12 Oct 2009 @ 11:42 AM 

Josh Foust over at Registan wrote recently about the attacks in Nuristan being part of a larger strategy, and also questioned the possibility that American presence increased violence there. I’m convinced that the latest attack in Nuristan is part of a larger operational strategy on the part of insurgents. Actually, I believe that it ties in to the persistent insurgent presence in the Tag Ab Valley of Kapisa. Numerous rat lines have existed through Kunar and Nuristan, many of them leading to Tag Ab, which ties them in to the ancient smuggling route that avoids the capital… or leads to it. There is no doubt in my mind that the increase in violence is tied to the increase in Coalition (and GIRoA) presence in Kunar and Nuristan. There was no reason for violence prior to the increased presence and control in Kunar and Nuristan, because they had free run of the area. The people were easily intimidated and there is significant appeal to residents because they are so isolated and fear outside (especially un-Islamic) presence. In this area, Arabs are preferable to Americans as far as the locals are concerned… and they bring money to pay for local men to participate.

Yes, Haqqani is more active in this area, but Haqqani has been pushing more to the southwest in seeking influence, whereas HiG has always been relatively strong along the rat lines from Pakistan and has always been stronger in Tag Ab than the Taliban. We did see Taliban and HiG cooperating in Tag Ab in 2007 and through to today. Haqqani is seeking, and having, more influence in Khost, for instance, but he is starting to run into QST and they are pushing back. Sirajudin Haqqani is more aggressive in this way than his father. During my service in Nuristan, it was well known that there were Arabic speakers in the local area, reputedly carrying large sums of money with which to pay part-time fighters, buy ammunition for them, etc. They would also transport 107mm rockets etc.

Remember, “Taliban” has become a catch-all word for the Coalition, whereas “Dushman” is the catch-all Afghan (cross-language) word. Various factions and even criminal elements can be lumped under or can attach themselves to the “Taliban” brand as it suits them. There is a significant criminal element in Nuristan, partially driven by the primary industry there, gem mining, which has been criminalized by the Afghan government because they do not have the capacity to manage and tax it. As the natural resources are considered the property of the government, they don’t want the gems mined until they can benefit from it, so they have criminalized gem mining. Whereas the opium crop is more prevalent in other provinces, here the driver is gems. Again, the “Taliban” blends with the criminal element to mutual benefit… but are they Taliban, Haqqani or HiG? All three names are heard locally. Haqqani’s faction is often just called, “Taliban” by the locals, so it’s hard to tell… at least that’s my take on it.

While all politics is local, it is tied to other local politics. The issues in Kunar and Nuristan are not disconnected from the problems in Tag Ab. It is part of a chain that leads back to Pakistan. In Tag Ab we didn’t get a lot of Arabic-speakers, but we did get significant Pakistani presence and also at one point a suspected Chechen cell was present, with a marked increase in the effects of small arms and RPG’s (after weeks of misses with RPG’s, there were 8 turret hits with RPG’s in a three week span and several head shots with aimed fire). This corresponded with information that one insurgent commander had agreed to accept “foreign” help, an action that caused actual firefights among sub-factions of insurgents in the Ala Say area in September of 2007. The brothers of two local commanders were killed in these clashes.

Also, the insurgents in Tag Ab have shown a remarkable ability to reinforce. Locals in the Ala Say area have been frustrated this year by the inability to clear the district of insurgents (again commonly referred to as Taliban but certainly including both Taliban and HiG elements).

The ability to mass forces for the assaults on both Wanat and Keating are very likely seasoned cadre brought in from Pakistan (both Afghan and foreign cadre), reinforced with locals who provide logistics support, shelter and fighters. A deal was struck in 2007 at Keating to stay out of the local villages in return for a lack of attacks. The villages were ceded to insurgent influence, but the Coalition and Afghan forces did not have the strength locally to quash the pressure (attacks) to acquiesce to the villages’ demands to keep out. They could not stop the attacks on Keating, so they agreed to the deal to cede the village. The deal struck pretty much guaranteed that insurgent influence would grow in the village over time. Keating has always been a thorn in the side of the insurgent rat lines, but never completely effective. Insurgent checkpoints have been well-known only a few kilometers north, still in the Kamdesh District. Insurgents operated relatively nearby as if they had impugnity for the past couple of years. Did Keating interfere with the rat lines? Yes. Were they capable of having a tremendous impact towards extending GIRoA control/legitimacy in Kamdesh District or Nuristan? No, not really.

