US Military

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.
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Essay submitted at American Military University

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Here’s my final essay, submitted to American Military University.  I’m currently studying military intelligence at AMU.  Feel free to comment.

Douglas John Moore, Student #: 4212140

Course Name:  Tactical Intelligence (INTL422 I Sum 11)

25 September 2011

Course Instructor:  John Casey

 

Intelligence Operations in OIF:  What the US Got Right, What it got Wrong, and How it Adapted.

     Thesis Statement:  Intelligence for Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) can be divided into three distinct phases.  The intelligence estimates created and analysis conducted following the attacks by al-Qaeda on the Twin Towers and during the buildup for OIF constitute the first phase of intelligence operations for OIF.  The second phase of intelligence is represented by tactical intelligence gathering and dissemination during the US’s conventional operations against Iraqi military targets while the third and final phase of intelligence operations occurred as al-Qaeda attempted to bring the full force of the global insurgency to bear against coalition forces in Iraq by inciting sectarian violence and attacking coalition forces.  Each phase produced successes and failures which strongly impacted the outcome of the war.

 

 

 

Phase 1: Intelligence as an Extension of Politics

     The US intelligence community was thrust into the international spotlight after the attacks by al-Qaeda on 9 September, 2001.  Problems with information sharing between intelligence agencies and the FBI highlighted the discussion.  As the US government began its investigations into who perpetrated the 9-11 attacks and to what level the attackers were backed by foreign national governments, eyes turned to Saddam Hussein and his Baathist regime.  Faced with the possibility of transnational proliferation of nuclear weapons and shocked by terrorist attacks of unprecedented cunning and ferocity, the Bush administration turned to the intelligence community to answer two questions:  Does the Iraqi military possess Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)? And, to what extant does Saddam Hussein harbor or fund al-Qaeda terrorists?

These two issues were important because they represented the lever which the Bush administration used to make politically viable preemptive war against Saddam Hussein.  According to a CNN report covering Bob Woodward’s book:  Plan of Attack, President Bush found scant evidence of WMD in Iraq even after he viewed satellite imagery and signal intercepts.  President Bush believed the issue of WMD to be central to gaining the trust and backing of the public.  He asked then CIA director, George Tenet to tell him if Saddam had WMD: Tenet’s response was categorical:  “It’s a slam dunk case.” [1]

Interestingly, CENTCOM never deeply investigated whether Iraq had WMD, weaving the assumption that Iraq possessed chemical weapons into the planning of OIF.  The primary question that CENTCOM analysts sought to answer was whether the Iraqi military would use WMD, not if it possessed them.[2] Also of interest is that although the primary criticism directed at the US intelligence community was that it did not share information efficiently, it was information sharing that fed a large portion of the brief General Colin Powell gave to the US Security Council in 2003.  An intelligence source, Codename: CURVEBALL, provided information to the German foreign intelligence agency, which in turn shared the information with the Defense Intelligence Agency which then passed the information on to the CIA.  Neither the DIA nor the CIA ever had direct contact with CURVEBALL, and several analysts, both German and American, found CURVEBALL’s attestations of Iraqi “Mobile Production Facilities for Biological Agents” to be dubious.  Never the less, the information provided by CURVEBALL was used to justify OIF.[3]

 

C. Powell testifies in ’03, WH archives

     Intelligence assessments outlining Iraq’s WMD capability were largely wrong.  Hooker states:  “CBW were not employed, indicating the increased likelihood that Iraq did not have stocks of weaponized chemical or biological agents ready to employ.”[4] In the end, the US intelligence community along with many in the Bush administration bore the brunt of political backlash.  The Iraq Intelligence Committee wrote:

“The Intelligence Community’s performance in assessing Iraq’s pre-war weapons of mass destruction programs was a major intelligence failure. The failure was not merely that the Intelligence Community’s assessments were wrong. There were also serious shortcomings in the way these assessments were made and communicated to policymakers.”[5]

The interpretations of intelligence regarding al-Qaeda’s connections with Saddam Hussein seem to be divided along political and ideological lines.  However, it cannot be denied that known terrorists operated within Iraq’s borders and given Saddam’s autocratic rule, it is likely the terrorists operated with Saddam’s blessings.  In Colin Powell’s testimony before US Security Council in 2003, he told the council that Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi , a trained Jordanian terrorists with direct ties to Osama bin laden, operated in Iraq and had even moved his operations to Bagdad.  US intelligence had tracked Zarqawi’s movements and conducted link analysis showing some of his associates.[6]

Zarqawi Network, Whitehouse Archives

     This analysis proved true.  Though the extent to which Saddam helped Zarqawi to achieve his goals is unknown, it does seem that Zarqawi was able to operate in Iraq with Saddam’s approval.  Zarqawi would haunt the Coalition through the dark days prior to the American troop surge and until McChrystal’s Joint Special Operation’s Command (JSOC) finally doomed the arch-terrorist.

