I would rather be discussing GEN Petraeus' encouraging speech last week at the 45th Munich Security Conference and how it relates to Ann Marlow's excellent article in the WSJ, but the metaphorical cat threw up on the carpet right at my feet and I've got a little work to do.
The HTS (Human Terrain System) has been the subject of much controversy in certain circles, not least of which is among anthropologists. Since Afghanistan has been back in the news in the past year, many people have become amateur social anthropologists. It has become all the vogue to demonstrate how intelligent one is by spouting off about the various tribes of Afghanistan, prognosticating about the Pashtuns and Tajiks and whatnots. Hey, it's cheap, it's easy, and someone who has done nothing more than read a few articles can suddenly sound like they understand the vast impenetrables of Afghanistan.
Very often, it's little more than hot air. The social networks and interactions in Afghanistan very often bear little resemblance to the trendy pronouncements heard from suddenly savvy armchair quarterbacks. Mostly these guys just add to the Kiplingesque air of mystic intrigue that clings to Afghanistan like Scotch tape that has made contact with itself.
In reading some of the objections that anthropologists have to the HTS, it appears that they are more influenced by their personal politics than by any code of professional ethics. When someone labels the nation-building efforts of our counterinsurgency campaign as an "occupation," that is a political statement, not a scientific observation. I'm not saying that they are a bunch of daisy-munching, Birkenstock-wearing, patchouli-smelling social dreamers, but the vocalists in the American Anthropological Association would probably not be found among the crowd at a Soldiers' Angels convention. They might be found applauding at an IVAW Winter Soldier blitherfest, though.
The Ugly American detailed some of the basic errors that we made in Southeast Asia. Many of these mistakes were due to the lack of social anthropological understanding on many levels. We didn't know what else to do, so we were attempting to offer American solutions to Asian problems, often with disastrous results. Learning from these mistakes was part of the objective of the HTS. One commander in Afghanistan, COL Schweitzer, told journalist Steve Featherstone that the information that the HTT (Human Terrain Team) in Khost provided had enabled him to cut back on kinetic operations by 60%. This means less death and destruction and more engagement of the population. That's a good thing.
The HTS is undergoing some serious troubles right now. All of the contractors are being offered the option to either quit or become GS-type Federal employees. Most are seeing about a 70% cut in pay should they choose to stay. It appears that many aren't staying. There are lots of other jobs out there that pay better than government jobs right now. Many of them are still defense-related, but they are not on the ground in Afghanistan or Iraq. They will not provide much, if any, useful ground-level information about the realities of social networks in the valleys and villages. It's not like the program had really ramped up to any great capacity. There are as yet only a few teams fielded, and many commanders are still in the process of getting their heads wrapped around what to do with the information provided. It is unclear if the program will survive its current troubles.
You can't do social anthropology with no social anthropologists. Well, you could, but it would look like the products the armchair know-it-all's are coming up with in blog posts and discussion threads all over the internet. While this is a thrilling prospect to the "in" crowd at the American Anthropological Association, I fear that it will be yet again lopping off a finger to spite our hand. The cheering from the triple-A in crowd couldn't have been more intense, however, than the cheering that ensued from the article written by Robert Young Pelton in the February, 2009 edition of Men's Journal.
I'm sorry, folks, it's a lengthy article, and I'm going to do my best to deconstruct it. I have to; not because it's my job, but because somebody has got to do it. I could just say that it's a pile of steaming fresh tripe and leave it at that, but I'm going to be a bit more definitive than that. Let's start off with this, though; there are unbelievable assertions in the article. Not only are there unbelievable statements, but there are what are in my opinion misrepresentations; manipulations and twists of actual places or people to paint the picture that Mr. Pelton wants to paint. In addition, there is what appears to me to be the obvious attempt to cast a certain light on some of the persons who are key to his telling of the story. There is also a refutation from COL(R) Steve Fondacaro, the HTS program manager, followed by a glib dismissal from the author, again claiming to simply be reporting his observations with prejudice or slant.
Read the article and see for yourself the "objectivity." In the meantime, how about a discussion of the high points?
