Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Afghan Conundrum

In the last few posts I have reviewed a posting by "Afghanistan Shrugged" and the latest report on the ANP by the International Crisis Group. One notes how a higher commander can derail an honest effort by a subordinate in a dangerous situation, bringing failure to an operation on the verge of success, and the other details the current state of one of the two main pillars of Afghan security; the ANP (and with it the Ministry of Interior.) The second also touches on the Afghan Judiciary; the shadowy realm where criminal prosecution and corruption blend into a tie-dye of injustice that threatens the very viability of the Afghan government.

These are not just my perceptions, but a thread that runs through the actions and decisions of hundreds, if not thousands, of soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan, especially leaders. These soldiers have an underlying sense of frustration that sometimes seethes to the surface. The feeling of struggling against the stream is at times intense. The author of "Afghanistan Shrugged" clearly brings this feeling forward in his post describing the events of a night when he was denied illumination and four Taliban rocketeers escaped to rocket another day.

We're not talking about a JDAM on a village here, folks, we're talking about mortar illumination rounds. The ANA Vampire 06 advises don't have NODS, and it was apparently one of those nights in Afghanistan that was darker than Osama's Soul.

I also reviewed Ghaith Abdul Ahad's article in The Guardian containing interviews with Taliban leaders in Wardak and Khost. A large part of the value of the article lay in these Talibs explaining their insurgency plan. They explained how they use the general inefficiency of and distrust in the ANP to their advantage, as well as the lack of faith with which the people regard the judicial system of the IRoA government. The Talibs explained the simple truth that the field in which they sought to compete with the government... and therefore destabilize it through de-legitimizing it... was in the provision of essential services to the people. One of the major services that they offer is a sure justice system.

These posts tie together to paint a picture of reality in Afghanistan, one that is felt if not completely articulated in the minds of most who serve outside the wire; a couple of sides of the Rubik's Cube that is the current state of affairs in Afghanistan. They also tie in to a story of intrigue that is still unfolding.

At at a FOB in Wardak, a small group of puzzlers whose job it was to move individual blocks around in the Rubik's Cube found themselves ensnared in the Afghan Conundrum. A spy had been identified; a small group of them, actually. They were undoubtedly providing information that was directly used by Qomendan Hemmet in his tactical and probably strategic operations against Afghan and Coalition forces in Wardak. American and Afghan lives were at risk, and the root cause of that risk was identified and in custody. Now the clock started ticking. Afghan law sets a time limit for action to be taken. Local nationals cannot be held indefinitely.

There are two paths to justice in Afghanistan with these types, and one of them is to turn the suspects over to the local judiciary.

Now, with the information provided by several sources, including the International Crisis Group, we have seen that the Afghan Judiciary is most likely to have these guys out and on the run in short order. No justice there; and the individual lives to harm another day. What's a young Company Commander to do? He may seek option number two; the American military-driven option. This interpreter-turned-spy deserved to spend some days at a nice detention center with American guards and daily interrogation, wouldn't you think?

BTW, if you're thinking of going all Abu Ghraib on me, I'll advise you to not even go there. The detainees at the American facility are very bad people who are treated very humanely and are in much nicer accommodations than any Afghan facility would provide. No, the interrogations do not include torture.

This young American officer then appeals to his commander for option number two and is met with... silence. His boss is leaving him out to dry. His distrust (along with the rest of Wardak's population) for the Afghan system complete, he takes action. Now he is facing Article 32 hearings (part of the Military Justice System's path to potential incarceration for crimes) at Khost for his actions.

I do not mean to excuse the men who participated in the interrogations that day in Wardak, but when an American reads an article about this officer and his First Sergeant and the trouble that they find themselves in, they do not see all that is behind it. While this is an extreme example, it is one that many of us who have operated outside the wire could easily imagine. My interpreter in Afghanistan was a stellar young man. Nearly every interpreter I ever met there was. I have also written about how Sam the Combat Terp and his family were threatened on more than one occasion, to the point that he moved his family twice within a few months. The pressure on these young men is intense. I don't know whether the interpreter in question was a plant or if he was pressured via threats or coercion to his life or his family's safety, but finding that your terp is a spy is every soldier's nightmare.

Only having a spy for a terp who is never discovered is a worse scenario.

I bring this situation into this thread of posts to illustrate that the situation in Afghanistan is indeed a Rubik's Cube, and we have a serious need to make a huge difference in reforming not only the ANP but the Afghan Judiciary. We also need to stress that highly trained leaders on the ground need to be trusted when they call for support from the little places in Afghanistan. Here we have two scenarios where the counterinsurgency was foiled by Battalion Commanders who made calls that negated their subordinates' positive actions (one had four rocket-firing insurgents trapped in the open and couldn't see them in the dark, the other had a known spy in custody who he feared... and rightly so... that this spy would go free if left to Afghan civilian justice) because they failed to back those subordinates. There is something intrinsically wrong with both of these scenarios. That young Company Commander and his First Sergeant would not be facing the ends of their careers and possibly incarceration if they had been treated with the respect that they were due. Four insurgent rocketeers would be either dead or in custody and unable to fire more rockets if the officers who asked for mortar illumination rounds had been given the respect that their judgment was due on that night near the Pakistani border.

Their commanders replied with, "I don't trust you to make a sound decision. I know that I will always know better than you what is best for your AO (Area of Operations.)"

I'll wager that if you asked the officers who are at the slimy end of that stick, "We are going to put you out in a very difficult and dangerous position downrange. We do not trust you and when you most sincerely need it we will not support you. Do you accept this mission?" the answer would be, "No. I hereby submit my resignation."

That Company Commander and his First Sergeant found themselves confronted by the nightmare scenario which was immediately followed by being left holding a bucket of steaming excrement. Judging their decisions from that point forward is not my job, but the job of the Article 32 Board. What I do know is that they should never have been left holding that bucket.

Yes, Afghanistan is a Rubik's Cube. Many people have solved Rubik's Cubes at some point in their lives; sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and we are spinning the individual blocks around in a seemingly disjointed and random pattern instead of in a coordinated series of movements that see the whole cube. I, like CPT Hill, 1SG Scott, and Vampire 06, was working at moving one or two of the little blocks that make up the larger cube, and every once in a while the Big Hand reaches in gives the cube a couple of quick twists that undo considerable effort or short-circuit a favorable turn in battlefield fortunes. We in the Army have a polysyllabic yet simple word for this effect, but I'll give you a more generally acceptable and family-friendly word that starts with the same letter; counterproductive.

As the warnings of many experts and pundits ring, our window of opportunity in Afghanistan is growing smaller and smaller. It's time to reconsider... read unscrew... ourselves in how we are approaching this war. A symptom of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Real insanity is the inability or unwillingness to perceive, understand, and abide in the truth. The truth is that what we are doing isn't working. Putting more effort into what isn't working isn't going to work much better. It's like trying to force a nut onto a bolt counterclockwise. Putting more umph into it isn't going to make the bolt thread the other way, but possibly just get the nut stuck in a supremely untightened position.

We are trying to go lefty-tighty. It just doesn't work that way. It doesn't even sound right.

Of course, there are other sides to the cube. "Free Range International" has an incredibly insightful post on some of the rest of the cube in his most recent post. This guy needs to be listened to.

Read that, "People who make big decisions should be paying attention to what this guy is saying."

It's time to figure out the Rubik's Cube, and it's time to do it quickly rather than slowly. Our window is closing, and there are those out there who are trying to close it faster.

