Afghanistan

A prayer for an Army family

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Two days ago, a Soldier from my unit, 2nd Infantry Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, was killed in Afghanistan.  SSG Michael Ollis, 24 years old, was killed when Taliban insurgents attacked FOB Ghazni with a vehicle-borne IED, indirect mortar fire, and small arms fire. The insurgents penetrated the wall of the base, and remained inside, fighting for 6 hours.  

michael+ollis

FOB Ghazni is controlled by Polish forces.  Soldiers from 2-22IN moved through FOB Ghazni on their way north while leaving Ghazni, only a couple of weeks from returning home.  SSG Ollis made it 8 months. This was his third deployment to a combat zone.

I ask that you say a prayer for his mother and father, the two surviving members of his family.

“Deeds Not Words”

Chess is Afghanistan

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I am again deployed to Afghanistan.  The hours are long, and there are no days off. An average work day is about 13 hours, but this doesn’t mean we work like we’re in a sweat shop.

There is a chess board in my office, and there is almost always a game at hand. One person makes a move, 30 minutes later, his opponent strolls by the board, ponders, pushes a piece, and goes on with his work. So far I have 12 wins, 2 losses and 2 draws.

The power of chess to enliven me is amazing. Nothing makes my brain work more efficiently, nothing sharpens my senses more. I could play all day, every day. If I have a chess set, I need never be bored.

It’s easy to see why the Soviets dominated chess for so long: In Communist Russia, intellectual achievement were held in high regard, and there were few distractions to individuals who wished to improve their game. State funding for promising players didn’t hurt, either.

When I was younger, and playing sports of all kinds, I worried about old age, that it would deprive me of something that brought me so much joy. I don’t worry about that anymore.

Don’t Tread on Me and Don’t Nerf My World

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“He wants his home and security, he wants to live like a sailor at sea. Beautiful loser, where you gonna fall, when you realize–you just can’t have it all…he’ll never make any enemies.” ~Beautiful Loser, Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band.

Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils.~General John Stark

In the world of video games, there is a term that denotes making something decidedly less potent or dangerous: The term is Nerf. 

My Army and indeed my country is trying to Nerf my entire world. It does this under the pretext of caring so much for my safety. Our obsession with safety is in fact making us weaker and thus less safe.

I cannot say that I expect nothing from my government. I expect it to smash the hell out of any enemy that tries to destroy our way of life. I expect it to maintain internal security so that people can enjoy their families and the things they have worked for.  Thus I expect the government to toss people in jail whom have committed crimes which harm me or my family–or any other American family.  I expect my government to defend its sovereign borders so that my country does not become what others without an American ideal want it to be.

What I do not expect of my government is that it protect me from myself. I do not expect the government to worry about the minutia of dangers that  confront man everyday. The government cannot protect me from myself as well as I can.  The United States Army has become one of the most risk-averse entities in our risk-averse nation.  Soldiers must watch hours of safety videos every few months, many many more hours than they fire their rifles on a practice range, and are expected to wear a reflective belt at times, even when off duty in broad daylight, and must wear knee and elbow pads when in a war zone on patrol. Packing lists for Soldiers readying to deploy easily bring to mind a 5 year Soviet planning cycle.  Make sure you bring your sewing kit. Who the hell is Sun Tzu?  Because of the (most times) well-meaning cry for troop safety, our troops are weighed down with heavy body armor while trouncing over 8000 ft high mountains, exhausting them.  Our enemies dance around in man-dresses and sneakers. In my unit, Soldiers pulling CQ duty (a 24 hour duty in which two Soldiers sit at a desk and communicate any problems to the chain of command), have been ordered to stop any Soldiers whom leave the barracks in shorts, because it’s too cold to be outdoors in shorts.  Yes, that’s right, a military  that helped annihilate the Nazis and nuked Hiroshima is worried about people wearing shorts in the cold during their off-duty hours. Every Friday, Soldiers must endure long speeches from the chain of command about what not to do during the weekend. They must be reminded that slapping their wives is illegal and driving drunk can result in car crashes. If we have Soldiers that are so stupid they require to be told these things every week, well then, I say let them make their mistake and get them out of the Army. Because that guy will probably blow the back of my head off with an accidental discharge from his M4 carbine.  Our gown men used to be able to drink beer while deployed to war. No more. In the Vietnam War, US grunts could bye a 24-pack of beer for $2.40.  We did better in Vietnam than in Afghanistan, according to authoritative writer, Bing West… We couldn’t have that now, could we? Surely American Soldiers would go on mad rampages across the Hindu Kush, slaying everything in sight. Somehow we beat the British with many of our troops half in the bag. As far as I’m concerned, denying a man a beer while he endures war is not just cruel, it’s downright un-American.   The Puritans–those great foes of the Libertine Left– fed kids the stuff for breakfast, but then MADD busted up the party.

