The latest post, below and made only early this morning, is significant news. It is news from a small valley in Afghanistan which is both a microcosm of the Global War on Terror and a crucial battle in establishing a secure, democratic, and independent Afghanistan.
The Tag Ab Valley is relatively close to Kabul. It follows a generally north-south axis starting near the town of Surobi (sometimes spelled “Sarobi,”) and runs north to Nijrab. The districts of Kapisa Province north of the Nijrab District are peaceful and contrast strongly with the southern districts of Nijrab, Tag Ab, and Ala Say (sometimes spelled “Ala Sai” or Alah Say.”)
In the spring of 2007, the Tag Ab Valley was an area that experienced occasional encroachments by American Special Forces and Afghan National Army troops. The major operations that had been conducted in the valley to that point had been clearing operations followed by an absence of any stay-behind forces, save for a Special Forces camp at what was known at the time as Firebase Nijrab. An ANA force in approximately company strength could also be found at Firebase Nijrab, now known as Firebase Morales-Frazier.
The Taliban and HiG controlled the southern half of the Nijrab District, nearly all of Tag Ab District and all of Ala Say District. The only island of IRoA (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) control in Tag Ag was a tiny area around the District Center. The Taliban would occasionally surround the District Center and besiege the local ANP for an entire day, just to show them who was boss. In May of 2007, the Taliban publicly hung an Afghan official in the town square. He was an official in the Afghan intelligence agency.
The Tag Ab Valley, with its large HiG (larger, in fact, than the Taliban) presence, was full of opium. It is an historic smuggling route, circumventing passage through Kabul by bypassing to the north at Surobi.
Surobi is a lovely little town on the Naghlu Reservoir. Nestled into the rising terrain south of the reservoir and straddling the strategic J-bad Highway which connects Kabul and Jalalabad, Surobi seems almost Mediterranean in its charm. It is also the site of last month’s ambush on French forces that left 10 dead and 21 wounded.
It’s a beautiful, strategic, dangerous little town anchoring the southern end of this historic smuggling route.
Surobi is also a key link in another kind of smuggling; the smuggling of suicide bombers into Kabul.
Suicide bombers, either wearing explosive vests or driving VBIED’s (Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices,) are the biggest threat to security in Kabul. Tag Ab has been a traditional staging area for such attacks. It has been a place where attacks on Kabul can be planned, organized, and the forces marshaled.
Tag Ab is a key valley. It is the closest hardcore Taliban stronghold to Kabul, and the terminus for the infiltration of weapons, explosives, foreign fighters and money.
It is not the only key valley in Afghanistan, but it one with which I am personally intimate. To me, right now, it is the symbol of how woefully ignorant our own press is; and by extension, the American people, of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan.
Confirmation was released by CJTF 101 just a couple of days ago that one of the key Taliban commanders in Tag Ab was killed on August 5th near the town of Tag Ab in this strategic valley. Qari Nejat was a key thorn in our side for the entire time I was in Afghanistan. He was the most effective and active Taliban commander in the valley.
We didn’t even know what he looked like. This guy was like Pancho Villa, Geronimo, and Osama bin Ladin all wrapped up into one. He was ethereal; a vicious ghost who glided through the valley and was always a step ahead of us. Evidence of his actions against the coalition, IRoA forces (both ANA and ANP,) and the local populace was as consistent as the tides; from ambushes to burning Police checkpoints to summary beheadings, Qari Nejat was credited with a lot of violence.
He was a key player in a key battle in a key valley; and the only Americans who ever heard his name were either there or read this blog. That is patently ridiculous. I’m sure that this isn’t the only instance of this. Beyond sure, I am absolutely positive. This is part of what I wrote about in my post called “Information Operations.”
Since my return home, I’ve been stunned by the lack of knowledge, concern, and investment that many, the greatest perecentage actually, of my fellow citizens have towards the war. Because of its nature, and because the privations of the war are only acutely felt by service members, it is easy for the average Joe and Jane to continue their daily lives as if we weren’t in any kind of serious struggle. The delusion of incontrovertible safety, apparently cracked but not shattered by 9/11, has once again settled on the Land of the Free.
The war has become a bother, and it has finally caused pain for the average American, who several years in the past howled for vengeance for 9/11, demanded that the government fulfill its mandate to provide for the common defense, and cried out in near unison for the blood of not just Osama but of Saddam Hussein as well. Revise your personal history if you will, but I lived those days here in the States, surrounded by my fellow citizens, and I heard the cries and received the emails full of belligerent jokes and vitriolic cartoons. I watched in slow motion as the nation whipped itself into a frenzy and the UN agreed that Saddam had a deadline to completely submit or face action.