I realize that all of the things that I linked to are a lot to read, but if you read all of them, or if you have read all of them, it will really help to paint a picture of what it's like in Afghanistan on a conceptual level on down to some of the dirt-level effects. This isn't the rantings of some FOBBIT about interpersonal relationships on a deployment, so it's a bit dry. There aren't any bullets flying around in these pieces, so it's not a mile-a-minute thriller; but if you want to get a feeling for some of the challenges and how it comes down to men on the ground making difficult decisions and having their very best efforts on behalf of this country sometimes come to naught, it will help with that. It's the stuff that is in the back of their heads when they are deciding where to go that they might get shot at or blown up. It's the stuff that underlies the next words they choose when they mentor their Afghan charges or brief the battlespace owner. It's the stuff that rattles around inside one's skull when trying to figure out just how much to trust an Afghan village elder who could seriously screw them over if he had such an inclination, which he will tell them himself is the farthest thing from his mind. It's the stuff that makes a young Specialist shake his head in disbelief and wonder if it's all worth it. Like a Rubik's Cube, it's all tied firmly together and when you move one piece the rest of it moves, too.

Here's the best part; it's Rubik's Cube by committee, really... but that's a bigger subject.
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Saturday, December 27, 2008

International Crisis Group Report On The ANP

This is the second report from the International Crisis Group that I have read, and comparing it to last year's, there are but a few changes in the overall picture. Some of those changes are due to recommendations that have been implemented (although those changes were not necessarily implemented due to the ICG report.) Numerous articles have been written in the mainstream media concerning the report, each with its own synopsis. Each synopsis seizes upon the conclusion drawn from the report, which is that the ANP are too busy fighting the Taliban to enforce the law and that the major military driver, the United States, views the ANP only as additional combat forces.

The substantive areas of the report are spot-on. The report points out that the ANP are rife with corruption and that public confidence in the professionalism of the ANP is extremely low. These assertions are, from my personal observations, correct. The report also leaves its lane a bit to delve into the Afghan Judiciary, which certainly needs some delving into and is appropriately addressed for its dysfunctional relationship with the ANP. The report points out that there is a battle for corruption that occurs when a suspect is detained, with each of the two branches (Executive and Judiciary) vying for their piece of the bribery pie.

The Judiciary is another subject all its own, but we certainly do not have anything resembling a grip on it and we truly need help from other (successful) Islamic countries with functioning judiciaries. This may provide opportunities for engagement; again, a totally new subject.

The observations of fact about the ANP are correct, and I found myself cheering the report on these issues. However, the shortcoming of the report lies in the commission's complete and total lack of understanding (and rightfully so) of COIN. Why does this make a difference? Because the ANP are a linchpin in the COIN fight. Unfortunately, some senior officers do not see this, but a simple perusal of Galula will show that local authority and governance is necessary in the absence of military forces.

The ANA can only take care of so much battlespace. The insurgent tends to leak away from areas with robust military presences, unless that area is necessary to their survival, such as the border areas and the infiltration routes from Pakistan. In areas where there is no such necessity, the insurgent enemy will tend to vacate areas that are stepped on by the Army, the way that water vacates a puddle when a foot lands in it. As with the puddle, when the foot is removed, the water seeps back in; and so do the insurgents.

The Army cannot be everywhere at once, and so the local guarantors of security are the ANP. By this doctrine, the only doctrine that is relevant, the ANP have a key counterinsurgent role. This role does not absolve the ANP for their responsibility in general criminal law enforcement, but rather falls under it. Galula points out that insurgents need to be criminalized. Criminalization of the insurgent brings several beneficial effects, but in order to criminalize the insurgent, there must be a rule of law to begin with.

In the clear, hold and build strategy of counterinsurgency as practiced in Iraq, for instance, the Police can and should participate in all phases. Participation in the Clearing Phase is actually necessary, as the national law in Afghanistan forbids searching of private residences unless it is done by ANP. ANP must be present, at a minimum. This is something of a nod to our Posse Commitatus, in my opinion, designed to prevent abuses by the Army. While the presence of the Army is not necessarily mandated in the Hold and Building Phases (but may be required due to the local situation,) the ANP begin to take the primary role in providing local security. This includes normal law enforcement activity.

When civilians think of the ANP, they tend to think of civilized countries where the only job of the Police is to enforce civil law. This is not the case in Afghanistan, or in any country where there is an active insurgency. The ANP resemble the law enforcement arms in western countries very little in their tasks and armament. While lightly armed compared to the Army, the ANP are excessively armed by any other measure. ANP carry automatic weapons, belt-fed machine guns, and RPG's, which function more as hip-pocket artillery than as the anti-tank weapons that they are designed to be.

The ANP are more like frontier deputy marshals in our own "wild west" days. They are often running into heavily armed criminals, whether they be insurgents or smugglers. When they make contact or are contacted, they are most often in small groups and usually outgunned. They are also often static, such as at checkpoints. This leads to the much higher death rate as compared to their Army counterparts. Make no mistake, though; they are killed by criminals. Even the Taliban are basically criminals.

Let's put this into US terms. In the United States, if someone were to run about killing policemen, what would we call them? Criminals. If someone were to (as some drug gangs have done) establish themselves as a local governing body and impose their own rule of law, what would we call them? Criminals. If someone were to refuse to obey the lawfully elected government, declare it to be illegal, and attack governmental offices, officers, and institutions, what would we call it here? Criminal. It is no different there. These are criminal acts. What do we do with "insurgents" here? We label them as criminals and we lock them up for a very long time. It doesn't matter to us whether their beef with the government is financial or political in nature here in the United States; here they are all just criminals and are treated as such. Timothy McVeigh thought he was an insurgent. He wasn't. He was just a murderer; a criminal. He was treated as such by the people of the State of Oklahoma. He wasn't captured by the Army, he was captured by law enforcement.

Insurgency is an internal problem, and therefore a criminal problem. The Taliban could each lay down their arms and take part in the process. They could vote. They could run for office. They could participate. What's the difference between any of the Taliban and Tim McVeigh?

There are more of them.

Afghanistan is trying to move on in the post-Taliban era. No longer an authoritarian theocracy, this country has ratified a Constitution and has held successful elections. Now, burdened with the detritus of 30 years of warfare and the lack of any real institutional memory of how to govern, this nation struggles to survive. The ANP are, again, key to the development of a healthy country. Are they treated as such?

Uh, I'll take "No" for a thousand, Alex.

The ANP are the bastard children of the Islamic Republic. Our own Army didn't want the ANP training mission, again preferring the ANA mission; at least it had the word "Army" in it. The organization I belonged to fell under the ARSIC-East. I heard it said at an ETT team leader conference that even though General Cone said that the ANP were the main effort, he didn't agree and the ARSIC-East's main effort would remain with the ANA. If I had disobeyed my commander at that level it would have been my butt, but I suppose that at that level there were gentlemen's agreements or something. The point is that the ANP are and have been lower on the priority list for training and mentoring, though we have seen what all of that can do for the ANA.

Six years ago the ANA were scarcely better than criminals in the eyes of the people. They often did things that the ANP are known for now; shaking down the populace for money, corruption on an incredibly grand scale, nepotism, clannish cronyism, thievery and misdirection of government assets... the ANA were champs of all of that behavior. Now the ANA are widely trusted and looked up to by the population. Their stock in the eyes of the people has risen immeasurably. My ANP were threatened by local village elders during an operation, "We like the ANA. We respect the ANA. When the ANA leave, you are through."


I also saw the ANP Colonel that I was mentoring taking care of law enforcement calls while engaged in a major combat operation. Arrests were made, referrals to prosecutors made. I then witnessed the same erratic behavior from the Provincial law enforcement system that the ICG report details. On the first day of the operation, one of my cohort's team captured the Taliban S-2 (Intelligence Officer) for the Tag Ab Valley. Major find, eh? Yep, what a coup; right up to the point where he got to the provincial prosecutor.