A lady press officer is professionally happy to see us. “We didn’t even know what a ‘human terrain team’ was until you called,” she chirps as another soldier carefully cleans the Afghani dust out of her nose with rolled-up Kleenex. Then she adds, kindergarten-teacher style, “You are helping us to learn about these people.”
My, he doesn't wait long to start painting American officers as kindergarten-teacher style boobs, does he? Yes, he did use the word Kindergarten... it's a subtle tone-setter. Nice literary device usage, don't you think. It bleeds objectivity. Note to "RYP" as he likes to refer to himself: it's Afghan dust, not "Afghani." Afghani is the money, but being the world-savvy adventurer that you are, you knew that. Just sayin'...
There are now six five-to-nine-person human terrain teams in Afghanistan and 21 teams in Iraq. If the concept proves successful, the $120 million–plus program would grow to 700 HTT and support staff in those countries and other hot spots.
I've heard $250 million elsewhere. That's quite a chunk of change there. It's the price of intelligence. Hey, there aren't many people out there that can provide that type of intelligence, are there? I wonder if anyone else might be trying? It probably doesn't matter since there's already someone who is doing that job though, right?
Unless something... untoward... should happen to that person or group, that is. Oh, but that's just silliness. Let's get back to the article.
The man charged with managing the program is retired special operations colonel Steve Fondacaro. He is so passionate about it that when I interviewed him back in the States, he held forth for nine hours straight. Seven hours in, he walked into a door, breaking his jaw, but resumed talking. Fondacaro freely admits that one of the biggest obstacles to injecting social science into the military will be the military itself. “We are like a virus infecting the host,” he told me. “Either the army will be inoculated and be stronger, or they will expel us in a torrent of puke.”
More nice buffoonish imagery. I'm wondering if it is a factual statement concerning COL(R) Fondacaro's injury. So, COL(R) Fondacaro is excited about what he does. I'm wondering if that isn't the most interesting part, though... I've heard that a certain someone else who was present may be on the board of the American Society for the Advancement of Military Bulimia. That's just a vicious rumor, though.
Already there have been problems. The academic community has been critical of giving traditionally “do no harm” anthros combat uniforms and letting them carry guns.
This has been discussed above, but here is where Pelton points it out.
Still, getting a handle on the human landscape made a dramatic difference in Iraq. It helped Petraeus and his Ph.D. cadre convert enemies into allies, recasting a conflict that looked as if it would drag on for decades into one that could essentially be over within a year.
Uh-huh, uh-huh... the value statement; we're tracking...
But Afghanistan is not Iraq.
Really? Pray tell...
It’s a fractious nation whose dirt-poor people are scattered mostly outside of cities, across a harsh landscape of deserts and mountains, making it much harder to win hearts and minds. This is a country, remember, that some of the most daunting forces in modern history — the Russians, the British, and now the Americans — have been unable to conquer.
Needle across spinning vinyl... toilet flushing. Perhaps italics will help; we are not trying to conquer Afghanistan, we are trying to help Afghanistan conquer itself.
So could Fondacaro and his army of eggheads solve this? That’s what I’d come here to find out. But what I would get over the next two weeks would be a much larger, more bizarre, and in many ways more disturbing glimpse of what happens when 21st-century warfare is waged in a Third World country.
Ah, yes... the lead in to bizarre and disturbing. The scene-setter. Get some popcorn. There is a brief interlude while Pelton does the obligatory "my impression of Bagram" routine along with the gratuitous "bad haircuts" comment and describing an internally-framed "clamshell" structure as "a giant inflatable tent."
I thought this guy was an adventurer. Giant inflatable tent? A New York City housewife who had never been camping would know better than that. Giant inflatable tent is funnier, though. I think that's what he's going after, though. Facts aren't as important as the picture of boobery that he is struggling to paint. When he finally meets the team the picture of boobery is easier because he has actual human beings to paint as boobs.
The unit consists of one social scientist, three research managers, an IT guy, and three translators, or “terps.”
Pelton finally manages to write a descriptive sentence that does not include some kind of attempt to put a nipple on someone or something. This is not a pattern that's going to last. Hell, it doesn't even become a pattern.