Now it has hurt the economy. Now it has driven (among such factors as a surging Chinese middle class with a new found ability to operate vehicles with internal combustion engines) the price of oil up. Now it has reversed the trend and piled up a significant debt.
Wars are expensive. The war became tedious on television news and the sensationalization of the American death toll became a daily litany that constantly reminded the American public that we were decisively engaged in a protracted effort. The initial love affair between the press and the military, expressed through embedded reporting, was brief. The reporting, of dubious quality in many cases, trickled off; and there were altercations. Reporters don’t like OPSEC.
What was supposed to be, in the minds of the public whose minds had been informed by their press, a brief and surgical beheading of the government of Iraq followed by a joyous resurgence of democratic principles became an insurgency. Roadside bombings fed with the artillery shells we had left laying around in our blitz to Baghdad became daily fair in the news as the soldiers struggled to stay on top of the new gun/armor spiral.
Concurrently, in Afghanistan, we began to train a new Afghan National Army. Afghanistan held their first elections and successfully negotiated the forming of a new Constitution. The Taliban and their ilk, still reeling from the loss, were still making a game of it.
The American press retired to the Green Zone and to Kabul. They hired local stringers and reported only on death and destruction. Of particular interest were the wrongs that inevitably become part of the landscape of war. Abu Ghraib, dead civilians, the overreactions of young soldiers and Marines in stressful situations all grabbed headlines.
If it bleeds, it leads. If it stinks, it’s ink.
Americans were hungry to understand what was occurring. As the most clearly articulated reason for the invasion, WMD’s, were not discovered America sat shocked and felt lied to. The hugest failure of the American government was in not backing up their reasoning with the stated policy that governments who sponsored terror were subject to being held accountable to the point of regime change; but that policy was not cited until well afterwards and weakly at that.
The efforts in Afghanistan languished in near-obscurity while the national interest was drawn to the spectacle in Iraq, and news of both amounted primarily to journalists citing stringers and editorializing on what was being presented to them.
There were rare instances of journalists who actually did their jobs. Many, like Michael Yon and Scott Kesterson were independents. Some, like Michael, had military backgrounds and reported what they saw fairly and through the glasses of understanding the military from the inside. While not sugar-coating the war or those who were fighting it, neither did he sensationalize the image of a brutal occupation of some “peace-loving country” by a bunch of jack-booted thugs or paint our soldiers as pitiful victims of imperialist desires gone horribly awry.
Michael Yon and Scott Kesterson were not published widely in mainstream outlets.
Our media has not done their job in this war. They have not been the “go-to” source for information on what has been happening, on what has been done. While they have learned to spell the word “insurgency,” and later to spell “counterinsurgency,” they have not educated themselves to any degree in what these actually are. They couldn’t recognize a decent counterinsurgent if they sat on his lap. They have had no grip on the flow of fighting nor have they had, on other than a very simplistic level, an idea of what was and was not strategically important.
All the while, they’ve been informing the average American. It would be more accurate to say that they have been misinforming, disinforming, and uninforming the average American, who has a tendency to trust powerhouses like the major networks, CNN, and the major print outlets to actually do their jobs.
It’s been pretty hit or miss. I would contend, and I will cite the example of Tag Ab, that it’s been more miss than hit. I would also contend that Americans do not understand the truth about the investment that they have been making in national security, and that perhaps if they had a feeling of sacrifice for something they could understand, the massive resentment that is currently felt would be somewhat ameliorated.
It’s not that the information isn’t available. It is. The truest picture of what’s going on in the two theaters of this war is not available on the US MSM, though. It’s not likely to be the person who reads this post who is woefully ill-informed as a citizen of the United States; it’s the millions who don’t even know it exists.
As much as I celebrate those who surf the blogosphere in search of enlightenment, I don’t blame Joe Sixpack for not doing so. Joe’s got a life, a job, a family, and concerns. He may only have time for his nightly shot of news on the MSM outlet of his choice.
I shouldn’t be a source of news. I should be where some interesting stories are told; some additional information shared. The added touch.
As near as I can tell, there are only four “outlets” in the United States who have reported on the (above detailed as significant) death of Qari Nejat. One is me and the others are The Long War Journal, Battlefield Tourist, and The Thunder Run. Four blogs.