The Provincial Governor (brand spanking new one, too) had him released. By the next day, he was leading 60 Taliban all over the Tag Ab Valley trying to kill us. I cannot express my admiration for the Afghan Judiciary and the current Provincial governance structure. During the same period, I was personally asked to intervene by an Afghan mother. Her son had been declared innocent by the court in Kabul, but she couldn't get the Provincial Government to release him, although she had copies of the decision in her hands.

They wanted a bribe to release him, and she couldn't afford the bribe.

This is why the Taliban, the criminals, are making headway; because it doesn't take much to out-govern such a government. All of these problems are fixable, though. If you had seen the ANA six years ago, you would have thrown in the towel. However, it's going to take a renewed effort, some re-delegation of responsibilities on the part of some of our non-combatant or sub-combatant allies (those countries with national caveats on use of force or employment of armed forces) into roles that don't require combat except in self-defense but can seriously impact governance, and potentially some help that is not currently being sought or used, such as to rework the Afghan Judiciary into something resembling a fair and honest system.

The ICG report hits the nail on the head with its depiction of the institutional flaws of the ANP, but misses the mark with its stress on removing the ANP from the counterinsurgent role. This is an honest mistake, though, made from the viewpoint of an organization that doesn't understand that criminalizing insurgents is part of the only strategy that will secure success in Afghanistan, and the fact that where the Army isn't, the ANP are static and are the government's first line of contact with the people and their rightful guarantors of security, just like they are here in the States. The report's recommendations for reforms and accountability are excellent. Overall, it's a good document and well worth a read.

Parking tickets are a long way off for these folks. Think 1870's in our own West.
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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

News From The ARSIC-South

First things first;

Camp Falcon, the American camp on the British FOB at Lashkar Gah, has been formally renamed Camp Dimond, after CPL Scott Dimond, the ANP mentor who died in the ambush immortalized by Nick Meo in his self-serving article about... let me see... oh, yeah; himself. Well, the warrior whose life was taken in defense of freedom that night has been recognized with the naming of a camp in his honor.

You can read about it and see pictures here. This will keep CPL Dimonds name in the memories of hundreds of soldiers who will work at and pass through that camp and learn where the name came from. His name will be mentioned in histories, books, and perhaps blogs that have yet to be written. His name is forever linked now with our history now being made in Afghanistan. While he paid a great price, honor will be given many times over to his name. It's the best we can do for him now.

This happens more often than you think;

Here we see that three would-be IED bombers were summarily executed by a combination of their own device and latent stupidity. This happens more often than you think. In July of 2007, as we were preparing for Operation Nauroz Jhala (New Year's Hail,) not one but two separate incidents happened in Kapisa Province. In the first, two men emplacing an IED were similarly executed by their own creation as they were trying to put a re-worked artillery shell under a culvert with visions of insurgent glory dancing in their heads.

In the other incident, a bomb-maker blew himself into paradise, which oddly enough looked like hundreds of tiny chunks, while constructing a device in his rented house. These happened within a couple of days of each other near Mahmoud Raqi, the seat of Kapisa Province.

You never heard of these two incidents before, as I'm sure that you won't hear of most of them. Why now? Because that article brought it to mind and also reminded me that we all need a little Christmas joy now and again. The joy lies not in the deaths of human beings; but if there had to be deaths, there is poetry in those deaths being of the ones who had evil in their minds instead of another CPL Dimond. You see, those two IED's that predetonated were likely targeted at my team. So my team and I get another Christmas with our families. This also brings greater empathy for CPL Dimond's sacrifice, and that of his family.

Rest in Peace, CPL Dimond; and may your family find some peace this Christmas season.
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Sunday, December 21, 2008

And The Winner Is... Substance

I differed with Andrew Exum of Abu Mukuwama in my review of Nir Rosen's article in Rolling Stone detailing his "embed" with the Taliban, which turned out to be, I thought, totally lacking in substance. It was more a tale of how his life was in danger as he was shuttled about by "Taliban" underlings. He in no way delved into the subjects that Ghaith Abdul Ahad, an Iraqi journalist who is published in The Guardian this week, plumbed thoroughly. Ghaith Abdul Ahad blows Rosen clean out of the water and shows Rolling Stone up for the pop outlet that it is, rather than a serious source of information.

Ghaith Abdul Ahad has produced an excellent look at some insurgents who have their act together. They know what they are doing. Read the article for a quick course in Insurgency 101. Qomendan Hemmet is the real deal. Qomendan is a spelling of a word in Dari that sounds to me like "Commandan" and means, "Commander" or "Commandant" depending on the usage. It is a title, not a name. Often Afghans in government service will refer to a commander as "Qomendan Sahib" as a way of being respectful of a commander. The Talib Qomendan explains the simplicity of the message that he is carrying and illustrates the difficulties facing the coalition in his area, which is in Wardak Province. Wardak borders Kabul Province to the west and southwest, and has been an area that has become more and more a focus of violence since 2007.

It doesn't matter what the location, though. Hemmet explains to Ghaith Abdul Ahad in relative detail how his insurgency is working and what his aims are. Is he cocky? Sure. You could say that he is cocksure of himself; or of his enemy's inability to block him in the achievement of his goals, which are simple and clear.

"The Americans have installed hundreds of Afghan policemen, they patrol the street all the time, but they can't control it." ~ Qomendan Hemmet

This is the message of the Taliban; it is simple, it is clear, and it is easier to give as an impression than it is to thoroughly disprove as a fact. That, my friends, is IO that is consistent with operations, goals, and capabilities. They mean what they say, they say what they mean, and they do what they say.

There is more consistency with a directly focused insurgency.

Mullah Muhamadi, one of Hemmet's men, arrived later wearing a long leather jacket and a turban bigger than all the others. "This is not just a guerrilla war, and it's not an organised war with fronts," he said. "It's both." He went on to explain the importance the Taliban attached to creating a strong administration in the areas it held: "When we control a province we need to provide service to the people. ~ Ghaith Abdul Ahad, The Guardian

This is echoed by another Talib in Ghazni. Sounds like these guys have read Galula, and whether or not they know it, they are students of Mao. Establish a shadow government and prove their legitimacy by providing service to the people. Outgovern the government. A discussion of whether and how they are achieving this goal is another subject, but there are definitely gaps in the government's legitimacy large enough for shadow organizations, like courts, to provide such services to the people.

"The main two problems we deal with in the Taliban courts are bandits and land disputes," Abdul Halim went on. "When we solve these problems we win the hearts of the people." ~ Maulawi Abdul Halim, quoted by Gaith Abdul Ahad, The Guardian

There was nothing nearly so illuminating in Rosen's piece. We are jaded with "hearts and minds," but the Taliban are living it. Those of us who have seen the shortcomings of the government of the IRoA at ground level know what the weak points are; the failures to govern effectively that have left the door open to the hated Taliban. Between these failures and the failures on the part of NATO and ISAF to effectively mentor the fledgling government to overcome these shortfalls and our failure to live up to our promises as far as reconstruction is concerned leave Afghans willing to consider alternate governance. But the Taliban?

Even the Taliban realize that they have a PR problem, and they address it.

"We went from the jihad to the government and now we are in the jihad again. We have learned from the mistakes we committed. Lots of our leaders have experience in the jihad and in the government. The leaders are the same leaders but the fighters are new and they don't want to be like those who ruled and committed mistakes." ~ Abdul Halim, quoted by Ghaith Abdul Ahad, The Guardian

These guys are not idiots. They know an opportunity to present their case when they see it. Sure, Ghaith Abdul Ahad and The Guardian provided them an outlet. I'm not slamming them for that at all. On the contrary, all of the stuff that I and others have been saying about insurgents, insurgency, counterinsurgency and the state of things in Afghanistan are being confirmed here from the other side. Yes, the Taliban got to paint their picture, but this article is valuable in shedding some light on the fact that these guys are no slackers, nor are they mysterious unbeatable Taliban. They are still Taliban.