Here’s a quote from the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Glenn Beck’s book, Arguing With Idiots: 

Candy Lightner founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving in 1980 after her daughter was killed by a drunk driver, but she ended up leaving her own organization. Why? Mission creep. Here’s what she said….

“[MAAD has] become far more neo-prohibitionist than I had ever wanted or envisioned…I didn’t start MADD to deal with alcohol, I started MADD to deal with the issue of drunk driving.”

“We humble Pilgrims give Ye thanks for our reflective belts, bike helmets, and the heavenly gun-free Mayflower. We never could enjoy this new land without our blessings.”~Quote from the only Progressive Pilgrim who made the tough trip over.

In the same chapter, Beck goes on to explain how legislation has been proposed to install devices on all cars that prevent people from driving drunk. As of now, only people whom have been convicted of DUI can have such devices installed by the government.  He goes on to make the point that if we focus on the person offending, and not the tool of the offense, we do a better job in dealing with the problem, and we don’t needlessly bother those whom don’t drink and drive, since the majority of the DUI problems come from repeat offenders. And it’s the same thing when it comes to gun control. Taking away guns from the 99% is a tyranny. Many want to do it because the modern Left simply has a difficult time calling anyone whom is not named Dick Cheney or George Bush, evil.

The true shame of this, is that in the Army, NCOs are told that they are not leading unless they are micromanaging the private and professional lives of the Soldiers that work for them. I simply refuse to live like this or lead other men like this. As a kid, I did all kinds of dangerous things, and I’m proud of it. I never wore a bike helmet, yet rode my bike everywhere. Most of my bikes didn’t even have brakes; I had to use my foot on the rotting (dangerously so) tires, to slow myself. I proudly displayed the scabs and scars on my hands from the times I went over the handlebars on the pavement.  Myself and groups of other kids engaged in rock fights and BB gun wars. We threw ice-encrusted snowballs at each others face, hoping to give each other black eyes. I carried a rifle around in the woods, unsupervised, at the age of twelve, shooting cute, furry squirrels until I could hear the weeping of bleeding-heart liberals for miles around. And I felt nothing for it except proud of my outstanding marksmanship….I endured 5 knee operations before the age of 25, all from playing that rough, dangerous sport: Backyard football. I boxed and had my brain concussed.

And every one of us boys is better off for having beat the hell out of ourselves.

And why did I do all of it? Because I don’t want to feel completely safe. I never have. I most certainly don’t want someone else making me safe from everything. I mostly want to be left alone to make my own decisions. I want to learn on my own. I don’t want to go to jail, get a fine, or get demoted in rank for failing to make my Soldiers wear knee pads. I want to live in a country that demotes me because my troops didn’t kill enough Taliban fighters, because my troops didn’t make the enemy quit. I know, I know, that makes me a brute. Yet, our addiction to safety helped us lose the war in Afghanistan. Make no mistake, COIN “warfare” is the child of an addiction to safety. It is a system designed to win wars without fighting the enemy. We hope to build the enemy stuff until he quits, we hope that he becomes as sedated with free stuff from the government as this American generation has become. COIN hopes to keep our Soldiers out of danger, but in reality it makes him so at-risk for lack of ridding the battlefield of armed insurgents, that the American fighter spends most of his time running back and forth between villages and friendly bases, instead of rooting the enemy from his enclaves. March to a village,  shake some hands and smile at people lying to you and helping safeguard the people whom will kill you, then hurry the hell back to the base before you get shot.

I enjoy danger in my life. Yeah, there are always things the government could do to make us all safer. But at what cost? Should we make a law mandating all cars be coated in 12 inches of nerf material? I’m sure the guy who gets bumped into at a crosswalk would appreciate it.  I measure my danger with what it can provide me. I understand there are some dangers we want to control. For instance, I argued quite vehemently for increased screening at Airports, but I’m against gun-free zones around schools. Why? Because I believe one does what it’s supposed to and the other doesn’t. If there were two airlines to choose from, one offering increased screening and pat-downs before boarding a plane, and one that did not, I would choose to use the one that offered increased screening.  If there were two schools to choose from, one with a gun free zone and one without, I would choose the one without, hoping the well-vetted principal with 20 years experience in education is well armed and trained. Get it? I lift Russian kettlebells. There is an element of danger in using these, which makes me enjoy them all the more. Throwing around 70 lb iron balls cannot be made purely safe. My hands get torn up, and I’m damn proud of it. They make me a better person, even if I break a wrist.