 

 

Phase 2: Shock and Awe

     The second phase of intelligence as it applied to OIF occurred during CENTCOM’s planning phase for the war and also in tactical applications during the actual invasion. The US government constantly monitored the Iraqi military force composition after Desert Storm and successfully predicted several outcomes in the conventional phase of the war.  The intelligence estimates were correct in assessing several of Iraq’s military capabilities and tactical intelligence assets effectively targeted hundreds of Iraqi military installations and assets for missile and bomb strikes.[7]  However, intelligence estimates were wrong on several counts.  For instance, analysts believed that Saddam would attack Israel, would probably use WMD and overestimated the Iraqi army’s willingness to stand and fight.[8]

Phase 3: Into the Maelstrom

     CENTCOM asked intelligence analysts to determine the most likely security situation in Iraq after the conventional fight came to a close (Phase IV).  The analysts concluded that while sectarian violence and attempts to fill power vacuums by tribal warlords was likely, coalition forces would not be the primary target of attacks.  Compared to the previous phases, phase IV of operations in Iraq received little attention in intelligence estimates.[9]  Although some analysts and pundits state that the insurgency found fuel when L. Paul Bremer dissolved the Iraqi army, Bremer presents evidence that this dissolving was little more than a formality.[10]

As an insurgency coalesced in Iraq, it became clear that the current force composition was unable to stop the rising tide of violence.  Abu Musab al-Zarqawi stepped to the forefront as the leader of a terror organization calling itself Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).[11]  Attacks on coalition forces and Iraqi civilians rose greatly, and in 2006 several observers, including the chief of intelligence for the Marine Corps, believed that America was losing the war in Iraq.[12] [13]Intelligence experts had massively underestimated the strength of al-Qaeda’s global insurgency, the attempt to recruit a transnational horde of terrorists and insurgents from around the world and direct them to do battle as al-Qaeda leadership saw fit.[14]

In order to address the collapsing security situation in Iraq, President Bush pushed nearly 30,000 additional US troops into the fight in 2007.  Additionally, special intelligence gathering and dissemination cells were created under the auspices of General Stanley McChrystal, then commander of JSOC.  Realizing that dissemination of intelligence was far too slow within a classic military hierarchy, McChrystal’s special operations forces realized something had to change.  The answer became mantra:  Become a network to defeat a network.  The strength of AQI and other insurgent groups in Iraq was their disparate, wraith-like nature.  The lumbering stiffness of “Big Army” was inadequate to defeat this new foe.  McChrystal’s organization made sharing intelligence an art and pushed information out in multiple directions as opposed to “stove piping” it in one direction.  Information on the location of a known terrorist may be gained from an informant.  That information was immediately pushed to analysts, who in turn notified kill or capture teams, who then moved immediately to find the suspect.  Any intelligence gathered at the site was pushed back to analysts who would push it out again.  The result was a cascading increase in operational tempo and capture/kill successes.[15] In the end, Task Force 145 killed Zarqawi.  With its elite interrogators drawing HUMINT from captured insurgents, TF 145 contributed heavily to the eventual systemic collapse of the insurgency in Iraq.[16]

Conclusion

     OIF highlights the nature of today’s intelligence operations.  The successes of analysts are not judged as black and white but as varying shades of gray.  The 24 hour news cycle and excitable political atmosphere lead many to ask not if assessments were right or wrong but “how right and how wrong.” Technology has increased the powers of the critic.  The failure of the intelligence community to accurately assess and convince on the matters of WMD in Iraq and to predict the outcome of the collapse of Iraq’s Baathist regimes weighs heavy.  The result though is increased efficiency in US intelligence capabilities with an emphasis on efficiency and information sharing.  How much this new emphasis will be able to resist the juggernaut of bureaucratic inefficiency remains to be seen.

Works Cited

Bowden, Mark. “The Ploy.” The Atlantic, May 2007.

Bremer, L. Paul. “How I didn’t dissolve Iraq’s Army.” The New York Times, September 6, 2007.

