Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Jalalabad. The last time that I was here, I was fairly new in-country. Jalalabad, or J-bad as it’s called for short, is a very different city from Kabul. It’s much lower in elevation, and the weather’s completely different. It’s a stone’s throw from Pakistan, just over the famous Khyber Pass. Rudyard Kipling wrote a great deal about Afghanistan, mentioning many of the battles that happened in this area.

Jalalabad was the destination of 16,500 souls who left Kabul in a British column in January of 1842. Only one, Dr. Brydon, actually arrived.

Jalalabad was not subjected to nearly the level of fighting that Kabul was. There is nowhere near the destruction in J-bad. Not being the capitol, which warring factions desire to possess, was a boon for Jalalabad. This appears to be a thriving city, full of life and bustle.

This is not my final stop on my road to a new assignment. It’s a temporary stop on my way to somewhere a few hours away. My new team isn’t here yet, but in about a week I should be on my way. I’m looking forward to it. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the present company.

Several individuals are here whom I met during the operations in The Valley up north. Chief Mark Boole, SGM Storey Teller, SGT Teaworthy, and SPC Bisquit came down here shortly after the operations up north entered a more sustainable pace. They are all good guys, and there were a few hugs exchanged when we saw each other again. Their terp, Rif Raf, is a great terp with a good sense of humor. We all shared experiences in operations in The Valley.

I had met LTC Rejo (“Rehoe”) at the leadership conference in November, where he spoke about treating the local nationals with respect by greeting them with local gestures of respect. He had impressed me then as a man who really “got it.” Since I’ve been here, I’ve learned to respect him even more.

He’s going to be my boss a level up for the next few months, and I’m really enjoying my time here because of his knowledge (third tour in Afghanistan) and his deep understanding of the Afghan culture, traditions, and his knowledge of applied counterinsurgency.

Chief Boole and SGM Teller had told me that he was a good guy, but I didn’t really put the face to the name until the end of the day that they all showed up at Dubs to pick me up. When I finally saw him, it all registered. “Oh, yeah… the guy who spoke of the value of being respectful.”

At the leadership conference, LTC Rejo had spoken for a few minutes of how he deals with people when he rides in the turret of the humvee; which is all the time. He waves, shouts greetings to people in Pashtu and occasionally Dari, and bows his head with his hand over his heart, a traditional sign of respectful greeting.

When we treat the man on the street with disrespect, he will go about his business; and when he talks to his family at home or his friends at the bazaar, he will relate the story of how the Americans were ugly to him. This is a society with a deep oral history. Word of mouth carries a lot of weight here.

Look at the literacy rate.

Now, LTC Rejo realizes that being open, friendly, and respectful to the local population does the same thing. LTC Rejo rides high in the turret, where he can have that contact with people. He is also safer that way. The reason is that people here actually enjoy seeing him. They feel as if they know him, at least a little. He is a real human being who shows enough respect to address them cheerfully in their own language, using words that mean, “Hello, how are you? Are you healthy, is everyone okay?”

“A salaam aleikum!” (Peace be with you.)

There is simple tenet of counterinsurgency that states, “The more secure you make yourself, the less secure you are.” This is a good example of how that is true. While others hunker in their turrets, protected by the armor, they are not real to the people. They are space aliens who may be killed indiscriminately without feeling.

LTC Rejo, riding high in the turret, making contact with the people, is safer simply because he is a man. He is a man who is treating the man on the street as a man. These men who he waves at every day come to feel that he is a friend. He has stopped and spoken with many of them.

Many of them have his back.

If someone were to attempt to set LTC Rejo up for an ambush or an IED, someone along that route would do something to thwart it, either by messing up the plan or by tipping the Colonel off. He is safer by being less protected.

In a counterinsurgency, popular opinion is a critical factor. It is a pendulum which is hinged at several points. When that pendulum swings greatly in one direction and becomes lodged there, the fight is over. Popular opinion is won one opinion at a time.

When LTC Rejo speaks, I listen. There is a lot that I can learn from this man. I am very comfortable, having a sense that I am learning from someone who really knows what he is doing.

This is the type of man who should be teaching counterinsurgency. This man belongs, when his time here is done, at Ft Riley. This is the type of man who should be training the people who come here. This officer would not waste people’s time. He would save lives, time, and money.

The students wouldn’t believe him at first, though. It’s counterintuitive; but it’s true.

Of course, there is a lot more to counterinsurgency than riding high in the turret and greeting the local population with words of respect and greeting in their native tongue. The Colonel is well versed in all of that. Influencing and mentoring are not exact sciences, they are inexact arts.

A really good job done in mentoring doesn’t have the symmetrical perfection of a garden spider’s web. It looks more like the web spun by the spider dosed with caffeine or even LSD. But it does form a web which provides a framework for a society launching from the dark ages into the 21st century as if catapulted from the deck of an aircraft carrier. That web can be improved by the next group. This is not an overnight work.

It is the work of a generation.


  1. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 12/19/2007 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the check back often.

  2. "The students wouldn’t believe him at first, though. It’s counterintuitive; but it’s true."

    I've been following a lot of milblogs. There are even at this late date of the Surge in Iraq Soldiers who get that and many that don't. Some unfortunately in senior positions.

    This is the best blog from Afghanistan. Thanks for this.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. i know his demeanor makes him safer, but it's also the right thing to do, regardless. sometimes you can do all the right things for all the right reasons and still get hurt. so be careful. and i'll keep thoughts of all of you being safe.

  5. Great job you are doing, both with the blog, and with the Afghanis.

    Lots of us here stateside keep you guys and gals in our thoughts constantly. As a prior service guy with a kid, I know why you are over there, and appreciate what you are giving up by being there.

  6. I want to thank Anonymous for pointing out a factual historical error that I made in the original posting. I changed the posting to reflect that information and have since removed the comment. Thanks, Anonymous! OB


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