My kettlebell hands
My kettlebell hands

I don’t want to be told how to pack my rucksack, how many bars of soap to bring with me to Afghanistan, and I sure don’t want to shave my chest, wear pop-collared polo shirts or gloves while weight lifting. I want to be allowed to not wear knee pads. I want to be allowed to fight when I go to war. In short, I want to be a man and not a giant baby. Let me be a big boy so we can focus on the important stuff, and not the things that end up costing us more  in the creation of rules and their enforcement than in any protection we gain. We are a country of laws–too many of them–not of men. Why not think like Bruce Lee, and begin to take away before we add. Less is always more efficient, and maybe we can toughen up a bit and remember what a great feeling it is to be able to do things on our own without having to hope the government will protect us from all evil, and maybe fix our toilet if we whine and play the victim well enough.

Maybe we can teach our kids, again, the value of hard work, self-reliance, responsibility and toughness. A nation of individuals that values those things does not require a government that has to keep them in line.

Americans accept losing wars and mediocrity at the highest levels

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The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.~ Thucydides

Weakness provokes insult and injury, while a condition to punish, often prevents them.~Thomas Jefferson

I have complained often and loudly about the caustic culture inside the US Army. It is a witch’s brew of arrogance, ridiculous regulation, and inept leadership. There are good leaders to be sure–but there is a disturbing number of bad ones, marred by a lack of basic common sense in fighting wars, and an arrogance that would shock Commodus.

My favourite essayist, Ralph Peters wrote a scathing article in the New York Post about the ethical collapse in the Army’s officer corps. There are more frightening stories than Peters talks about in his piece.

And here’s the biggest problem with all of this: These generals could not even  advocate for the proper execution of our wars for the last 10 years.  If a Soldier gets shot while on guard duty and was found to have not worn his helmet–he’ll get in more trouble than the insurgent who did the shooting, because it’s likely no effort will be made to pursue the attacker. In every other era of American war, the command’s initial response to a Soldier being shot at the front gate would be :” The enemy is able to maneuver very closely to our base–we need to find him and kill him.” Now, the command goes for the easy target–the American trooper. I assure everyone, that insurgents move and gather quite closely to American bases in Afghanistan and never have a shot fired at them in anger. Never have terrorist had it so good.  A full-bird colonel may smile and shake the hand of a villager that is helping kill his troops, but ruthlessly belittle the American privates on his base for being out of uniform.

It’s easy to fight a foe that can’t fight back.

The US Army has loads of support troops who don’t know how to use radios properly, how to use weapons optics like the ACOG, and the US is getting its ass handed to it by a growing Afghan insurgency which actually knows how to shoot, move and communicate. But the new Army’s mantra is “Right time, right place, right uniform.”  What is this, a Wal-Mart corporate meeting? Left out of any messaging is the fact that the Army has one overriding mission: To kill dead the enemies of the United States. Period.

Meanwhile, our West Point educated generals and colonels, whom the illiterate Taliban are running circles around, are committing acts of sexual assault, bigamy, and outright theft of government finances.  Generals reduced to cutpurses.

Then there is the absolute tide of political correctness to which our generals are beholden. Every time I hear an interview with a general, I walk away not feeling inspired, but depressed. Wooden, and reading from a memorized slate approved for press release, these folks would make Patton vomit.  Make no mistake about it. Today, Patton would be arrested. He admitted Americans like a good fight. Why? Because to win a fight, you have to like it, at least a little. But our current military is so risk averse, that only a fool would look for the enemy on a regular basis.

It’s really too bad that these generals are being investigated for sexual indiscretion and petty thievery  but not for their performance in our wars.  Where is the vaunted moral courage and intellectual honesty in the officer’s corp? I should like to see many more canned for not doing their job: Stacking enemy bodies.  Sound harsh? It is. That’s war. The current counterinsurgency model is so “counter-intuitive” ( term often used to mask the insanity of a bad idea), that only an intellectual could believe it.

It’s time we take a long hard look at ourselves. Frankly, I’m embarrassed.  Back in the homeland, we now accept losing. We shouldn’t. A good loser is a loser.  The personalities that used to be our generals are now our college and professional football coaches. They went where the money is and where they can tell the truth.