There were different dynamics at work as far as proximal causes for the two attacks. Wanat was a case of quashing an outpost before it became a problem, whereas Keating was simply taking advantage of a planned withdrawal. The abandonment of COP Keating was due to happen, anyway. This attack did not change that. What it did do was make it appear, for IO purposes, to be an insurgent victory. Wanat involved complicity with the local ANP and almost certainly the Sub-Governor, whereas there is no evidence (at this point) of complicity of ANSF in or near Keating… although it is possible that some of the ANP, knowing that they are about to be abandoned to their fate, were currying favor with insurgent leaders in preparation for the abandonment. The root cause of the attacks were the same; clear the rat lines to improve communications along the lines that lead to Kapisa, bypassing Jalalabad and Kabul and allowing control of/access to the ancient smuggling route up the Tag Ab Valley. This provides the ability to either bypass or infiltrate Kabul, and potentially allows massing of forces within a few dozen kilometers of Kabul.

Many actors at play here, for various reasons ranging from political to military to criminal. International actors are at play as well, but thin out the farther from the Pakistani border that they get.

The current strategy is to leave areas alone until the Coalition/GIRoA has the strength to deal with them. Instead of spreading too thinly across a vast mountainous area, focus on the areas that can be controlled now and then push out over time. If the rest of the area is well-governed, the government can push into these areas and subdue them one by one. In the meantime, violence in those areas will decrease as the insurgents won’t have targets in that particular area. This may seem like giving up, but what it really is doing is putting a stop to unproductive behaviors, trying to influence or hang on to areas where there isn’t the ability to mass effects on the target population. This is consistent with current guidance, which is not to clear what we cannot hold and not to try to hold unless there is the capacity to build. The timing of the assault on Keating was unfortunate, but certainly no accident. A weakened outpost was attacked, certainly hoping to overrun it and claim a great victory to add to the illusion of inexorable victory for the insurgents. I would have to describe that effort as a success, even though they failed to annihiliate the garrison and overrun the entire COP. The end result; Americans abandoning the outpost within a short time afterward and the appearance of insurgents causation… as in Wanat… is the same.

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Categories: Afghan National Police, Afghanistan, AfPak, ANA, analysis, COIN
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 12 Oct 2009 @ 11 42 AM

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 03 May 2009 @ 11:25 PM 

Just found this. I’ll dig up the pictures of a place few Americans have been. These went further. A little over a year ago, the Police Chief of Doab was known to have Taliban affiliation, was fired for staging a Taliban attack on his own district center, and somehow found his way back into power. Wonder if he’s the same one now. Oily guy…

I’ll try to dig up the pictures of Gondalabuk.

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Categories: Afghanistan
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 21 Jun 2009 @ 04 02 AM

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Ariana Huffington asked Scott Kesterson to gather the impressions of soldiers for The Huffington Post. He did it. Personally, I wish that he hadn’t. If he had politely declined, I would have been spared discovering how what appears to be more than half of my country feels about soldiers and our political thought.

This blog has maintained a largely apolitical stance. I do not address those issues, preferring to simply address the issues that I have something unique to add to. Political campaigns have even sought my approval, but I have maintained my stance as best I can. I encourage everyone to vote. If you did not vote when you could have, shame on you. If you give up on the process, you deserve what you get.

That being said, there is a disturbing trend out there that I have addressed before, as when in February of this year Lizette Alvarez of The New York Times posted her second in a series of articles that painted returning veterans as dangerous victims of war, something that is akin to the feeling of having my teeth etched with a razor blade.

Many soldiers have expressed that we do not like being portrayed as victims. It suits a particular agenda to paint us as such. It makes for gripping theater, to be sure. There’s more to it than that, though. This nation has been trying to “support the troops” consciously; to avoid making the same horrible mistake that was made with the treatment of Viet Nam veterans. While to some supporting the troops means bringing us home as quickly as possible whether the job is done or not, there are those for whom discrediting the troops while appearing to support us is really what’s on the agenda. Why would someone do that? I think that the answer to that is complex, because I’m not sure that the motivation is the same for everyone.

For the commenters on The Huffington Post, the answer seems to be that soldiers have become a voice of dissension in the current political climate. They must be crazy, right? The explanations they come up with range from latent Nazism to the effects of military training brainwashing our minds, removing the capacity for independent thought. The vigor with which the the soldiers are attacked for their opinions was stunning.

Why the consistent art (films) portraying warriors as aberrant beings? Why are people sinking millions of dollars into cinematic depictions of soldiers as less than stellar persons?

Hey, I’m open to suggestions. How about some comments on this? What are your ideas as to what their motivations are? Another query; can anyone cite a movie that portrays veterans of the GWOT in a positive light?