The scientist, Jim, is easy to identify as he is the one who begs not to his have his photo taken or last name used. It seems that within left-leaning academic circles, hanging out with the military is the equivalent of a movie star doing infomercials. He’s a 50-something anthro who worked in Afghanistan two decades ago but seems more preoccupied with the subject of how unique the genetic makeup of Laotians is.
Pelton will later describe his writings as "objective," but there seems to be a lot of ignorant editorializing. This isn't even the best example of that. Mr. Pelton, he is not asking you not to use his name because he is embarrassed, it is for his safety. Note how he introduces the man and basically renders him a boob in precisely three sentences. There was another one that followed that in the same vein, but you get the idea. Objectivity. Wonder where he's taking this?
Two of the research managers are reserve officers, and the other is an ex-soldier who served in Kurdish areas of Iraq. Of the two civilian interpreters, one describes himself as “Persian,” which I take to mean that he’s a Shia Iranian-American working in an environment mostly hostile to Shias, and the other, Gulam, is an Afghan mechanic from Colorado who hasn’t been here since he left in the ’70s.
Two sentences, five men who are now blue-footed boobies. He's managed to give the subtle impression that this team is a mess. One paragraph and not a single individual out of six seems remotely professional. Two have their feet painted blue with two simple words; "reserve officers." It was clearly not meant as a compliment. "Officers" would have sufficed. Six blue-footed ungainly seagoing birds in a B-hut. Let's see what kind of idiocy they can cook up to entertain Mr. Pelton.
Ooops... forgot... Mr. Pelton, the Iraq expert (check his business venture with the disgraced Mr. Jordan who had to leave CNN in a hurry) doesn't know that Afghans really aren't too concerned with the Sunni-Shia thing. Of course, Afghans will sometimes refer to Dari speakers as Persians, but Mr. Pelton clearly didn't know that, either. Looks like there were seven blue-footed ungainly seagoing birds in that B-hut.
Or was it one?
Lieutenant Colonel Eric Rotzoll is the man in charge. He is 5-foot-2 and Buddha-like in demeanor and shape. A former analyst for the CIA, his special skill is that he is fluent in Chinese.
Buddha-like in demeanor and shape? Other than the fact that Mr. Pelton was asked not to publish the fact that LTC Rotzoll had worked for the CIA (a fact he lies about later,) any blue-footed booby would realize that you just don't print stuff like that.
Here's part of COL(R) Fondacaro's feedback:
First, he published the fact that a member of the Human Terrain team was a former, non-covert analyst employed by the CIA. He was told this information “off the record” and agreed verbally not to publish it. ~ COL(R) Steve Fondacaro
Mr. Pelton grossly distorted the backgrounds of the personnel on the Task Force Warrior Human Terrain Team (HTT). He neglected to inform his readers that Team Leader LTC Rotzoll served two previous tours in Afghanistan as a Civil Affairs officer, served on two different Provincial Reconstruction Teams, and has over twenty-seven years of service in the US Army. Mr. Pelton also misrepresented the HTT Social Scientist as an expert on Laotian DNA. On the contrary, this Social Scientist has been conducting research in Afghanistan for over twenty years. He made several trips into Afghanistan with the Mujahedeen during the 1980s to report on the Soviet occupation, and also served as the director of an Afghan Relief Committee. ~ COL(R) Steve Fondacaro
What? You mean that these men may actually have been more qualified than Mr. Pelton would lead us to believe? Whoa. That's heavy. Why would Mr. Pelton misrepresent the qualifications of the men he was "embedding" with? Hmmmm.
So that’s a Laotian DNA expert, a Chinese speaker, an ex–army grunt, and an auto mechanic.
That's the picture you're painting there, Picasso.
From what I’ve gathered so far, when it comes to getting out in the field and talking to locals, the research manager who seems to do much of the heavy lifting is Lieutenant Jeremy Jones. From Indiana. And therefore “Indiana Jones.” He has sandy brown hair, with an eager face and pink cheeks, and, like Rotzoll, is very short: 5-foot-4 in this case. He will turn 26 in two weeks.