Les Miles would have won wars:

As Lombardi said, winning is a habit. I reached a turning point in my life when I no longer accepted defeat. When mediocre academic performance was not acceptable, when age was not an excuse for physical decline, when a bad childhood was not justification for failure in every endeavor. I don’t want a participation trophy–I want the trophy that labels me the winner. It is a sad thing to me, where we have come as a people. Looking back at my youth, I wish there were something that could have made me care, something that could have made me try. I didn’t see difficulty as a challenge, but something to be avoided, so I ran away from life.

This is where relativism, as it must, has led us. If all things are equal, winning is neither good nor bad. If all behavior is the same, then we can accept the same from a 4-star general as from a 15 year old.  The engine of our nation–its people–are in decline. I have no recipe to fix the problem. Perhaps it as Oswald Spengler believed, inevitable  like the seasons.

Our flaccid response to the humiliation in Benghazi is illustrative of the current American acceptance of defeat. I’m with Ralph Peters on this one (as usual). Our response should have been devastating. Instead, our government wrung its hands, and tweaked “talking points”. We haven’t made the world a safer place with our rhetoric. No one this side of Mother Theresa respects weakness, least of all Islamic extremists. Our collegiate theorems have not trumped the reality of war: You must kill the enemy until he stops fighting. Rest assured he’s trying to do the same thing.

What will happen to Afghanistan when the US leaves in 2014?

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The United States is planning to withdraw all its fighting capability from Afghanistan in 2014. Beginning in 2013, American forces with transition to an advisory role. That is, it will no longer conduct joint patrols or take major offensive action against the insurgency, but instead “suggest” courses of action to Afghan military personnel.

Many wonder if the Afghan Nation Security Forces (ANSF) will be able to defend the country from the Taliban after America leaves. It is my opinion that the ANSF will crumble rather quickly in the face of the insurgents. Here are the reasons why:

1) The ANSF are comprised mostly of illiterate, underpaid Pashtun males.  They are unable to maintain logistics systems taught to them by Americans, and as a course of habit, will hoard  bullets and fuel instead of dispensing it to the appointed units and locations.  The ANSF have no means to maintain American military equipment, except perhaps some small arms. Infrastructure will deteriorate quickly.

2) Afghan culture is not conducive to discipline, order, timeliness, self-sacrifice for the group, or control of negative emotions, particularly in areas far from Kabul. Drug use, desertion, lateness, fighting and homicide are not uncommon among ANSF by Western standards. The attention to detail needed to fight an industrial strength insurgency is not present.

3) The Taliban insurgency is more disciplined than the ANSF. The ideology of Jihad creates strong bonds and stimulates initiative as well as promoting self-sacrifice for the group, even to the point of suicide attack.  Though there are divisions within the insurgency, they are no greater than in most Western organizations. The  Taliban uses a fairly complex logistical and governance system and each local shadow governor is held responsible for his actions by senior Taliban leadership in Quetta, Pakistan.

4) Many in the ANSF do not want to fight the Taliban. While in Afghanistan, I saw instances of fully manned police stations abandoned without a shot fired when threatened by Taliban of similar numbers. In other areas, when asked where the Taliban were located, ANSF commanders readily gave an answer. But when asked when the ANSF would attack enemy positions, the commanders only provided a laugh and a telling smile.  Still more, in areas where the insurgency is strongest, Afghan border police are stationed some 10 kilometers away from the Pakistani border, allowing insurgents to easily cross into Afghanistan unmolested.  At checkpoints located directly on the border, police do not bother the Taliban crossing at official checkpoints.

5) Foreign powers such as Pakistan, Iran, Russia, Syria and China have a strong interest in an insurgent takeover in Afghanistan because this will de-ligitimize American efforts in the country, sow political chaos within the American system, create doubt in the American public’s mind as to the effectiveness of military intervention, as well as provide training areas for global terrorists, especially Iranian/ Syrian Hezbollah proxy fighters.  As such, these countries provide training, safe haven, and equipment to insurgents.

6) The ANSF lacks the technical intelligence capabilities of America, specifically drone and professional scout teams. Thus, insurgents will be able to mass much easier than they now do.

7) The ANSF lacks firepower. They have little artillery and almost no aircraft. Even with its incredible air supremacy, America has struggled in this war. It will be even worse for the ANSF.