What was Lizette Alvarez’s motivation in portraying, in a calculated series of articles, returning veterans as dangerous victims; a bunch of abused children who are actually hazardous to your health to be in proximity to? Her depiction was shown to be false; it turns out that you are actually less likely to be murdered by a war veteran than by a non-veteran. Still, her articles would leave you looking at your own veteran relative out of the corner of your eye, wondering what the telltale sign may be that he was going to snap and viciously attack you with murderous intent.

Some muggings are less stylish. Nick Meo’s character assassination of Easyrider was clumsy and full of easily disproven lies. The thing is that it’s not an isolated event. Meo’s screed was a symptom of a larger illness. Hey, I can recognize Information Operations when I see them. Not all propaganda is government-issue.

I’m not the only one who sees this; evidence this well-written article by Andrew Klavan which appears in City Journal. Klavan, author of several novels (at least one of which has been made into a movie,) sees things from the viewpoint of someone who has been exposed to Hollywood close-up. His point remains that even the movies of today portray soldiers in general and combat veterans in particular as either pawns victimized by a heinous conspiratorial government or as sociopathic rapist-killers (as in DePalma’s recent effort.)

Klavan did a short embed in one of my old stomping grounds; FOB Kalagush in Nuristan. He does a good job of depicting the challenges of the PRT (Provincial Reconstruction Team) in Nuristan, and how spooky Nuristan can be to operate in. This article highlights many things that I would like to address as far as helping to make progress in Afghanistan, but one thing that stands out is his refusal to take the low road dramatically.

Take the time to read his article. It’s a good snapshot of a little-known area and the struggle to make incremental progress there. If he hasn’t been replaced, I knew the Police Chief who is making the mumbled promises to investigate those who ambushed the PRT. The fact is that he hasn’t had mentorship since my team left there. There hasn’t been the manpower to provide it to him. Any progress that we ever made with his district has long since evaporated. With a hostile police chief just up the road in a neighboring district facilitating the anti-government forces, our guy is out in the breeze.

Tomorrow morning we will wake up to Veteran’s Day. I can tell you that reading the comments on HuffPo has taken any muted sense of pride in my veteran status and turned it into a smoldering sense of discontentment with my fellow citizens. The heinous remarks about the men in that little FOB near the Pakistan border, the fact that a political difference can bring out those prejudices, means that the contempt that we are held in is barely concealed.

This is a trend. It’s disturbing to see it happening; it’s sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle. It is becoming acceptable to portray us as an underclass, to hold us in contempt either as idiot victims or as sociopaths. Where is the backlash?

When IO goes uncontested, many will accept it as fact.

There will be a special Veterans Day Show on Blog Talk Radio’s You Served radio show Tuesday, November 11th from 9-11pm. Guests will include two Medal of Honor recipients and the last surviving officer from WW-II’s Marine Combat Team 28. It promises to be a very special show, with veterans of WW-II, Viet Nam, Desert Storm, and the GWOT. You can find it at Blog Talk Radio or download it later from the same site as a podcast. Go see my friend Bouhammer for more details on the guests.

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Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 10 Nov 2008 @ 07 43 PM

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 02 Oct 2008 @ 9:05 PM 

Of all the posts that I have written, only one exceeded the response that Nighttime In Shades Of Green received. People said that they felt that they had been there on that roof in Alingar looking through my AN/PVS-14 NOD (Night Observation Device) with me.

Well, I’ve got a little taste of that for them. Before I left FOB Kalagush, I used my simple little HP digital camera to shoot a few seconds of video of the night sky over Nurguram District, Nuristan.

The little camera was challenged by the task, but it didn’t come out too badly.

The sound in the background is one of the generators at FOB Kalagush.

When you look through the NOD it with your eye, it doesn’t seem so much like looking through a toilet paper roll. The camera is a little limited that way. It also confuses the auto-focus a bit. You can adjust the focus of the PVS-14 to your eye so that you have a clear image. The result is like a green “black and white” TV image; in one eye. If you set it up right, your vision with the unaided eye matches the image you get with the NOD, giving you the full range of your assisted senses, plus the unaided sight as well. NODs rob you of your depth perception, and this arrangement helps a little with that.

You get the idea. Can you believe how dense that star field is with the NOD? It reminds you that there’s a lot more out there than we can see with our eyes.

Would anyone care for a ride down the switchbacks on the J-bad Highway in an M-1151 Up-Armored Humvee, losing about a thousand feet in elevation in just under seven minutes?

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Categories: Afghanistan
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 02 Oct 2008 @ 09 05 PM

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