also the world community. No, that’s just not going to happen. Instead, it’s everyone’s fault but their own. Well, today I witnessed the horrendous results of insurgent unprofessionalism. There is no one to blame for that young, terrified boy with a hole in his chest but a bunch of thugs who cannot grow up and behave like reasonable men capable of living in a society where they are not guaranteed having everything their way.

Tags Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
Categories: Afghan National Police, Afghanistan, COIN
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 16 Nov 2009 @ 05 13 AM

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 10 Nov 2009 @ 10:05 PM 

Just returned from another wretched trip to Pogadishu, once again challenging my moral endurance. One of the more blatant signs of disconnection from reality; several Soldiers complaining vociferously about Pizza Hut running out of beef while nearby a Soldier who was passing through Bagram to go on leave had come from a FOB where running out of water for days at a time was relatively common, and needed supplies were unable to be delivered due to a lack of airlift capacity. The ridiculousness of the concerns of the denizens of Pogadishu is highlighted in the presence of those who pass through their midst on their way to and from the real war.

The Soldiers who pass through are subjected to visions of high-rise (three story) conex condos while they are subjected to the horrors of the “transient tents.” These hovels house nearly two hundred men who share four shower stalls, two urinals and three toilets. Overflow capacity is provided by several porta-johns nearby. I haven’t been to the east side of Bagram in two years, but I hear that conditions over there are even more horrific. How that can be escapes me, but there must be another level of depravity on that side of the runway. In the north transient tents, one tent, which is not an Army tent but the type of enclosure that might hold diners at an outdoor wedding, holds double-deck bunk beds that house at least 175 men. It is nearly always filled to capacity, a scant foot to a foot and a half between bunks. Dimly lit, it is like a holding pen for a level of Hell that is filled to capacity. Bare plywood floors are perpetually dusty, and there is an air of resignation.

The other tent, of the same construction, has standard Army cots separated by the same intervals. This tent easily houses a hundred men. It seems more pleasant because of the ability to see from one end to the other. Not all of the occupants are transients. Many Soldiers and contractors are “housed” there for weeks at a time before getting more “permanent” housing, likely in one of the many B-huts which have small living areas separated by cubicle-like “walls” with lockable “doors.” The “walls” cannot go all the way to the ceiling because there are only two Chigo (heating and air conditioning) units, one at each end of the hut. Often a dozen men will be housed in one B-hut. B-hut living is tolerable. It is sheer luxury compared to the Spartan living in the transient tents.

In the transient tents, privacy is a matter of mind over matter. The iPod is a savior. If one puts in the iPod, one can almost forget the man snoring 18 inches from his left ear. As I lay there on my cot, the roar of two F-15’s taking off shattered the near-serenity of Pachelbel’s Canon. I restarted the tune, immersed in the quiet dignity of what is likely my favorite piece of classical music. A bit later, another pair of fighters took off, afterburners punctuating Steppenwolf’s invitation to a young woman to join them on a Magic Carpet Ride. Brilliant.

I think that the iPod saved my sanity.

But there is no saving one’s sanity from the utter fobbitry. NFL on Fox made the trip to Afghanistan, only to root themselves in the land of those who serve, forward deployed but not in any way, shape or form an actual participant in the hostilities. As we were conducting training for several days to one of the headquarters elements, we moved through what is to us is something out of Alice in Wonderland. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if I were approached at Bagram by a huge, time management-challenged rabbit. So, eating in one of the dining facilities during lunchtime, we saw Terry Bradshaw and Howie Long as they exited. They had been seated in the large, cramped DFAC and had signed many autographs. Asked by a friend back home if I had said anything to them, I replied, “Nah, this place is full of fobbit jock-sniffers. I don’t want to be one of them.”

I was informed that coffee being shot through the nose is very uncomfortable and stains shirts.

I am reminded that Toby Keith heads out to FOBs and COPs where he has played for very small groups of Soldiers on an acoustic guitar. It was a nice gesture for NFL on Fox to head to Afghanistan, it really was. When I first came to Afghanistan, half of the people I knew weren’t even tracking on this country. It was the forgotten front of the “War on Terror.” Iraq was where all the money, troops and attention went. So for Fox to come to this land was a great gesture. But the kids at Bagram have everything.