These Taliban are also telling us how to beat them. It's all there; and it sounds a lot like what veterans of the campaign have been saying. No deep imponderables... except how to master ourselves.

Nir Rosen's bit in Rolling Stone had all the depth of a small soap dish. In fact, his inability to correctly identify the NATO member country whose armored vehicles roared past his position on Highway 1 was only one indication of the overall weakness of his portrayal of the situation and the insurgents. It was a story of personal intrigue, not an article of substance about the insurgents or insurgency. Ghaith Abdul Ahad did an actual work of journalism, and the difference between two articles that are so similar in intent is a world in breadth.

Two similarly themed articles; one in a newspaper, one in a flashy pop magazine, and the winner is the one with substance.

Rolling Stone really stepped on it. They should have hired Ghaith Abdul Ahad.
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Thursday, December 18, 2008

The More Things Change...

The More Things Change...

Witness this post on Afghanistan Shrugged, the best (IMO) soldier milblog in Afghanistan right now. Longwarrior would be right up there, too, but he's been unable or uninspired to post. Longwarrior's latest bespeaks the disillusionment that sets in upon exposure to the Afghan reality; the stuff they don't teach you at Ft Riley.

In any case, Vampire06 is doing a fabulous job of conveying the feeling of doing your best with some pretty workable Afghans all while having your hands tied behind your back by both your chain and the parallel ISAF chain. His frustration is evident, and I empathize completely. Working with the Afghans gave a real sense of satisfaction, while the American chain offered so much frustration and contradiction.

It's not like the Afghans don't offer their own frustrations. Corruption, favoritism, nepotism, clannish parochialism; they abound. But you expect that you will have these challenges from the Afghans. You don't expect that you are going to be given advice by Camp Phoenix with such ridiculousness as "don't drink the chai, don't eat the food." You don't expect your higher headquarters to tell you how to insult your charges and set yourself up for failure.

Or deny you illumination from your own 60mm mortars so that you can see the bad guys that you are almost on top of. Vampire06 has one of those "Oh, what the hell?" moments and describes his evening in detail.

Vampire06 is not the first one to experience this type of thing. He apparently, sadly, won't be the last. We have a tremendous ability to gather information. How cool is it that the TOC 100 miles away could see this situation unfolding on the ground? It's really really cool; except when the ability to gather information outstrips our ability to trust our subordinates and simply provide them the information that would help them instead of shackling them while they have bad guys in their sights.

Same old stuff. Keep in mind that Vampire06 isn't the lone ranger. He's not the only one out there that this type of thing is happening to. He's just the one writing about it. It happens much more often than that.

Keep it up, Vampire06. You're doing a great job. Sounds like you've arrived with your Afghans, which is the coolest thing. That trust and ability to influence is the best thing. No matter what else, you are doing what you are there to do. Try to let the rest of it slide and keep trying. Hope your comms always work. Funny how fragile those radios can be. Sometimes they sound just like someone is crumpling cellophane (like from a cigarette pack) up in front of the mike. Hope that never happens to yours.

No Flag For Sparky

Chromed Curses has brought it to the fore that there is a fireman who has been told to remove the American flag from his helmet. Goes against department policy to show pride in your country, it seems.

Fire Chief Mark Roche's email address is: . Just sayin'...

New FM 7-0 Discussion at Blackfive

BG Abe Abrams has put up a guest post over at Blackfive and an opportunity to discuss the new FM 7-0 Training For Full Spectrum Operations. This is the companion piece to the recently released directive ordering that the Army will become proficient at IW, and is a significant change in the Army's doctrine.

Readers are encouraged to post comments which BG Abrams has been responding to. This is an unusual opportunity to "discuss" the new manual with one of the proponents. Blackfive even has a link provided to download the new manual. You can also find downloadable FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency and FM 3-0 Operations at the same site.

Stick a fork in...

Loopy Libertarian also points out this bit of unbelievable outrageousness. Sallie Mae, it seems, is the absolute epitome of corporate philanthropy. Unless you are a recently deceased Marine, that is.

2LT McVey's Congressman is Rep Edward Markey, by the way. Just sayin'.

Now for the good news...

Go see the new FabLab computer lab in Jalalabad. Wonderful wonderful stuff. Someone needs corporate sponsors or something.

One last thing...

I got an email from a reader who is coordinating Afghan exchange students for the coming year. Due to an unannounced project, I will probably not be in the position to take a young Afghan into my home, but out there, somewhere in the blogosphere, someone who reads this must have thought to themselves, "I'd like to do something to help Afghanistan succeed, but I can't go and fight."

Well, here's your chance. When I was a junior high school student, my mother got us into Laubach Literacy, whose motto is "each one, teach one." This is kind of like that. I know that I didn't win the campaign in Afghanistan all by my lonesome. It's still going on, and I could only do a little. Someone who is reading this can make just a little bit of difference by bringing an intelligent young English-speaking Afghan into their home and making their own bond with Afghanistan without having to subject themselves to the predations of the Taliban.

"What an opportunity! How do I sign up?" you ask.

Send me an email at afghanoldblue[at] and I will facilitate contact with the coordinator. It's actions that we take, not words or happy thoughts, that make a difference in this world. Consider taking an action. Personally, I know that it's little actions on a distributed level that make success in Afghanistan possible. You can be a significant contributor by sharing your hospitality with one student. That's pretty cool.
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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Why Some Don't Get The Insult

The whole Onion thing came up and came to an end really quickly, which is wonderful. The CEO of The Onion wrote a note to Uncle Jimbo over at Blackfive explaining that wounded warriors weren't the object of the satire, and acknowledging our feeling that they missed the mark. Again, I congratulate them on taking our word for it and removing the video.

Allahpundit apparently didn't get it, either. I don't know what Allahpundit's military background is, if any. I am inclined to believe that he is a well-meaning civilian with no military background. He felt that the video skit was lampooning the Pentagon and the Generals. I and my brothers and sisters don't see it that way.

It would have pissed me off either way, because either way it is based on something that I find offensive. When viewed through my eyes, the video was lampooning the desire that the wounded have to get back to their units and be part of the team that they were on. When viewed through Allahpundit's eyes (and those of some of his commenters, or even one commenter on this post over at Bouhammer,) then it is about lampooning the Pentagon for taking advantage of our poor, helpless wounded by sending them back to combat.

Therein lies the rub. This post isn't about The Onion. It's about that attitude.

What attitude?

The attitude that we are in some way victims. Warriors are not victims. We resent being depicted as victims of the enemy or of the Pentagon or of the administration. We are volunteers, we are professionals, and we are committed to our nation and our Constitution, but especially to our team members in our units. We are not victimized by being sent to war, and if we are wounded we are not injured victims but wounded warriors.

There is a difference, and it is huge.

Earlier this year I wrote on a couple of occasions regarding a series of articles in The New York Times that portrayed returning veterans as hapless, perhaps dangerous, victims of this war. The first (that I was aware of) came out while I still had several months on my tour in Afghanistan. I was incensed, and I wrote about it. The basic violation of my values (and it turns out a few others) was this belief that somehow we are victims. Movies like "Stop Loss" only add to this depiction of soldiers as pawns in a larger game that wantonly wastes the lives of its unwilling victims (us) like some massive meat grinder. Personally, while I understand the disappointment of a soldier whose term of service is involuntarily extended, we all take that risk as well. It says in the paperwork when we enlist that we can can be extended for the duration of the war plus six months. At least we are not subjected to that.

This is going to be a long war.