And, with one fell swoop, Lieutenant Jones becomes the default whipping boy for the rest of the story. I do wonder whether or not his teammates call him "Indiana Jones" or if that is another fabrication, in my opinion, like when Mr. Pelton refers FOB Kutschbach as "The Cooch," which I find to be a fabrication and completely insulting to SFC Kutschbach, the Green Beret who was killed in October, 2007 while working out of then Firebase Pathfinder and gave it his name. I don't think for a minute that any service member would then denigrate the memory of this warrior by comparing his name to the vernacular for the intimate parts of a woman's body, but then what do I know? I only served in that valley when the firebase was built and took his name. It is most often referred to as "K-B" when someone feels the need to shorten the name.
This Pelton is one glib dude. Perhaps I should just nickname him "The Pelch." He likes his initials, "RYP." As in "RYP" Torn, the comedic actor, but that's an insult to the integrity of Mr. Torn, who has made me laugh. The Pelch just pisses me off.
The son of missionaries, Jones went to a lower-tier liberal arts college and got a bachelor’s in history. His last civilian employment was selling weight-loss products and waiting tables at a Cheesecake Factory in Indianapolis. “I was an engineer in the reserve army, and I couldn’t get a job,” he says. “So here I am.”
The Pelch has just reduced 26 year old Lieutenant Jones to a pitiable waif who is saved from the ignominy of the Cheesecake Factory by employment in war. Now, would someone please explain to me the purpose of describing his schooling as being from a "lower-tier liberal arts college?" I'm just curious... is this objective journalism, because it sounds a lot like editorializing to me. Pelch Picasso is not through painting his surreal impressionistic take on Afghanistan and the HTT. He continues to assassinate Lieutenant Jones...
But Jones does have cool toys. During our initial chat he is constantly pulling his Beretta pistol out of his belt, playing with it, putting it on the desk, then back in his pants. He has a custom-made cowboy holster and a tricked-out assault rifle. “No one who is cool carries an M16,” he says. “The army owns this” — he points to the standard base — “but it doesn’t own this” — he points to the multiple accessories, such as an optical sight and the collapsing light stock, that convert his M16 into an M4. “It gives me more credibility.”
The LT has now been reduced to a wannabe cowboy who is probably too dangerously childish to be allowed outside the wire. Is anyone buying this? I can tell you that I'm not. I was steaming as I read this, wondering how a man can get away with such slander. Then I wondered why he would want to.
The enterprising Jones comes up with a trip for us to a forward operating base about two hours northeast. FOB Morales-Frazier covers the bottom part of a valley that provides a smuggling corridor into Pakistan. Depending on where you go, it’s either a calm Tajik area or a hostile Pashtun one.
Adventure boy can't read a map? FOB M-F is about an hour southeast of Bagram. I should know; I've made the trip many many many times. His description of the Nijrab District is pathetic. The Afghania (or Afghanya, if you wish) Valley is a mixture of Pashtun, Tajik and Pashai.
It's hard to judge time, distance and direction when you're in the back of an MRAP and you can't see anything, isn't it?
Pelton then introduces us to an inappropriately violent SECFOR Soldier he dubs, "Krieger," no doubt named after an unpredictably violent sociopathic video game character. This is a sideshow. What has come before may be manipulated truths, half-truths, and fabrications that I can't speak to... they most assuredly aren't the whole truth. "Krieger's" actions are quite possibly an outright fabrication, but could be an immature Soldier showing off for the journos. I can't prove whether he did or did not do his violent pantomime. There are some fabrications coming that I can, in my opinion, pretty clearly point out.
Morales-Frazier, the base we’re headed to, was originally named after its Afghan location of Nijrab but now, in the curious American cultural overlay, takes its name from two U.S. soldiers killed in action.
I guess he forgot that naming convention when his tendency to give things and people nicknames caused him to reflexively change Kutchbach to "The Cooch." Very self-important behavior.
It’s a mishmash of nations, groups, goals, and activities — the perfect petri dish for culture clash and confusion. It’s also a dangerous place. A week earlier a French patrol was ambushed nearby and lost 10 men. And a few days before that three marines were killed in an explosion.
It seems to me that Pelton was the confused one on that FOB. That ambush happened near Surobi, well over twenty kilometers, about an hour's journey on bad roads south from FOB Nijrab. Nearby. Meo couldn't have done it better.