And that, my friends, is ridiculous.
A reporter should know what is significant in the country in which he is stationed; period. For the MSM reporters in Afghanistan to not understand the significance of Tag Ab, and for them to therefore be ignorant of the significance of the death of one such as Nejat is inexcusable. It shouldn’t have necessarily been front-page news, but it should have been newsworthy.
It’s in a near-vacuum of real information that our nation’s citizens are asked to sacrifice economically to follow this effort through to completion. We view ourselves as being an information-driven nation, but Joe is being treated like a mushroom.
He’s being kept in the dark and fed shit.
Is it any surprise that the number one concern of Americans is to bring home the troops within one year? Joe doesn’t even really know what has been going on over there. What’s worse is that he thinks he does. It’s not like it doesn’t get mention; but that mention paints nothing of the real picture. Tag Ab is a perfect example.
Guess what? The French media may actually be doing their jobs. Dig this:
US-led Coalition forces in Afghanistan have killed five Taliban subcommanders in recent weeks, including a bomb-maker and two behind the August 18 attack that left 10 French soldiers dead, they said.
“Coalition forces have positively identified five Taliban subcommanders killed during operations over the past month in Kapisa province,” the Coalition said in a statement from Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, and released in Washington.
Among the five were Ahmad Shah and Mullah Rohoullah, killed with six others by airstrikes in Nijrab district on August 30 after coalition forces ran into armed resistance while searching a compound.
Both were heavily involved in helping move weapons and foreign fighters into Afghanistan, the statement said, as well as facilitating Taliban operations, including the August 18 ambush on the French patrol.
Ten French soldiers were killed and another 21 injured in the attack by about 100 Taliban in Sarobi, 50 kilometres (30 miles) east of Kabul.
It was the deadliest ground battle for international soldiers in the country since they toppled the Taliban regime in 2001.
Coalition forces said that on August 23 they killed subcommanders Khairullah Nezami and Qari Ezmarai in Tag Ab district.
Nezami, they said, helped to arrange the making and planting of bombs and coordinated the movement of suicide bombers in the Taliban network.
A fifth subcommander, Qari Nejat, was killed together with four additional insurgents in an operation in Nijrab district on August 5.
The Coalition linked Nejat with the July 21 suicide bombing in the Tag Ab bazaar that injured six Afghans, the July 16 kidnapping of three Afghan policemen in Jalokhel, and the torture and beheading of an Afghan on June 30.
It’s not just about killing Taliban. There is so much more being done than killing. There is a deeper story behind the killing of Nejat that speaks volumes to the efficacy of what we’re doing in Afghanistan and by extension in Iraq. I’ll address this soon, as it’s a topic in its own right.
The worst thing that could possibly happen to the people of Afghanistan would be if we killed Osama bin Laden tomorrow. Joe Sixpack, thinking that this whole effort has been simply to hunt down Osama, will suddenly start wondering what the hell we’re doing in Afghanistan and in the information vacuum that is our MSM will come to the conclusion that its not much. He in his millions will demand the immediate cessation of all efforts and return to within our borders.
And the fledgling dream that is Afghanistan will surely die.
On August 5th, 2008, the people of the very strategic Tag Ab Valley in Kapisa Province got a present; their own little Osama personified in Qari Nejat went to meet his maker. On September 4th, the news of positive identification was released to all media by CJTF 101, and on September 5th it was widely reported in the French media and even the Chinese media; and by four blogs in the United States.
Our very own LTC Stone Cold, BSMV, emailed me a link today to a story that was produced by France 24 about Tag Ab and the neighboring district of Ala Say.
For me, it was both exciting and eerie. I’ve been in all of those places. In the video, they visit the local ANP. I’ve sat in the stuffed chair that is in their new office. I was in that building before it was completed. I worked with those ANP, and I’ve met and talked with the Provincial council member who smuggled the reporters back into Tag Ab for their second trip.
Firebase Kutschbach, which started out as a VPB* and then grew into Firebase Tag Ab and is now named for a Special Forces operator who was killed working out of the firebase shortly after the base was begun, has grown quite a bit in the past months since I’ve left Afghanistan.
The French are sending additional troops to Afghanistan and apparently are going to relieve the soldiers from the 101st who are there currently.
