Afghanistan

Winning?

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This is a fairly accurate representation of what’s happening in 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.

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.

Four Reasons our Efforts in Afghanistan Will Fail

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2014 is drawing ever closer, but the United States is no nearer to assuring victory and stability in Afghanistan than it was in 2003.  Here are the reasons that Afghanistan is now an un-winnable war.

  • The corruption in local and national government is staggering.  The corruption in Afghanistan is about much more than politicians skimming from government funds.  It’s mostly about failing to uphold laws in exchange for political and monetary favors.  While performing the duties of DIA intelligence analyst in Kabul Province in 2010, I traveled to Musahi District, just south of Kabul, with the Nebraska National Guard 1-134 Cav Scouts.  The local police chief in Musahi spoke a good game, promising to stand up against corruption and fight the insurgency.  We found out later that he brokered deals in order to keep the peace in his district.  All politics was indeed local, thus the chief had no romantic thoughts of “national security”.  He allowed insurgents to move into his district and cache weapons and supplies meant for attacks on Kabul.  Meanwhile, Musahi looked perfectly peaceful.  And who could blame him in the end?  At one point we learned from one of the chief’s subordinates that local police located an insurgent weapons cache in the district and took some Guardsmen to the location where several weapons turned up.  The chief grew enraged when he found out that his policeman gave us the location of the weapons.  He knew how this would appear to the insurgents; like he’d stabbed them in the back.  After a couple of cache finds, the Haqqani Network decided to teach the police chief a lesson.  A suicide bomber drove a Vehicle-borne IED (VBIED) from Logar Province into Musahi.  After circling the police chief’s building and finding no access because of a newly built stone wall, the bomber detonated  in from of a new district center, shearing off the front of the building and leaving a huge crater.  Miraculously no one was killed.  The vehicle had passed through a checkpoint up the road, but the police officer failed to search the vehicle.  From that point on, the police chief glanced nervously out his window whenever a vehicle engine revved outside the station.

The above picture shows me and a National Guardsman approaching the Musahi District Center before the bomb exploded.

Here’s what remained of the district center after the bomb.

Even when Musahi law enforcement did its job, there was no guarantee Kabul would comply.  One time the National Guardsmen arrested two men on a motor cycle in Musahi.  One man’s hands tested positive for HME (Home Made Explosives) and the other man had a cell phone with hundreds of photos of known insurgents on it.  The day after these men were arrested and sent to the detention center in Kabul they were released from jail with no bail or trial.  A man inside the Kabul government brokered their release, likely for a promise from the Taliban that they’d leave him alone.

  • The Afghan Security Forces (ANSF) cannot be trained to an adequate level in a reasonable amount of time. My anecdote about the Musahi district center is demonstrative of many of the problems in Afghanistan.  Even where the ANSF is present, it lacks the discipline and equipment to effectively fight a determined insurgency.  The tea and pillow, Laissez-Fair attitude prominent in Afghan culture does not lend itself to aggressive law enforcement and security.  Moreover, the technical, legal and bureaucratic intricacies of future advise and assist teams have not been worked out, despite the fact that these teams are set to deploy in early 2013.  Fundamental questions such as: What happens when Afghan security forces refuse to deal with insurgents that pose a threat to American forces?  The primary difference in advising as opposed to partnering is supposed to be in the power of suggestion: US advisers suggest possible courses of action, but it’s up to the Afghans to act on them.  If the US chooses to take no action against known insurgent High Value Targets in order to maintain GIRoA primacy, the US is in effect sending its troops to a slaughter.  But if American forces target insurgents who pose a threat despite the protests of Afghan officials, then the mission is no longer merely advise and assist.  There seems no easy answer in this regard.
  • The Taliban already has Kabul in its back pocket. There is no Kabul “Green Zone”.  Insurgents, spies and assassins stalk the streets of Kabul and haunt the halls of parliament.  Much of the national government has likely brokered closed doors deals with the Taliban.  Those who refuse to play the Taliban’s game are assassinated.  The Kabul police are not adequately equipped to stop suicide bombers.  It is my assessment that the only reason Karzai is still alive is because he’s already cut deals to stay alive and in power. His protesting against American night raids mirrored what I saw in Musahi: The insurgents want the night raids to end because they are effective, so they force political leaders to denounce them under threat of force or bartered deals for local peace.  The politicians intentionally incite the Afghans about night raids and this legitimizes a Taliban agenda.  While in Kabul, myself and other analysts from the Combined Stability Operations Center (CSOC) visited a Kabul and met with former Afghan Prime Minister, Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai.  A warm, genuine man, Ahmadzai assured us that the Taliban had learned their lesson.  According to the former PM, the Taliban knew it’d “gone too far” and that if they were allowed back in to power, they’d tame their actions.  Ahmadzai even offered to host a meeting between Taliban and my group.  Apparently it was that easy for this politically connected man to invite the enemy’s of America in for a cup of tea.  We all declined, imagining a suicide vest-clad Talib tipping back his cup as he pressed his detonator….

The author( left) and Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai (center) in Kabul, 2010.