The armored vehicles lumber and sway up switchbacks and through narrow village streets. The top gunners on the MRAPs give alternating fists, waves, or verbal threats to scatter the locals — mostly waving children and indifferent donkey herders. The contrast between our futuristic ride and the mud-village Tatooine-type poverty makes us look like the ultimate Imperial Stormtrooper, made-in-America, million-dollar-a-copy, fuck-you occupation parade.
I've been through those villages many many many times. Here's something I can tell you; from inside an MRAP or a humvee you can't tell what the hell the gunner is doing with his hands. In my opinion, this is a fabrication. It is a patchouli-sniffing crowd-pleaser, though. Pelch Picasso is painting an impressionistic if stylized picture of Afghanistan. This is starting to smell a little like Star Wars meets Apocalypse Now. What is this drama queen thinking about?
Jones is eager to find some human terrain to map, so he’s psyched to learn that there is a mission forming out of Morales-Frazier. But first he has to check in with the provincial reconstruction team commander. The PRT commander is an air force lieutenant colonel who wears a tan T-shirt with “FUBAR” (as in “fucked up beyond all recognition”) printed in large black capital letters across the front. FUBAR is playing cards with his team in what looks like a boys club, complete with a crude plywood door that carries a sign: “Knock before entering.”
So now an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel is to be given a glib nickname, too? This guy truly feels empowered. What a disrespectful son of a bitch. Pelton never does call the officer by his correct name or even have the respect to correctly capitalize his rank. Ready for some of what, in my opinion, appear to be fabrications? Here comes a whopper...
Near the porch of my hut I see Jones talking to a team of three burly, geared-up men. They introduce themselves as Peter; an Afghan-American translator, Joseph; and Peter’s partner, who introduces himself as “Paris.” “Paris Hilton,” to be exact. The trio are heading out on a midnight mission, and we chat with them as they snap on and check their night-vision goggles, extra magazines, pistols, and other tools. I ask Paris what they do. “We are the HTT,” he says.
Confused, I ask him if his HTT is related to Jones and his HTT. “No, no, we are HUMINT tactical collection teams.” HUMINT is mil-speak for “human intelligence.” So what’s the distinction?
Peter purses his helmeted brow. “I s’pose we are the shooty-shooty guys rather than the talky-talky guys,” he says.
This, ladies and gentlemen is, in my opinion, complete horseshit. I didn't even have to be there to know that. Do you know how I know? (yes, it is experiential) Everyone knows what their job is. Paris and his buddies were part of a THT (Tactical HUMINT Team.) HUMINT means Human Intelligence... what is gained from people as opposed to photographic intelligence or signals intelligence. THT's are basically highly skilled interrogators; interviewers. They know how to ask questions in such ways as to trip up liars and to glean useful information in innocuous ways. They are bearded nerds like the HTT's, just not as highly educated. They are generally enlisted, and they do carry weapons but they are not "shooty-shooty" (nobody says that. Nobody. Except The Pelch, that is.)
He explains that their job is essentially to sneak around at night and yank Afghans out of their bed and interrogate them or even bring them back to Bagram. And if these Afghans make the mistake of fighting back…well, then there isn’t much to talk about. It has been a good month for Peter and Paris. They and their cohorts have managed to wipe out half a dozen high-level Taliban.
See my paragraph above. One word; bullshit. In my opinion a blatant fabrication. Flower-chomping Birkenboys believe this crap, but Soldiers know better. It's our job to point this out to the patchouli and hemp ankle bracelet crowd. IF these men left the FOB, it was with other people in case they captured anyone and needed to have them interrogated. Here comes an assertion that has gotten someone in trouble. It's Pelton trying to be the swashbuckling adventurer, but his story about it changes later.
Jones, his interpreter Gulam, and I climb up the Hescos — the wire-mesh dirt baskets used as blast barriers — to enjoy a smuggled nightcap under the canopy of stars. Off to the north we watch silent bright white flashes outline the jagged mountains.
When Pelton sought the embed, he had to agree to the Army's rules: No gambling, no porn, no alcohol. Robert Young Pelton violated General Order Number 1 and smuggled (like the highly principled man that he is) a fifth of whiskey downrange. What a turd. Now watch this song and dance...