Chan, Sue. Iraq Faces Massive US Missile Barrage. n.d. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/01/24/eveningnews/main537928.shtml (accessed September 25, 2011).

CNN Politics Article. Woodward: Tenet told Bush WMD case a ‘slam dunk’. April 19, 2004. http://articles.cnn.com/2004-04-18/politics/woodward.book_1_woodward-reports-slam-dunk-war-plan?_s=PM:ALLPOLITICS (accessed September 24, 2011).

Hooker, Gregory. Shaping the plan for Operation Iraqi Freedom : the role of military intelligence assessments . Washington D.C. : Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2005.

McChrystal, Stanley. It Takes a Network. March/April 2011. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/02/22/it_takes_a_network?page=full (accessed September 25, 2011).

Peters, Ralph. “Last Gasps in Iraq.” USA Today, November 2, 2006: 13A.

Prados, John. The National Security Archive. November 5, 2007. http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB234/index.htm (accessed September 24, 2011).

Ricks, Thomas E. “Situationn Called Dire in West Iraq.” The Washington Post, September 11, 2006.

Schultz, Richard H. Global Insurgency Strategy and the Salafi Jihad Movement. USAF Institute for National Security Studies, 2008.

The Iraq Intelligence Committee. The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States regarding Weapons of Mass Detruction. US Government, 2005.

US Government. The Whitehouse Archives. February 5, 2003. http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2003/02/20030205-1.html#40 (accessed September 24, 2011).

Weaver, Mary Anne. The Short, Violent Life of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. June 8, 2006. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2006/07/the-short-violent-life-of-abu-musab-al-zarqawi/4983/?single_page=true (accessed September 25, 2011).


[1]  CNN Politics Article. Woodward: Tenet told Bush WMD case a ‘slam dunk’. April 19, 2004. http://articles.cnn.com/2004-04-18/politics/woodward.book_1_woodward-reports-slam-dunk-war-plan?_s=PM:ALLPOLITICS (accessed September 24, 2011).

 

 

 

[2] Hooker, Gregory. Shaping the plan for Operation Iraqi Freedom : the role of military intelligence assessments . Washington D.C. : Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2005.

 

[3] Prados, John. The National Security Archive. November 5, 2007. http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB234/index.htm (accessed September 24, 2011).

 

[4] Hooker, Gregory. Shaping the plan for Operation Iraqi Freedom : the role of military intelligence assessments . Washington D.C. : Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2005.

 

[5] The Iraq Intelligence Committee. The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States regarding Weapons of Mass Detruction. US Government, 2005.

 

[6] US Government. The Whitehouse Archives. February 5, 2003. http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2003/02/20030205-1.html#40 (accessed September 24, 2011).

 

[7] Chan, Sue. Iraq Faces Massive US Missile Barrage. n.d. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/01/24/eveningnews/main537928.shtml (accessed September 25, 2011).

 

[8] Hooker, Gregory. Shaping the plan for Operation Iraqi Freedom : the role of military intelligence assessments . Washington D.C. : Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2005.

 

[9] Hooker, Gregory. Shaping the plan for Operation Iraqi Freedom : the role of military intelligence assessments . Washington D.C. : Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2005.

[10] Bremer, L. Paul. “How I didn’t dissolve Iraq’s Army.” The New York Times, September 6, 2007

 

[11] Weaver, Mary Anne. The Short, Violent Life of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. June 8, 2006. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2006/07/the-short-violent-life-of-abu-musab-al-zarqawi/4983/?single_page=true (accessed September 25, 2011).

 

[12] Peters, Ralph. “Last Gasps in Iraq.” USA Today, November 2, 2006: 13A.

 

[13] Ricks, Thomas E. “Situation Called Dire in West Iraq.” The Washington Post, September 11, 2006.

 

[14] Schultz, Richard H. Global Insurgency Strategy and the Salafi Jihad Movement. USAF Institute for National Security Studies, 2008.

 

[15] McChrystal, Stanley. It Takes a Network. March/April 2011. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/02/22/it_takes_a_network?page=full (accessed September 25, 2011).

 

[16] Bowden, Mark. “The Ploy.” The Atlantic, May 2007.

 

Leave Afghanistan Now

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The burning of the Korans at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan and the subsequent riots and murder of 5 NATO soldiers put all questions to rest about our future in the country.  There is nothing more the US can gain in this war.  Amid our apologies and groveling, our warped attempts to prove we are not imperialists, the Taliban and crime lords thrive, resting peacefully in Pakistan.  And we still pace the floor like Hamlet churning the possibilities through Washington’s mushy head.

