02 Feb 2012 @ 5:53 AM 



First, I’d like to announce a new blog, Afghan Blue III, which will be more about the experience than about COIN. Of course, the way that I perceive things is affected by what I know, like anyone. This blog will continue as what it has become.

I will be back in Afghanistan within the next day or so. On the way in, my perception is that Afghanistan is more complex and convoluted than ever. COIN is discredited in the United States. We are seeking the door, looking for a way to claim some sort of victory or wash our hands of responsibility for any potential insurgent success. Domestic politics drives our strategy, election timeliness hold sway over operational considerations. Our allies follow our lead, happy to be relieved of the burden. Our Afghan allies seek to firm up their personal retirement plans, seeking external refuge in greater numbers. The insurgents see light at the end of the tunnel, vindicated in their approach of waiting us out.

The French have cried uncle after a pair of green-on-blue incidents, giving insurgents the message that Afghans in uniform shooting Coalition soldiers will hasten the withdrawal of foreign forces, speeding the day when it is insurgent vs. lone government.

It’s not looking good, folks.

Secretary Panetta is in Brussels, outlining the shift from combat units to advisors, to be completed in 2013. This is a good thing. Major maneuver units have possibly done as much harm as good over the years. The titles, “battlespace owner,” and, “land owner,” have given some Coalition officers a sense of entitlement and stand-alone decision-making authority that have made assistance forces feel like occupation forces. This fight has always been an Afghan fight. The drivers of instability have always been Afghan drivers. Some of our well-meaning efforts have been productive; some have contributed to dysfunction.

Our military has never been of a single mind in its approach to this fight. Our government has been lopsided in its approach, heavily weighted towards military effort in a struggle which is primarily a contest for the right to govern. The most progress had been made by advisors, but these successes have mostly been with Afghan security forces. Most Afghans struggling with governance have had little or no mentoring or advising. Shifting back towards an advisory role with the security forces is appropriate. Unfortunately the governance piece will still lack manpower and emphasis.

Perhaps Afghan line ministry employees will magically develop professionally, but likely not. Inept governance creates a supply-and-demand system that stimulates corruption and decreases incentive to become more effective. Better to keep prices high and provide more limited service than to service everyone equally and accept only one’s base pay.

If governance does not improve, security will be impossible to maintain.

As we sit in Manas awaiting transportation to Afghanistan, those leaving Afghanistan share stories of their recent experiences in places I have served. Areas once fairly pacified have slid into hellish instability. The road from Methar Lam to Kalagush, once fairly secure, is now seeded densely with IED’s. Ceding Kunar to the insurgents gave the internal safe haven that brought greater violence to Laghman.

Soldiers express disgust with Afghan farmers who fail to warn them of IED’s. No doubt those farmers resent the renewed vigor of insurgents in their neighborhoods, feeling the decline in security to be the failure of the foreigners in their ever-larger armored vehicles.

Only the homeward-bound Marines express any sense of optimism that their sacrifices are bearing fruit. I have yet to find one Marine grateful to the urinating snipers for that recent contribution to the legacy of the Marines in Afghanistan, by the way. I did speak to one who knew those Marines in the video. He expressed surprise, saying no one in his unit would have believed it had they not seen the video. None of those Marines had bragged about the feat in-country. It seems that only those safely at home feel congratulatory towards the urinating Marines. Those who were painted by that brush in Afghanistan were less than thankful, at least among those I’ve spoken with. While a limited sampling, it was unanimous. None thought it funny.

While the Marines passing in the opposite direction are proud of their efforts, the Army Soldiers are obviously relieved to be out, but much less optimistic that what they have done makes a difference. They mostly express dislike for Afghans and frustration with them. They brag about the punishment their units suffered, about how many kills they have. They almost universally express disdain for Afghan forces. The Marines discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the ANA and ANP (now referred to as the AUP, or Afghan Uniformed Police), while Soldiers express loathing and little else.

I’m not alone in this perception. Taco, another member of my team, made the same observation. I have my opinions about the reasons for the difference in attitudes, but there is no doubt that there is a difference.

These are some of my thoughts as I await the flight that will carry me to my last tour of duty in Afghanistan.

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Categories: Afghanistan
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 02 Feb 2012 @ 07 17 AM


Responses to this post » (7 Total)

  1. Jamila says:

    Dear Old Blue,

    This is your brand new fan here! :)

    Thank you for your service.

    I’ve been reading your blog recently and appreciate it much.
    Thank you for having and keeping an open mind.

    I tried emailing via your new blog, Afghan Blue III, but the form asks for a website address which I don’t have.

    Will you please provide me a personal (hotmail, gmail, etc) email address for private questions/comments if okay, it will be great.

    Once you’re at your destination, should you or any other service member need anything from home, please feel free to contact me. Also, stuff for the local kids. By now, I’m a pro in sending care pacakges. :-)

    Thank you and take care.
    All the best.

  2. Great timing! I pointed Red Bull Rising (www.redbullrising.com) readers to the Afghan Blue III blog just yesterday! Godspeed your travels and missions. I’ll be particularly interested to hear about Laghman; when I was there in early 2011, I had the sense that the coalition effort was achieving a fragile success.

    Zap me an e-mail (sherpa AT redbullrising.com) I can ever be of assistance.

    Until then, “One Team, One Fight.”

  3. Sheila Schaffer says:

    I deployed with the Redbulls!!! I was in Mehtar lam. I arrived home in July 2011. I love what you wrote and i hope you continue i will be watching. I brought Delta and Co from Nowzad animal rescue in kabul, home from Mehtar lam so i feel that was a small change that i made. Something i am Proud of. They told me i could not do it and I Di!!!. Two more left at Nowzad. I wish i would of wrote more about it while i was there. I admire your writting. I will pray for you and your guys and keep sharing.

  4. Mick Garrison says:

    That is hard for me to hear that our troops over there putting their lives at risk feel like their efforts have not made a difference. What can do at home? We can send care packages from anysoldier or SoldierSend to make them feel a little more at home but how else do we boost the morale of our troops?

  5. Kate says:

    I’m loving your ABIII Blog! :)

  6. Old Blue says:

    There are lots of things that civilians can do at home. One is to show support personally in such ways as you have described. You can also show support in the choices that you make. You can attend events meant to recognize or honor troops. You can line the streets for funerals of fallen soldiers and Marines. You can object when someone speaks against the troops or the mission. You see, to “support the troops but not support the mission” is giving a mixed message that doesn’t fully support us. You can support the families of deployed troops, and show that you care that you have people making such a sacrifice… like the kids… in your community. My kids have sacrificed over three years of having their father around, and that is in a community that does not recognize their sacrifice, and sometimes depicts mine as somehow coerced or otherwise not completely honorable. You can have the same lack of tolerance for the outrageous and demeaning speech of others as they sometimes have for those who support both the troops and the mission.

    Your question lets me realize that you do, in fact, support the troops. Supporting an individual soldier with care packages is an awesome contribution and brightens the life of that soldier. I thank you for whatever you do in that regard. Please keep up the support, and thanks for a great question.



  7. KJ says:

    What yall do ,goes unheard
    The risk yall take, they say, is so absurd
    What I see here at home ,there is no gratitude
    As I write this, to you, I ,Salute
    In our hearts and souls
    I try to think of your daily toll
    The stress on your thoughts
    The last fight that you fought
    Not one drop of sweat ,don’t you fret
    You have some of the most grateful Americans
    You have never met
    God Bless ya
    From a son ,of an SDI and a friend to all of the Great Protectors
    and Humble Healers
    Our kids do have heroes,all of all

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