Now, there are those who have whined over stop loss. There are those who have deserted during this war. There are those who have refused to go, and there are those who have refused to go back. There are those who have come back and joined "Iraq Veterans Against the War." One of the founders of the IVAW wrote a book entitled, The War I Always Wanted." complaining that he wanted to fight in a different war, that this one didn't suit him. With 1800 IVAW members out of hundreds of thousands that have served in both campaigns, I'd say that our whine factor is pretty low.

So yes, there are whiners and sheep who choose to be victims; but 99.9% of us are not. Some of us had to go to extraordinary lengths to go and serve in the GWOT. Some were called. Some have had rougher circumstances than others. Some had "easy" tours, and some not so much. You can't pick where you serve, usually. In Afghanistan it was luck of the draw. There are guys who itched for a fight who never got one and some who got one (and more) and would have forgone any of them given a choice. But they know exactly why they didn't have a choice, and no one that I know would have forgone those fights if it meant that the rest of their team still had to have them.

There are people who don't understand how a human being can consciously make the decision to go and serve without compulsion. There are those (and you can find their comments at the links above) who don't understand the difference between sacrifice and being sacrificed. There have been tremendous sacrifices made during this war. Over 700,000 man-years have been sacrificed. Limbs and minds have been sacrificed. Lives have been sacrificed; all risked by their owners as adult citizens. You see, there is no honor in being sacrificed; but there is tremendous honor in sacrificing. A lamb who is slaughtered is just a dumb animal whose life is taken for whatever purpose; there is no honor in that. A soldier's sacrifice is a risk willingly taken or a year (or more) given through choices made, and there is honor in that.

When we wear a uniform outside of the battlefield, part of what it symbolizes is that risk of loss; that our years, our time with our families, our limbs, our minds and our lives are on the altar of freedom (because I'm not too cynical to use that phrase,) not that they are willingly forfeit but that they are willingly and knowingly risked. The combat patches and badges are symbols of sacrifices that have been made. The Purple Heart is the highest symbol of sacrifice made. That risk is the very root of the honor of wearing a uniform and that sacrifice made is the root of the honor of any of the accouterments.

So, to those who would steal our honor through their inability to understand those fundamental differences, who fail to grasp that those years, limbs, minds and lives that were made sacrifice or risked by their owners by way of willing choice, I say, "Listen. You may not understand it, but please accept it, and please stop robbing us of our honor by acting as if we are sheep unwittingly led to the slaughter. Stop soiling our uniform with your failure to accept this. Just listen."
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Sunday, December 14, 2008


It doesn't matter why, but The Onion has removed the offending video skit about wounded combat veterans. I congratulate them on showing some mercy. This deserves the widest possible dissemination; because many have been upset with The Onion and have written a storm of emails to both them and their advertisers. I, for one, asked for people to consider doing that. Several other milbloggers did the same. Soldiers' Angels bloggers were pretty upset about it, too. Some of us called for boycotts of the advertisers. I know that I did.

Vampire 06 over at Afghanistan Shrugged wrote and said that he and his entire team were boycotting Sonic and Burger King, which will surely doom the new Burger King franchise set to open at FOB Bermel.

Burger King actually does have have locations on the larger FOBs in Afghanistan. There is no evidence that Burger King tried to influence The Onion in any way during this episode. A reader from Sonic's office did visit this blog, so I know that they noticed. It is unclear if they influenced The Onion's decision in any way.

Apparently, at least one of the advertisers chipped in and took action. It appears that Anita Lavine at Screenlife Games let The Onion know that she and her company disagreed with the attempt at humor which missed the mark so widely. A visit to The Onion indicates that Screenlife Games are no longer advertised there.

I would like to express my appreciation to Anita Lavine and to everyone who wrote to The Onion and/or its advertisers. By bringing attention to this matter, I'm sure that everyone who took some action had an impact on their decision to remove the offending video from their pages and from YouTube as well.

If you try to access the video from the embed on this page, it will work, which means that it still resides on their server, but they have severed the links on their pages as well as removing it from their playlist. That's good enough, I think.

When someone crosses the line with an attempt at humor in our family or circle of friends, we correct them and move on. Some called for an apology. While it would be the ultimate in class, I don't think that it's necessary. Removing the video at least took us back to status quo ante. There is no need to further attempt to influence the people at The Onion or encourage their advertisers to influence them for us.

We can certainly remember those who were good corporate citizens, though. The real winner in all of this appears to be Screenlife Games, who showed a lot of class by standing up to one of their advertising outlets. Really, that's how we pay for all of this "free" media. We buy products, and the producers of those products buy advertising. Wonderful.

While we can never be sure if The Onion had a sudden attack of conscience and good taste regarding the treatment of severely wounded warriors, I think that we all know in our hearts that something happened here that once again demonstrated that a group of people who share a common idea can have influence from time to time.

Make up your own mind, but my boycott of the advertisers, having no further purpose at this point in time, has ended. While I have no reason to be seriously impressed by the corporate citizenship of either Sonic or Burger King, I have a new found respect for Screenlife Games.

Thanks for listening to us, Onion. Hey, we know that satire is your business, but you did the right thing by taking it down. Good job setting it straight.

Anita, if you ever read this, thank you very much. You have demonstrated good corporate citizenship and what it can accomplish.

To anyone who read this blog and took some action, thank you so very much. Action speaks.

I am humbled by the voices of the Angels who rallied to stand up for those for whom they care so much. They fight hard. Many of their local chapters have blogs. Take a look at the Angels in your area and see what they're up to. Each action sends a ripple across the pond.
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Friday, December 12, 2008

Voice Of The Angels

Soldiers' Angels are truly angels. I knew nothing about them until I got to Afghanistan, and many of the guys registered with them and began receiving care packages. They do a lot more than care packages, though. There are a group of them in Landstuhl, Germany, the first stop on the way home for severely wounded warriors like the ones The Onion made sport of.

Today they posted this video from MSNBC, which makes a pretty good video response to The Onion's ill-conceived skit. Our team worked briefly with one of the ODA's from 3rd Group in the Tag Ab. This is a different ODA, but we had a really good experience with 3rd Group.

Please go and visit Soldiers' Angels and Soldiers' Angels Germany and become familiar with what these angels do. Read their post on this matter.

I would like to point out that seeing what they see as they serve their country in this way is very brave, too. Working with the severely wounded, especially when it's not your paying job, is very brave. What they see is heartbreaking, but they keep doing it. They exemplify what is good and right with our nation.

Every time a bell rings...
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Sacrosanct (Updated)

Some things are sacrosanct. Period. When someone in our family or our circle of friends crosses that line, they are chastised. When someone crosses that line who is outside of our circle of friends, we take action as well. Recently we (meaning those who read this blog and are willing to send an email) chastised Nick Meo and The Telegraph for his asinine portrayal of a small American team that he was embedded with in Afghanistan and the attack which cost CPL Dimond his life.

That had an effect.

I don't relish the idea of attacking those who cross the line; but sometimes something comes up which is just beyond the pale. I have held no grudge against The Onion, and have been amused by their satire in the past; but now there's this:

In The Know: How Can We Make The Iraq War More Handicap Accessible?

Last night I watched the UFC raise money for The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund to build a new National Center for Excellence to concentrate on treating soldiers affected by TBI (Traumatic Brain Injuries.) Numerous soldiers and Marines were shown in vignettes that showed the affects that their injuries have had on their lives. Also shown were a couple of UFC fighters who went to an Army medical facility talking and even wrestling with wounded warriors who had lost limbs or were severely burned in combat. Good stuff.

Today, I get an email from Mrs Greyhawk over at Mudville Gazette with a heads-up about this video. I was appalled. I am appalled. As I did when I read the Meo story, I feel compelled to act. I feel compelled to use my voice.

I'm hoping you will, too.