Third, he brought a bottle of whiskey with him to Forward Operating Base Morales-Frazier and offered some to the team’s interpreter, which is a violation of US Army general orders. ~ COL(R) Steve Fondacaro
To which The Pelch responds glibly, forgetting what he wrote above...
Whiskey: Yes, I had a fifth. You may not be aware that there are a number of bars on the base. Gulam is Muslim, so there was no reason to offer him alcohol.
Oh. I see. He's a Muslim, so there's no reason to offer him alcohol, only to drink it with him. He invited himself... which I'm sure he did not. Mr. Pelton then excuses breaking his agreement by allowing that there are other "bars" on FOB M-F. There are. The French operate a bar and are not under the American General Order Number 1. That is like your kid saying, "I know that I said that I wouldn't drink, but there was beer there and the other kids were doing it." Then your busted teenager accuses others of doing it as well to drag them down with him. This all reeks of bullshit, in my opinion. The 1LT is currently under investigation due to Pelton's assertion. We've already caught this man breaking his word. It is my opinion that his word shouldn't be trusted in a case against an officer.
Why would he smuggle alcohol downrange for a trip only supposed to last for a couple of days? Why would he break his agreement and risk being kicked out of the field and the country because he couldn't wait to drink? It's not that hard not to drink for a couple of weeks, folks. Our guys do it for a year at a time. Pelton is too good for that... or too dependent. Speculation on my part.
“Imagine if dudes with guns like that come into your house at 2 am,” Jones says. He has stumbled across the dirty secret of “human terrain” mapping. In order to snip the connective tissue between the network of evildoers, someone has to figure out who they are. Whether you snip the web by being nice or nasty is irrelevant. The information Jones and his team collect with good intentions is all part of a massive database that may eventually lead to Paris Hilton knocking on someone’s door.
I do not believe that this conversation ever happened. Lieutenant Jones knows what THT's are for, too, you see. He knows that they don't drag anyone from their beds. There is no massive database meant to offer the souls of the living to some great night-stalking beast. This is where Picasso goes all Apocalypse Now meets Minority Report on us. This to me as a work of fiction. It gets better... or deeper, anyway...
My wake-up call the next morning is a fighter bomber screaming over our hooch. It’s 6:30 am. The odd effect of living on a base is that you are relegated to reading intelligence reports to understand what’s happening outside the walls. More news comes from Googling on my BlackBerry than from the soldiers around me, who are focused on their specific tasks. Simply not being able to see over the base walls, to the valley below, is disorienting.
In months and months and months spent in and around M-F, an F-15 buzzed it once. He's there one night and gets treated. Amazing. Apparently the place has gone all crazy now that the surrounding area is even calmer than it was when I was there. I bet that place hasn't been rocketed since I was there. But now they get jet wake up calls. Nice. Wonder how he got that Blackberry to work on the analog-only cell system there. Hey, with the alcohol habit, do you think that perhaps he meant, "Crackberry?"
The “carrot and stick” approach is to build rapport with the locals by providing basics — something akin to the conquistadores bringing shiny trinkets for the Mayans....If the locals remain hostile they get the “stick,” which can be anything from being ignored to suffering an air strike.
Nice word picture there, Picasso. He purposely states this in such a way as to say that if a village doesn't do what we want it to, we hit it with air. This is getting old. He misspelled "conquistadors." I guess he knows better than spell-check, too.
What the marines fail to grasp is that rural conservative Pashtun elders are, by any definition, Taliban themselves.
Oh, so now Adventure Boy can teach the Marines what they fail to grasp? What an arrogant son of a bitch. Have I said that before? He's also a Taliban-hound, and can spot insurgents everywhere. What a talent. Where was this guy when I needed him to spot Taliban? I don't know how those Marines are going to get along without him. I'm still trying to figure out how I did it. You know, if I had known what this guy knew when I was there, I'd have been so scared I've had just sat down and screamed until my heart stopped. Ignorance is bliss.
Jones has run out of Afghans to talk to, so our next task is to escape Morales-Frazier.
Uh-huh... COL(R) Fondacaro has this to say about talking to Afghans...
Second, Mr. Pelton interfered with LT Jones’ work in the field. While LT Jones was trying to conduct interviews, Mr. Pelton interjected himself into the conversations and questioned the villagers about the Taliban, which is the domain of trained intelligence collectors not visiting journalists.