Except beef on their pizza… at least for a few days.

There are Soldiers and Marines all over this country who get squat… even water… while Bagram has “Karaoke Nite” and “Salsa Nite.” Then the spoiled wonders there even have the temerity to rant out loud about not getting beef with their pepperoni for their Pizza Hut pizza (delivered, no less). Now, I can’t fault them for making their lives as comfortable as possible, but there is silly and then there is ridiculous. Salsa Nite is silly.

Housing the warriors who normally live in Spartan conditions that the fobbits at Bagram would riot over in those pathetic “transient tents” is ridiculous. You do not see field grade officers spending the night in those wretched holes called “transient tents.” If a full Colonel ever got stuck in there for a night, lots would be made of the event shortly thereafter. But it is perfectly fine to “house” a young Sergeant with two Purple Hearts, who has lived for days without clean water and who has no electricity on a regular basis, in the slums of Bagram while the full-time denizens of that massive disconnect from reality are housed in apartment complexes formed of stacked shipping containers with cable TV and internet service in their rooms.

The word is disparity.

“I can’t believe that they have the nerve to even open their mouths about not having beef on their pepperoni pizza,” the young Sergeant stated, “but it just reminds me that they are nothing.” He continued, “They come here and then they go home and talk about how they went to Afghanistan, but they aren’t even in this war. This is like an American town in the middle of Afghanistan. This isn’t Afghanistan, and these people ain’t shit. Hearing stuff like that pisses me off, but it reminds me that I’m an Infantryman, and I’m in it for real.”

Bagram really needs to do something about the shameful disease vectors that it calls “transient housing.” There should not be a soul living in pampered condos while the warfighters themselves pass through the scummy misery of those fetid tents. Tons of money is being spent there on construction, and yet a man who lives in crap out on a FOB has to share four shower stalls with over two hundred other men? Bagram is a hub for all who pass in and out of Afghanistan. The notoriously snarled air traffic leaves people hanging for days at a time… to suffer the indignity of an ill-run “transient housing” situation. It is unconscionable.

They didn’t show the celebrities the “transient tents.” Why? Why not show them where the real warriors get stuck when they pass through on leave or rush home in family emergencies? Because they are not idiots. If you chain your child in a closet, you know better than to show anyone. Certainly not anyone with a camera. Not only is Bagram disconnected from the war, but they treat anyone who actually is connected to it like some kind of animal. For anyone going on leave, Bagram is just part of the hellish journey that only becomes any semblance of normal when they reach Atlanta.

It’s a shame.

I’ve caught yet another upper respiratory infection in the transient hell of Bagram. If you ever really just have a burning desire to get sick, go to the transient housing office at Bagram and tell them you need a place to stay.

Tags Categories: Afghanistan, General Military Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 10 Nov 2009 @ 10 05 PM

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 06 Nov 2009 @ 8:16 AM 

What part of, “Allahu akhbar!” do they not understand?

For the second time in this war, we have had fratricide performed in the military ranks by a “Muslim convert.” Neither of the perpetrators have been combat veterans. Neither of them suffered from PTSD.

So why are CNN and MSNBC going on and on and on and on about PTSD? We’ve got an issue to discuss, and I don’t have the solution; but that issue is not PTSD.

Not in this case.

Let’s talk about what happened, not about diversionary babble that has nothing to do with why twelve Soldiers are dead; murdered by “one of their own.” Let’s address whatever issues we find and not pussyfoot around.

That’s not the American way, though.

Instead we will make it about handguns or PTSD or some other crap. We won’t really look at the hard questions because someone might get offended.

There is a war on, folks. It is a war unlike any war we as Americans have ever experienced. First, we have to quit kidding ourselves about this and what it is. We want to be sensitive and understanding and all-accepting, but things are what they are.

I don’t have the answers. But I can tell you that the question is not PTSD.

Tags Categories: General Military Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 06 Nov 2009 @ 08 16 AM

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