Each one of us who wears the uniform and who goes downrange knowingly risks being put in that physical therapy room, learning to recover from grievous injuries. Each of us know that this risk affects not only us but everyone in our family. Sons who may never get to throw a baseball with us again, daughters who may never dance with us at their wedding, wives or significant others who will be forced to deal with a maimed husband or find that they can't.

None of us offer our limbs, lives, or mental faculties as a willing sacrifice. We don't go to war intending to be maimed. We all put our chits in the hat, and some are called on it. At a higher level, you can call it the price of freedom. It looks great on a website with an eagle and a flag and a really nice font. That is patriotic and clean; but these guys live every day in a world changed in an instant to one of pain and challenge and loss.

It's the ugly, gritty place where the pretty graphics and nice fonts roost.

One of the biggest things that they lose is their place in the brotherhood that they were a part of. Each of us gets a taste of that when he comes home for his mid-tour leave and the rest of the unit soldiers on with the mission. That's just a tiny taste, like the faint taste of cherry chapstick left on my lips when my daughter kissed me goodbye as I left for Afghanistan. These wounded warriors don't just taste it; they live it from the time they awaken each day to the time they go to sleep. They cannot rejoin their units, their band of brothers; for many, ever.

The commitment to serve, as well as the bond and feeling of responsibility to that band of brothers is something that cannot be explained easily. What I can tell you is that it is a powerful thing; so powerful, in fact, that many who have physically given a part of themselves sometimes do find a way back to the fold. This path was pioneered by people like GEN Tommy Franks and SFC Dana Bowman. Men like these showed the way for severely wounded warriors who want to continue the fight to make their way back to active duty to serve again with their brothers; sometimes in combat.

Again; for many, there is no way back to their brothers. Their service, their career, their place in formation, their place in the turret; gone forever though they live and the spirit is willing. But most of them would gladly take a road that was shown to them to find their way back. All would rather not have lost their limbs, their appearance, or their mental abilities.

For a soldier's humor, there are few things that are off the table. We often laugh at things that would appall even the editorial staff at The Onion. We tease each other seemingly without mercy, in the way that brothers often do. The Army teases the Marines, the Air Force, the Navy; we are equal opportunity abusers, and we get the same in return. There is one caveat; you must belong to that club. I'm sure that those men in the wards tease each other, but they belong to that club that none of us wants to pay the price of admission to.

The Onion is not in that club; nor are their advertisers.

I have written on this blog before to raise awareness (and funds) for The Wounded Warrior Project, Fisher House (congratulations, Dana Anello White, for reaching your goal and completing yet another marathon,) and Project Valour IT. Valour IT provides laptops to wounded warriors so that they can, among other things, pass some time amidst their painful recovery surfing the net. If you think that these wounded heroes, who are in significant emotional pain, won't see this, you are delusional.

That pisses me off. It's just not #(^$@!*& funny. Here are a bunch of clowns making fun of what for many if not most of these guys is one of their deepest desires; the return to normal and to serve with their brothers downrange again. For most of them, this is now completely out of reach. That's not funny at all. These guys went and served and gave nearly all, and now you're going to make fun of them?


So, what's a person to do? Well, this soldier is going to send emails. This soldier is going to send emails to The Onion's editorial staff and to as many advertisers as I can, as well as the people at Sonic.

One of the actors in the skit, Brian Huskey, is on the Sonic commercials.

I'm not going to eat at Sonic until this video is removed from The Onion's website. I'm not going to buy from Foster's Lager, Screenlife LLC (makers of DVD games like "Scene It?") and Burger King, who I've seen advertised on the Onion, until they remove the offending skit.

Looks like I'm running short on fast food. Well, it's a small sacrifice for the guys who are learning to walk on new legs. They sacrificed more.

So, here's the information I've gathered to date:

The Onion editorial email:

Advertising at The Onion:

Director of PR for Screen life, LLC:

Sonic Director of External Communications:

Sonic regional contact information can be found at:

If you are as offended as I am and wish to stand up for our wounded warriors, please send an email to The Onion's editorial staff and at least one of the advertisers listed. Let them know that you are offended by the skit and will not buy from the advertisers until the skit is removed. This is how we chastise those whose sense of humor has gotten out of bounds. This is how we let those who have no filters know that we won't tolerate this poor excuse for humor.

It's more than unfunny. It's hurtful to those who have given a part of themselves so that those guys can enjoy freedom of speech; people who hurt every day anyway. Let them know that adding insult to wounds is intolerable.

Some things are sacrosanct.

Here are a list of other bloggers who are on this:
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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Taliban Eggs

Our SECFOR guys from South Carolina were not only the cream of that proud state, but they were funnier than hell to boot. Their original explanations for Afghan phenomena were imaginative and often hilarious.

Many areas of Afghanistan are boulder-strewn. In one place on the J-bad Highway where the passes open up into a mountain-bordered plain, it actually looked like they were boulder farming.

Thousands of large round boulders looked like they had been purposely arranged in rows. I chuckled to myself from the turret of the humvee as we rolled along and I saw these fields of boulders. We would encounter areas in many areas of the country where the fields of boulders were just mind-boggling. Like a carton of bb's scattered on a living room carpet, the thousands of boulders had been there for eons.

SGT Burt Schtickum, (who is still recovering from a torn aorta and resultant valve replacement that he narrowly but miraculously survived,) decided that the fields of large round rocks were, in fact, Taliban eggs. Taliban, SGT Schtickum reasoned, were hatched from these eggs cleverly disguised as rocks in much the same way that killdeer eggs look like pebbles.

These eggs, he maintains, have lain dormant for generations, Godzilla-like; and are activated to spawn by contact with diesel exhaust. Fiendish. As we patrolled, this sage of Afghan naturalism explained, we stirred our own foes with the exhaust plumes belched from our humvees.

It's hard to argue with the sheer Darwinian logic SGT Schtickum applied to the constant supply of Taliban we were presented with.

Here is one of our drives through fields of Taliban eggs. We were on a back road in Kapisa Province when we were suddenly surrounded by scads of them. As you can tell from the quantity of unspawned Taliban, we're in deep over there.

Some day someone will recognize SGT Schtickum's work in this dusty realm where science meets insurgency. The odor of Nobel mixed with diesel exhaust wafts through the air. That will be a proud day.

Keep on keepin' on, Burt. Hope you're 100% soon.

It was my turn to drive. Jacques Pulvier was up in the turret. When we got to the next village and dismounted, he looked like a frosted doughnut. Frosted Jacques; it's a good look for him.
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Friday, December 5, 2008

Hitting The Nail

Tim Lynch (Babatim) is the author of Free Range International, a retired Marine officer, and a long-time expatriot in Afghanistan. I think he's been there about four years now. Tim has been all over Afghanistan, and has seen the efforts of both governmental and non-governmental (NGO) agencies firsthand. He is partner in a small business which provides security services for NGO's and others in getting around Afghanistan. In addition, Tim operates a compound for expatriots in Jalalabad which offers a safe place for foreigners to stay while working or visiting in-country.

He also, obviously, has a blog. A very good blog.

Tim's sense of reality is expanded by the fact that he operates outside the wire and has close contact with Afghans in many different settings. Not being a current member of the military, he is unconstrained by regulation, chain of command, or military decorum. He can tell it like he sees it without limitation, and he does. His latest post hits the nail on the head with one of the thorns in our collective side in Afghanistan; reconstruction and economic development.

His candor, openness and obvious respect and affection for the people of Afghanistan bring an honest assessment untainted by any underlying agenda other than to see the effort to stabilize and improve Afghanistan succeed. His observations are accurate and crucial to our success there.