The cultural differences between the US and many Afghans are so great, they simply cannot be overcome in a  manner that benefits in any meaningful way the US.  The country is still largely run by thieves and criminals, and outside Kabul there is little true support for the US effort.  Our national prestige is being drained away by the ridiculous “sensitivity” of Pashtun Muslims, whom seize upon any sleight as a reason to engage in mayhem.

Why are we still there?  It’s time to leave, and let Afghanistan face the reality it created for itself.  A future of crime, chaos, fundamentalism and misery.  To the Afghan government and the Taliban:  Keep your evil inside your own borders this time.To Washington:  Stop embarrasing your nation and its troops with your equivocating and hand wringing.  Bring back the pop-up targets you’ve provided for blood drenched, hateful Islamists.

Bring our boys home.

To service members protesting in the Occupy Wallstreet movement: Get Real

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On today’s front page of the Stars and Stripes paper, a “sailor” sporting lug-nut sized earrings marches proudly beside a “soldier” whose chin is carapaced under a bushy goatee.  The article carrying this photo says that military veterans have joined the Occupy Wall Street movement and some are protesting the much higher wages that “corporate contractors” made in relation to what service members made while in war zones.

First of all, if money is the primary reason that someone is in the military, they should get out.  There’re easier ways to make money outside the military.  Secondly, the complaint about the contractors is ridiculous, at least in the context of what these protests are supposedly about.  Most of the contractors–a huge majority–are former military personnel with specialized skills.  The military hires them to fulfill two needs: 1) The specialized, technical skills those contractors possess aren’t easily found in 22 year old E4 Specialists.  2) Force Caps, or the maximum number of troops that Congress allows in Afghanistan and Iraq, hinders operations, and in order to get around that, the billets are filled with contractors whom have to pay for their own insurance, their own house back home.  With the contractors level of experience and college education, they’d be making similar money in the military if we counted benefits such as housing, training pay and TRICARE insurance.  Plus they could look forward to federal retirement pay.  And did military pay go down when we began paying a lot of contractors? Not to my knowledge.

These contractors also almost always have college degrees, or decades experience in a specialized field, such as law enforcement persons training foreign national troops.

I’m assuming that the two people marching in the protest are not currently in the military, because neither met the grooming or dress standards for anyone in the US Navy or Army.  And since they are protesting, it may be safe to assume that they are having a difficult time with finances.  In fact, below the photo in Stars and Stripes, the writer cites a complaint about service members having a difficult time after service.  Why did they leave the military? Even if the military is not the best situation for many people, it would seem better than being unemployed.  But I guess our government has made unemployment so comfortable an existence that it’s preferable to a real job with great benefits.  And you can always protest in hopes the government will give you the benefits you had when you were working.

Speaking of which.  The protesting service members should know that one of the things the Wall Street mob wants, is a free ride through college, and all their college debts paid off by–who else–the government.  Otherwise known as all the people who aren’t protesting but are actually working so as to generate taxable income.  As military veterans they have access to a fantastic thing called the GI Bill.  Have they used it?  Or did they throw away a job with no plan for the future?

To tell the truth, I have no idea if the two people in Stars and Stripes are really current or ex-service members.  Since ACORN got caught paying people to protest, it would actually be pure genius to pay some people to pose as disgruntled vets, just begging for more dole.

But if they are real, I’m embarrassed for them and by them.  If they’re not in the military anymore, I’m glad.  If they are they should spend more time studying for the next promotion board so they can make more money. And they got more free stuff in the military than they’ll get anywhere else.

Three Cups of Tea shatters into a Million Little Pieces

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 When I first arrived at Bagram Airfield in 2010 to begin my year-long tour in Afghanistan, Army leadership immediately implored me to Read Three Cups of Tea by Craig Mortenson. It was the way forward, some said. But a fellow intelligence analyst whom I trusted had little good to say about the book. He’d been to Afghanistan and Iraq for several combat tours and he told me the book gave the wrong picture of what was really happening on the ground.

 People kept talking about the book, so I took it upon myself to at least learn the author’s thesis. I did some digging and didn’t like what I found. I admit to never reading the book, primarily because much of what I read about Mortenson gave me the impression that he is a huckster with a genius for identifying useful idiots. And indeed, I believe his book created a whole host of acolytes in the military, bulwarked by starry-eyed 23 year old State Department employees who truly believe that if only we throw billions of dollars in the general direction of Islamist fanatics, the insurgency will melt away.