  • The insider threat.  Finally, a wave on attacks against coalition forces by Afghan security forces have all but destroyed the partnership between NATO and Afghan troops.  Recently, NATO halted outright partnered patrols with Afghan security forces.  With an impending draw down of troops this year, things will only get worse for advise and assist teams as insurgents will gain increased freedom of movement and ability to stage for attacks in ways not previously witnessed.  Whereas most of the large attacks of the past were planned for in Pakistan, it may become possible with decreased American troop presence, for the insurgents to prepare large scale attacks much closer to their intended targets.  And advise and assist teams themselves will become very vulnerable to attack with fewer maneuver elements to protect them.  All in all, this bodes ill for the future of Afghanistan.

The growing sense of isolation in the military

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In a recent interview, retired General Stanley McChrystal stated that he believes America should re-institute a military draft, ensuring that all citizens share the burden of war.

I agree with McChrystal and so did Thomas Jefferson: “Every citizen should be a soldier. This was the case with the Greeks and Romans, and must be that of every free state.”

In today’s America the idea of a draft is politically untenable.  Many citizens feel the system is supposed to give something to them, but they are not required to give anything to it.  People who think this way call it “freedom.”  One could riff off Tacitus and say, “They made a democracy and called it freedom.”

The sense of community in America is dying, and I can attest that the sense of belonging in the military is a troubling phenomena.  The military is very separated from everyday America, and this is not a good thing.  It is a difficult experience to explain to someone who has never served in the military, but many many people feel very cut off from regular American life.  I can testify to this feeling.  When I first came in the Army and moved to Germany, I cannot imagine a more alienating experience.

The primary difference between today’s wars and the major wars of the past is that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are fought by a much smaller percentage of Americans.  In fact, less than 1% of Americans serve in the military, whereas in WWII, 9% served. When you consider that women did not serve in WWII except as civilians, you can see that a very high number of men were in the military.

A difficult fact to ignore is that America has failed to defeat decisively any foe since the draft was abandoned in 1973.  Some can argue that Desert Storm was a decisive victory, but we had to go back and clean up the mess we left.  Americans no longer have a visceral feel for what it takes to win wars.  This fact drove me crazy in Afghanistan, where I saw a plethora of well-intentioned projects accomplish little.  As my friend, Dr. Scott Catino once said: “We’re throwing million of dollars at the insurgency and hoping it will go away.” Solar panels on the roofs of villagers which were stolen by insurgents and used to power bombs.  Million-dollar “justice complexes” abandoned. Yet the suspicious stares from the Pashtuns continues.  Does anyone believe a member of the military came up with the idea of solar panels as part of the war effort? I think not.  It was a Non-government agency (NGO) who thought that was a good idea, because their job is to come up with solutions that don’t involve killing people.

The increasing separation of people in the military is causing increasingly recurrent visits from what military people call “The Good Idea Fairy”.  The Good Idea Fairy is a font of well-intentioned ideas which are to be carried out by those of lesser rank.  These ideas usually involve taking a rather simple exercise of some sort and transforming it into a confusing, over complicated mess.

The Good Idea Fairy can flourish in places where the negative aspects of bad decisions are not visited upon the person who made the decision in the first place.  And since we have so few people who have served in the military and the number of elected officials who have served before beginning their political careers is growing smaller every election cycle, it seems trouble was inevitable

So now politicians can make decisions about a military in which they and perhaps their father never served.  Political and social ideologues push ideas and plans for the military having little real knowledge about how it will effect our ability to fight.  Women in the infantry is one idea that I’m sure The Good Idea Fairy would be proud of.  While there are women that serve honorably in the military, the Army and Marines prohibit women from serving in the infantry for what every military in the last 10,000 years has thought obvious reasons.  Not the least of which is a wanting physical prowess when it comes to fighting a war.  Watch the movie Restrepo and imagine a woman being in that environment for 15 months.

But winning wars isn’t what’s important to some about the military.  What’s important is the opportunity to push an agenda, to change society by infiltrating its most hallowed halls.  Thus, in 2013 we have women being admitted to the Army’s toughest school–Ranger School.   And every female failure at the school will need to be justified to high level rank.

This honest female Marine Corps Captain writes about her opinion concerning women in the infantry.  She says that even though she was an outstanding athlete in college, and is not in the infantry, her deployment to Afghanistan left her with permanent injuries.  She lost 17 pounds and her body stopped producing estrogen.  And she wasn’t doing half the physical work that a Marine infantryman does.

All of this leads to a growing sense within the military that the troops don’t matter.  Every decision is imposed without asking the people in the military what they think, or if they are asked, it doesn’t matter what they say.  This is what happened with the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  Surveys were passed around but the SECDEF made it clear before a single chad was punched: This is getting repealed.

Suicide rates in the Army doubled after 2004.  At that point some Army units were doing back-to-back 15 month tours.  And this wasn’t in areas of the world as sophisticated as WWII Europe.  It was culture shock with IEDs.  With so few Americans serving during this operational tempo, you’d think the Army could have done without the multi-million dollar studies that tried to explain the reason for skyrocketing suicide numbers.  But no.  The studies were again ordered by people who have never been there and barely even care to read about it.

It used to be that the very best served.  In WWII men had no choice, they went.  The entire will of a nation was brought to bear against the country’s enemy’s.  Now, our uber-professional Army can’t decisively beat a herd of toothless goat herders who know more about using fertilizer to make a bomb than using it to grow crops.  America simply hasn’t enough troops to make it work.