Tim's latest explores the limitations that the State Department and others involved in reconstruction and development efforts have placed on themselves in providing effective redevelopment efforts; in Afghanistan, a key to the success (or a contributing factor to the failure) of the counterinsurgency. We have also placed limitations on anyone who would want to go and provide leadership and assistance on an economic level in the development of the Afghan economy. The State Department discourages such activity and will leave a civilian to their own devices if they are molested by Afghan authorities (which does happen, as Tim attests.)

So the only real avenue for reconstruction and development of Afghan infrastructure and the economy lie in governmental organizations such as the State Department and the Army. Unfortunately, these efforts are failing in many cases. Tim discusses why that is. Until some changes are made, this bodes extremely ill for the success of the counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan.

The task in Afghanistan is the same as in Iraq, but the situation is very different. The basic objectives are the same. First, secure the population so that they are not living under the sway of terror and insecurity. This is the key to the rest of it doing what it is supposed to do. Then you must provide good governance (not just governance,) reconstruction (or initial construction) of infrastructure, and assist with economic redevelopment (Iraq) or development (Afghanistan.) All the while you must maintain a dialogue with the people so that they understand what the goals and objectives are and can have a place in a developing democracy/republic.

Sounds simple, doesn't it? It's as difficult as making a sculpture out of mercury. Each area is different, and the basic recipe for success must be completely tailored for each individual area, down to the village and valley level.

Tim's post touches on all of the above, but not theoretically. He speaks from experience and observation about the reality of success and failure on the ground in Afghanistan. He points out directly that you cannot sit in FOB's and compounds and by your mere presence provide security and development.

This post is just such important feedback from a guy in country viewing our governmental efforts with a critical and experienced eye. If you haven't been reading his blog, I would recommend it. Tim also has a tendency to put up some really great pictures.

Scout the Counterinsurgent Patrol Dog, Afghan canine patriot, during combat operations in the Ghayn Valley, August 10th, 2007. She accompanied us on long foot patrols, guarded our Vehicle Patrol Base, and followed our mounted patrols all over the northern half of the Tag Ab Valley. She was even nominally accepted by the Afghan forces we worked with (which says a lot for a dog,) Died September 2007; assassinated at night by 7th SF Group sniper on Firebase Morales-Frazier, Nijrab District, Kapisa Province, Afghanistan after loyally following us into the firebase during Operation Nauroz Jhala.
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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Information Overload And Memory

These days the data stream is so fat that some basic information becomes lost in the rapidly flowing stream. We all get a general impression of things as we flow through the world, surfing on this swollen and fast-flowing data stream.

This rapid information flow sometimes makes us forget information that was there all along. Recently, a question was posed about the Taliban; are they a terrorist organization or an insurgent organization?

I've even seen, in American blogs and comment boards, the Taliban referred to as "freedom fighters." We've got issues here in the States with people who identify with our enemies and even sympathize with them. While these people are in the minority, it appears that this minority is growing. Part of this phenomena is, in my opinion, attributable to this inability to retain some very basic information and the tendency to distort information presented over time to the point that it is irreconcilable with reality.

There is a loss of focus so profound that the basics of what we are doing in Afghanistan are being lost by the American public and, certainly, the press. We are involved in a struggle which, no matter how we define it, is clearly defined in the eyes of our enemies. We have even begun to examine our own navel lint to the point that we forget what is driving this whole thing.

We are simply not playing the same game. We are playing a game of nation-building; even beginning to predicate our support for the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on whether or not they deserve the fruits of our blood and treasure. We have forgotten that our national security depends upon the freedom and security of people in little valleys in the world's most backward country. In the final analysis, it's not about them; it's about us, and we depend on them.

Seven years into our involvement in Afghanistan, we and NATO are still not quite getting it right, and we Americans are losing our sense of mission, and our sense of the threat to our way of life. We are forgetting, as a society, why we are there to begin with. We are forgetting to the point that when some nimrod suggests that we are out of line for interfering in Afghanistan's internal struggle, he is not overwhelmingly shouted down by those with a sense of reality. Even those with a sense of purpose are beginning to become unsure.

When the average citizen engages in debates as to the rightness of our efforts, he or she is often without the data to effectively argue. It has been lost in the data stream. Sometimes a fairly clear picture can be muddied by the sheer amount of crap flowing around it.

Now check this out, from the Summer of 2001. Julie Sirrs wrote about the Taliban's international ambitions in the Middle East Quarterly, noting that a fair number of foreigners were serving with the Taliban in their fight against the Northern Alliance, and their reasons for doing so.

It goes without saying, but I will point out that this was pre-9/11. I will also point out that when you look at the capture dates of some of these individuals, they are in the mid to late 90's. Foreigners fighting for the Taliban is not a new phenomena. Why would they fight on one side of a civil war; an Afghan vs Afghan affair amongst fellow Muslims?

Sirrs noted that the Northern Alliance (called the United Front in her article) established Sharia-based law where they were in control, and in interviews with foreign fighters who had been captured while serving with the Taliban attempted to ascertain the reason why these non-Afghans were flocking to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban against other Afghans.

Indeed, the Taliban's campaigns at times have had overtones of ethnic cleansing, targeting either non-Pushtun ethnic groups or Afghanistan's Shi‘a minority, in particular in a series of well-documented massacres in Mazar-e Sharif in 1998, in the Shamali region in 1999, around Taloqan in 2000, and in Bamiyan early in 2001. Yet the movement's main goal is the establishment of a radical Islamic state, one that provides safe haven for anti-U.S. terrorists from all over the world. This safe haven accounts for the foreign extremists' aid to the Taliban. The militants realize that the United Front represents the only viable threat to their security inside Afghanistan, (periodic ineffectual U.S. cruise missile strikes aside).

There is another interesting passage, suggesting that the Taliban actually had a radicalizing influence on Osama bin Ladin:

Yet it is certain that bin Ladin himself has become increasingly radicalized while with the Taliban. He issued his most notorious anti-American fatwa (decree) in 1998, calling on his followers to kill any American—civilian or military, adults or children—anywhere in the world. Also in 1998, it became known through an intercept of bin Ladin's satellite telephone calls, that he was linked to the embassy bombings in East Africa. The Taliban responded that they had taken away his communications equipment.

The popular perception in the United States today is that we took action against the Taliban because they wouldn't hand over bin Ladin. What a kick in the head that someone (just prior to 9/11) analyzed his behavior and actually proposed that bin Ladin had actually become more radical due to his associations with the Taliban instead of the other way around. This analysis was untainted by the events of 9/11; while bin Ladin was certainly not unheard of at this point in the United States, he was not who he would come to be in our minds; the be all and end all of the Global War on Terror.

There is a considerable amount of information in Sirrs' article about the various nationalities and party affiliations of the foreign fighters who were with the Taliban pre-9/11. It is of note that she interviewed two Chinese Uighurs, whose jihadist goal is the overthrow of the Chinese government and the establishment of an Islamic Emirate in China.

Good luck with that, guys.

The largest single constituency in the list of parties was the Harakat group, who are now linked to the Mumbai attacks. This is from the Asia Times yesterday:

The network of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, which was a major supporter of the ISI in the whole region, especially in Bangladesh, was shattered and fell into the hands of al-Qaeda when Maulana Ilyas Kashmiri, chief of Harkat, a hero of the armed struggle in Kashmir who had spent two years in an Indian jail, was arrested by Pakistani security forces in January 2004. He was suspected of having links to suicide bombers who rammed their vehicles into then-president General Pervez Musharraf's convoy on December 25, 2003.

He was released after 30 days and cleared of all suspicion, but he was profoundly affected by the experience and abandoned his struggle for Kashmir's independence and moved to the North Waziristan tribal area with his family. His switch from the Kashmiri struggle to the Afghan resistance was an authentic religious instruction to those in the camps in Kashmir to move to support Afghanistan's armed struggle against foreign forces. Hundreds of Pakistani jihadis established a small training camp in the area.