Instead, many of those billions have been wasted, and in many cases provided the Taliban with bullets and bombs. And we kept on making the same mistakes for years. Only now are we beginning to come around and remember that not all men want peace; as Vladimir Lenin stated:

“One man with a gun can control 100 without one.”

In many cases, while our military should have been concentrating on the basics of counterinsurgency in underdeveloped nations (building social structures and trust) we were building redundant structures of concrete and stone that often fell into disuse. When we should have been providing the friendly tribes with the ability to fight the insurgents, in many cases we fawningly erected near useless buildings that could not be maintained, hoping that these would act as scarecrows to the Taliban. Instead the development projects acted as a light to a swarm of hornets. The insurgents moved into many areas where development took place without first clearing the land of guerrillas and began a campaign of punishment and retribution amongst local villagers. Because of this, we lost the trust of some tribesmen. We built inanimate objects and ran away, forgetting that in warrior, tribal societies, it is not material goods that are most important, but the display of bravery, loyalty and honor. It was immoral to ask these villagers to reject the insurgency without providing them with the means to fight it because a well will not protect anyone from a Kalashnikov.

If the recent allegations about Mortenson are true, he lied about what he did in the mountains of Pakistan. But that is not where the damage to our efforts was done. The damage is in the implied effects of Mortenson’s possible fictions; that we can fight terrorism merely by engaging local populations and giving them things, that we don’t really need America’s warrior class in Afghanistan. I saw this attitude with my own eyes even amongst our military, where COIN became a euphemism for never firing a rifle.

 Mortenson’s good intentions, if he had any, were not enough and they have cost lives. Apologists for Mortenson (and they are legion), say that even if there are some parts of Three Cups of Tea that are not factual, the thesis of the book is true. That thesis, they say, is that we should be respectful of other cultures and treat people decently even while we fight our wars. Is this new American doctrine? Is it not common sense that we should not create any more enemies than is necessary to defeat the insurgency? This way of thinking was expounded by a much more qualified man than Mortenson in David Kilcullen’s, The Accidental Guerrilla. The effects that Three Cups of Tea has had in our war may be quantifiable by looking at the number of reviews written on Amazon—almost 3000. The Accidental Guerrilla is only worthy of approximately 70 reviews, and yet Kilcullen was the personal advisor to David Petraeus in Iraq. And I don’t suspect that many USAID people have read Kilcullen’s seminal work.

I cannot help but make the comparison between A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey and Three Cups of Tea. The writers of both books targeted a very specific audience and told them everything they wanted to hear about humanity. Mortenson has now admitted that parts of his book are “compressed versions” of what really took place. People who wanted pleasing answers were drawn to Frey’s and Mortenson’s stories and in both cases people in very high places were made to eat their share of crow. Fortunately we have moved forward from easy answers in Afghanistan. Since General David Petraeus took over, he has repeatedly communicated that there is a counter-terror aspect to all counterinsurgencies. Money, though still a weapon system, is a precision weapon, not a Rolling Thunder bombing campaign that makes things worse. In the south, the Taliban is on the run not because of tea time so much as the tough fighting of our troopers who treat locals with respect and decency, discover their underlying needs, and yet hunt America’s and Afghanistan’s enemies relentlessly, killing or capturing thousands of hardcore Taliban fighters.

Not exactly the stuff of Oprah’s Book Club.

Quick Post: Jalalabad

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My team and I flew off to Jalalabad. our job is to evaluate Surkh Rod District, which is just outside of Jalalabad. Jalalabad is a model city. ISAF commanders want to use the “Ink Blot” method to slowly build off from successful municipalities. So our job is to find out what’s right with Surkh Rod District, and what can be replicated in other districts.

I can tell you right now that the difference between Surkh Rod and Sayed Abad, a place I travelled to about 6 weeks ago, is astounding. In Sayed Abad, we took mortar and rocket fire every night, and Taliban fighters engaged one of our Route Clearance Teams right outside a FOB gate. Sayed Abad is an insurgent stronghold, and I’ve assessed that the overall state of the insurgency can be measured by what is occurring in the district.

Surkh Rod is host to some of Afghanistan’s cultural elite, whom bring money and business to the area. From what I’ve seen, all the talk about greed and corruption that come with the business world is simply a way to ignore the true power of business: It keeps people busy, let’s them hope for a better future without using a rifle to get it, and it feeds people. Where people don’t work, read or have roads to travel on, they kill to pass the time. Where they do have those things they fight only to keep them.

Signing off for now.