As in Vietnam, Afghanistan is made up of essentially one culture, the Pashtuns. And also as in Vietnam, it is possible for one part of the culture to want to fight and the other half to have almost no will to resist. It is unfortunate for the Afghans living in Kabul, virtually a different planet from the rest of Afghanistan. Those people are ready to cast off the old ways and move into this century. But the rest of Afghanistan is not. And it will likely be less than two years after the bulk of  America’s military troops leave, that Kabul falls once again to the Taliban.

The Global Salafists now have the initiative

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Former British Special Air Service operator and now best-selling author, Andy McNab, writes in one of his great novels, I can’t remember which one, that in a fight, you never let your opponent move forward first.  When you sense an impending fight, attack, or go on a defensive campaign from which you may never recover (dodging a punch never ended a boxing match–landing a punch has done so many times).

America had global salafists, such as al-Qaeda, on the ropes, but failed to finish them. And when the next round of the fight began, we weaved and bobbed to just survive until the bell rang, hoping the judges would give us the split decision.

But there is no bell and there are no judges.

In almost every country in which Islamic fundamentalists operate extensively, they have taken an offensive stance. In Yemen, Afghanistan  Pakistan, Somalia, Lebanon, Sudan, Nigeria, Libya, and Egypt, it is not government power that brings fear, it is Islamist militias. The situation is far worse than it was prior to 9-11-2001 and worse than it was before 2008.   The terrorists got the message: Americans want peace and aren’t willing to fight as hard as we are. America’s line in the sand was obliterated by mushy generalities and emphasis on American short comings. But fighting the global jihad with self-flagellating words is like fighting a termite infestation with peace offerings of cracker crumbs: The gesture makes the problem worse.

We can expect things to get worse.  When America withdraws from its foolish foray into nation building in Afghanistan, it is unlikely that Afghan military forces will be able to hold back the tide of terrorists, criminals, and warlords that await.  The Mother of all Mission Creep (MOAB-C) went from punitive raid to national level welfare.  The saddest thought is that we had the war won already and let politicians use Afghanistan for campaign slogans.

Whomever holds the seat of President of the United States after the coming election with be faced with some very tough choices. The withdrawal from Afghanistan and resultant violence will inevitably draw criticism from political opposition.  It may also boost morale for jihadists throughout the world. And yet, there seems no other option.

And yet this may not be the worst of it.  The world is running out of time to deal with Iranian nuclear ambitions, and Uber-Militia, Hezbollah–better armed than 90% of the world’s nations–appears to be readying itself for war.

My letter to the President about the war in Afghanistan

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Had to keep it short to to a limitation on the number of characters:

Sir,

I am a Staff Sergeant in the 1st Brigade, 2-22 Battalion, 10th Mountain Division of the US Army. I am an intelligence analyst by trade and was deployed to Afghanistan 2010-2011. It is my job to keep up with events and to make assessments based on facts and data. Sir, the last decade proves a fact better than the hundreds of pie charts and link diagrams you’ve likely been briefed on during your time in the White House: We are not accomplishing our desired goals in Afghanistan. We have not degraded the Taliban insurgency significantly enough to allow an ANSF takeover in 2014. There are several reasons for this. First, our generals have massively underestimated the difficulty in building a democracy in a society that holds few democratic ideals. Secondly, the counterinsurgency strategy employed in Afghanistan fails to meet the military’s own doctrinal standards of 1 security force member to 50 civilians. Actually, our numbers aren’t even close to the required personnel. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the cross-border safe haven in the Pakistani FATA presents an insurmountable stronghold for insurgent training, rest and recruitment. There are other factors, such as the probability that the Taliban holds the moral high ground over the government in Kabul, even by Western standards.
The insurgency has employed every gambit of Sun Tzu, while we have sought to fight a war Galahad would be proud of. Our troops patrol with vague or unknown directives, because current counterinsurgency doctrine says this will connect them with the people. Little consideration is given to the enemy, who is also trying in every manner to influence the people. They are doing a much better job at it then are we. Our Soldiers are targets for snipers and bomb makers who do not fear retribution because retribution rarely comes.
Now, because of insider threats, the meager relationship we’d forged with the ANSF is gone. We are trapped in our bases. The enemy is now free to move about and mass for attack. And why is the Taliban able to penetrate the ANSF with such frequency? Because the Taliban’s creed is almost indistinguishable from the average Pashtun male’s. Xenophobic, jealous, quick to anger, Pashtuns love a good fight. And unlike our Soldiers in Afghanistan, they can go back to their houses and families every night after they kill our service members.

Please consider an early withdrawal. We are the hunted, not the hunters.

SSG Douglas Moore