Almost simultaneously, Harkat's Bangladesh network disconnected itself from the ISI and moved closer to al-Qaeda.

Wait, that doesn't clearly link the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET), who are credited with the attacks, with Harakat. We can solve that:

Meanwhile, a major reshuffle in the ISI two months ago officially shelved this low-key plan as the country's whole focus had shifted towards Pakistan's tribal areas. The director of the external wing was also changed, placing the "game" in the hands of a low-level ISI forward section head (a major) and the LET's commander-in-chief, Zakiur Rahman.

Zakiur was in Karachi for two months to personally oversee the plan. However, the militant networks in India and Bangladesh comprising the Harkat, which were now in al-Qaeda's hands, tailored some changes. Instead of Kashmir, they planned to attack Mumbai, using their existent local networks, with Westerners and the Jewish community center as targets.

So the same radical group that was recruiting and sending foreign fighters to fight with the Taliban well before we ever showed up in Afghanistan may be intimately involved in the attacks in Mumbai. It's a small war after all, isn't it?

It's funny how things pre-9/11 have become slanted and lost in the shuffle of the past seven years. It turns out that there are some people just as committed to and active in global-thinking radical Islamic groups as Osama bin Ladin. Since we haven't heard from Osama in quite some time and the latest few rants have come from Ayman al-Zawahiri, it could be that Osama is taking a dirt nap in some tiny valley in Waziristan; yet the "jihad" goes on without him.

There is a morality play in this whole thing about breeding and feeding dangerous animals and training them to attack others; sometimes the animals have their own agendas that they eventually turn on us. Pakistan is up to their armpits in trouble from the Taliban and al-Qaeda, even though they assisted in strengthening both of them. We are complicit in the breeding of bin Ladin. All of that is blame game stuff. First, we have a problem to solve, and it appears that many are too involved in either the blame game or in denying that this whole mess is really tied together and really demonstrates an ongoing threat to our national security.

What we are finding is a bubble of hard-core, committed radical Islamists who are like one of those gel toys that squirt between your fingers when you squeeze them. We have squeezed them out of Afghanistan into the lawless FATA in Pakistan. Sure, they haven't given up on Afghanistan, but they also haven't given up on their global vision, and the bubble hasn't burst. It has maintained its integrity even while being squeezed.

I was sent a link to some disturbing things going on here in the States that we are turning a blind eye to as well; but that's a bigger subject, too.

If we become seduced by the idea that we can afford to lose Afghanistan, then we will find that we will have strengthened radical elements beyond our worst imaginings; witness Mumbai. See what ten terrorists with some training and a few insiders to show them the town and pre-position some stocks can do to an entire city?

Now, think that can't happen here? Ten guys, folks; it's not that hard to do. We can't even keep track of thousands and thousands of illegal immigrants in our wide-open society. Our own organized and semi-organized criminals here in the States can get the weaponry that these guys would need. Do you really think that there aren't enough moles here in the States to show them around and help them? I'm not saying that there will be a Mumbai-style operation here in the States. What I'm saying is that if we start to lull ourselves into a false sense of security and then, because Afghanistan is a Rubik's Cube, decide that it's too hard and the Afghans are undeserving of our blood and treasure and just walk away, we are behaving just like we have with the housing and credit issues.

We will be mortgaging the lives of our sons and daughters and grandchildren to deal with this down the road, because I'm here to tell you that it's not going away. We will be suffering from the delusion that is already creeping into our society and beginning to find expression in the media that perhaps the Afghans are undeserving. We are starting to see the excuses already being made; "Well, the Afghans have never been conquered. The British failed. The Soviets failed. What makes us think we can win?"

First, we are not there to conquer; we are there to protect ourselves by helping the Afghans stabilized their own country. We have to keep that in mind. This is about our own security and our way of life; the counter intuitive part is that our security depends, in larger measure than we understand, upon Afghan stability. Getting dragged into legitimizing the idea that we should even consider whether the Afghans are deserving of our best efforts is to stray into Michael Moore-style delusions.

Way too many people (and elected officials) seem to think that this is all a punitive expedition centered upon bin Ladin instead of a long war against a committed and increasingly sophisticated enemy whose ultimate goal is a Global Islamic Emirate. At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy-theory nutcase, it's got to be pointed out that our very way of life has not faced a threat on this level. What is the likelihood of actually having a North American Islamic Emirate? Perhaps not much, but if we wind up living in a police state in order to provide for our domestic tranquility, isn't that a loss of our way of life just as surely as being beaten to our knees to face Mecca five times a day whether we like it or not?

Just so you know, there are "moderate Islamic leaders" here in the United States who are committed to delivering North America to the Global Emirate. Watch this. While I do not feel that these men can accomplish what they say, our way of life is under the threat of being changed by our own need to protect ourselves and our families. Being ignorant of their intentions (they are quoted in video as they make speeches to the faithful) is inadvisable.

It has also become unfashionable to point out things like that. We have become such sensitive souls.

This destruction of our way of life is what bin Ladin promised.

We live each day here in the United States acting for the most part like there is nothing going on overseas that affects our very lifestyle here at home. The yellow ribbon magnets are now a rarity on cars. A guy in Bermel has to ask for care packages instead of having to ask people to redirect them because he's run out of room to store them. For Pete's sake; recently 30 Marines kicked ass on 250 Taliban who had the temerity to ambush them (and I mean kicked ASS) and it didn't even make the paper, much less TV. Today the Cincinnati Enquirer noted it in an editorial lamenting that it didn't even make page ten of the paper. What in the hell has gotten into us?

I've used the term "self-centered" before. Here are David Bronson's words:

It reminds a self-centered nation that some Americans are making sacrifices much bigger than a loss in their 401(k)s. So we don't hear about it.

You tell 'em, Dave.

My point is that while the situation in Afghanistan is difficult, and our Army is still struggling to adjust to the change from a conventionally designed force to a nimble counterinsurgent organization, there are some basic truths that do not change just because we lose them in the massive amount of information flowing around us all the time. What the American thinks, says, and does is absolutely relevant.

Our hearts and minds count, too.

Since our government is doing a terrible job of keeping the truth out there, and the Mainstream Media is more prone to distracted navel examination and sensationalism than even the average American, it is our personal responsibility as individual citizens to stay focused on what this is all about. I would hate to see a Howard Stern man-in-the-street series on what exactly we are doing in Afghanistan and why.

We like to believe that our intentions are noble, and stating unequivocally that our purpose in Afghanistan is, at its root, in our own self-interest does not remove the nobility of our purpose. Sacrificing for the sake of one's children is noble. Leaving our children with the same type of society that we were fortunate enough to have been born into (through no virtue of our own) is noble. In the meantime, it turns out that what we are doing in Afghanistan (and by extension in other GWOT-involved countries) is noble.

If we strive to get it right in Afghanistan, we don't give up, and we succeed in leaving a stable, independent, Islamic Republic with a growing economy and secure borders, the long-suffering people of Afghanistan will be so much better off than they have been for the past thirty years. It turns out that by doing the noble thing for the future of our own children, we have to do noble things for Afghanistan's future, too.

Let's maintain a sense of reality as to what this is all about. Let's not lose the simplicity of some basic truths about what we are involved in because of that fast-flowing data stream carrying the detritus of daily events swirling through our line of sight. Let's not be distracted by the shiny objects we are presented with on a frequent basis.

This is all history and overview type stuff. If you haven't already, I would recommend that you read Afghanistan Shrugged's post about the challenges of the Rubik's Cube at the local level. It's a great post and deserves the widest possible dissemination. It tells it like it is about security at the local level; the key to the rest of the job.
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