During the first of two visits to Tag Ab, the French crew rides out to Ala Say in an MRAP with soldiers from Co A, 506th INF, 101st ABN during a combat patrol. That was the road that we went up and down numerous times in the valley. I once took a two humvee patrol out there, spent several hours doing a district assessment of the district ANP and returned without incident. Why they didn’t hit me is anyone’s guess. Box of chocolates, I guess.
Days later, six humvees went out and one of our SECFOR gunners had his M-240 blown clean in half by an RPG which struck the top of his humvee. He was unscathed; not so much as a singed eyebrow. Days later the same soldier, now driving, on the same road, was struck in the door by an RPG. It blew the door open and peppered him with metal and glass fragments in his left arm and face.
No one blamed him when he announced that he would like to be rotated to tower guard duty back at Blackhorse. He’s a great kid with a great sense of humor, and he still carries fragments in his left arm. He was one of our awesome SECFOR crew from South Carolina. Can’t say enough good things about our valiant South Carolinians; they were the best.
He was, obviously, an RPG magnet as well; so it was in everyone’s best interest that he did just that. Great guy; not safe to be around.
It must have been his magnetic personality.
It’s a trip to see Afghanistan in the news more often. Americans seem to have a renewed consciousness of this theater of the war. Before I went to Afghanistan, one of my co-workers, Mrs. Howesfrow, asked me with all earnestness, “Is there still a war in Afghanistan?”
My response was one of those that required a conscious effort to leave the “dumbass” off of the end of the sentence.
A commenter on this blog once queried to the effect that he thought that we had already won in Afghanistan. Afghanistan was called “The Forgotten War,” likening American lack of awareness to the blithe ignorance of the Korean War. Now there is a resurgent interest in Afghanistan. Part of that interest was generated by the battles that were fought in 2007 and the continued activity in 2008.
This activity draws pundits out of the woodwork claiming with all earnestness that we are losing. Just days over a year ago, Tag Ab was a place that coalition forces rarely went and the nearest permanent presence was at the north end of the valley at Nijrab. That presence was a Special Forces ODA** and about a company of ANA who rotated in and out. The ANP in Tag Ab were completely non-functional. The now-fired Chief of Police in Tag Ab rarely actually ventured into the valley.
It was Talibanland.
Now there is a struggle going on in Tag Ab, which adds to the violence level reported in Afghanistan, and to the casualty count; but before there was not so much activity, because it was left to the Taliban.
The government of Afghanistan is pushing into these areas that were previously ungoverned, and the ACM, the best known of which are the Taliban, are finding themselves pushed back.
It doesn’t help that the Taliban have their safe havens in Pakistan. It doesn’t help that there is Arab money pouring into those areas, either. It doesn’t help that Al Qaeda still functions there and brings resources to bear in defense of their hiding place and training ground.
But that doesn’t mean that we are losing. Can we lose? Yes. Are we losing? No. We have gained ground in areas like Tag Ab. But we are clearly reaching a decision point in our efforts.
When we arrived in Tag Ab, the paved road in the video was unpaved and rough. The District Center was 40% complete and not in progress. The ANP had been pinned down in their makeshift district center for days at a time by the Taliban and they were afraid to go more than a few hundred meters from the District Center. Now they are part of the fight for their own country. They hopped in their trucks and went tearing off to assist their commander when he was ambushed.
The ANP commander who was injured in that ambush was in for his second flight on a MEDEVAC bird to Bagram. He is one of the bravest Afghans I met in Afghanistan. A quiet, unassuming man, he always went towards the fire.
Tag Ab is obviously still contested. It is a struggle, and partly because it is their closest major activity to Kabul. Suicide attacks that emanate from Pakistan have staged through Tag Ab to reach Kabul. It is a critical area.
Two years ago, convoys were ambushed much further north, but now much of the drive from Bagram to Tag Ab is fairly peaceful. The government is obviously in control in those areas. Police are in evidence and the people go about their daily lives in relative peace. Tag Ab still has a way to go to get to that level, but it will happen.
It takes time, patience, and unfailing commitment.
Our media is still missing the boat. While the French report is not entirely accurate, they did the best that they could. Most of it is either accurate or close to the truth, but it is by far the best piece I’ve seen on Tag Ab. There are a thousand stories that are ongoing in Afghanistan where Americans are doing things that would make people here proud, but they are not being reported. The stories are not being told. America is being ripped off.
We’re being scooped by the French.
*VPB = Vehicle Patrol Base; a group of vehicles arranged in a defensive perimeter, a temporary arrangement
**ODA = Operational Detachment Alpha; an “A Team”