Pelton has a glib answer for this one, too...
- Interference: When Jones was working I stood well back and discussed his conversations with him later. When he was just chatting with Afghans, I also chatted with Afghans. The fundamental problem seemed to be Jones’s inability to get relevant face time with Afghans so I respected his brief time with his subjects.
So apparently there is "relevant face time" and there is "just chatting." I've got news for Mr. Pelton; every interaction with Afghans is important for an HTT. You are not the one who decides what's important and what's just chatting. The very best conversations are the chatty ones, the ones you felt it was okay to "share."
This next part, while colorful, has been proven to my satisfaction by photographs provided by Mr. Pelton to be true... at least the part about the skulls. The skulls were part of Grim Reapers painted on the aft part of the engine nacelles to the rear of the troop compartment. I initially contended with this statement.
As if summoned on command we are greeted by the aerial circus of four inbound skull-adorned black helicopters. A pair of hot-rodded Black Hawks land while two Kiowas circle in an angry dance above.
Here is where I defied the man to come up with a single picture of a helicopter with a skull on it. He did. I stand corrected. My apologies.
But moments after we lift off I realize that we are not heading southwest back to Bagram but southeast, farther down the valley and deeper into enemy territory.
Awwwww, it seems that Adventure Boy doesn't want to go further down the valley. Wow, he makes it sound so... dramatic. Ummmm... southwest would take you to Kabul, Adventure Boy. He's going pretty much south at this point. Bagram is northwest of Nijrab. It's about a five minute flight to Tag Ab. Hey, he's the travel guide guy... just sayin...
“The Cooch” is the end of the line, a hastily constructed firebase deep in the heart of “Indian country,” as American soldiers call hostile regions.
No, FOB Kutschbach is found in Tag Ab, which has a rich history. It has B-huts and latrine trailers with showers. It has a small chow hall. He makes it sound like Kurtz' jungle lair. It's not.
Pelton goes on to rattle on about a humvee test firing outside the back of the FOB and some drivel about "discarded" shipping containers... those would be the ones neatly lined up against the wall that are used for dry storage. He describes shell casings all over a roof that is pitched at an angle that spent casings would roll right off of. The smooth metal roof makes a terrible brass catcher. Dreamland, folks. This man was not at the FOB that I was inside many times all during its construction and afterwards. Picasso's been taking acid.
Jones, as usual, is gear-talking and comparing M4 goodies.
This is not the only jab at the LT. He's managed to make it sound throughout the article as if the LT does pretty much nothing but compare his M-4 to everyone else's. Folks, there's a picture of poor Lieutenant Jones on the magazine's site. That's a standard stock and a standard sight. Nothing special. Just like everyone else's. I'm telling you, in my opinion this man is full of crap. My question is, "Why?"
There is one last thing. Pelton discussed the injury by fire of a social scientist with the HTT's several months ago. Paula Lloyd, 36, had burning fuel thrown on her while talking with villagers about the availability of cooking fuel. Her teammate, Don Ayala, shot and killed the attacker minutes later. Paula Lloyd died on January 7th. Pelton didn't even bother to check on that before going to press weeks later. Perhaps his slamming of her compatriots wouldn't have had such a good taste to those who ate it up if that tidbit had been included. More like he didn't care.
Read the comments over there. Several people have taken him to task. "I sense anger in this one," he replies, Yoda-like, to one man who calls him out on his story. His answer is an innocent-sounding plea of "I'm only reporting what I saw."
No, Robert Young Pelton, you are, in my opinion, embellishing in order to discredit the program. There are what appear to me to be blatant stylizations and stretches of imagination all through the article. That poor Lieutenant, a guy who seeks opportunities to do his job, is mercilessly made to look like an idiot in your portrayal of him.
This man was in places that I know, and he makes it sound nothing like anything remotely resembling any experience I had there... except what the villagers were asking for. That's pretty much it.
Contrast this article with the article published in September, 2007's edition of Harper's Monthly by embed Steve Featherstone. Featherstone embedded with the HTT's in Khost and also met Fondacaro during his work. I've never been in that area of Afghanistan, but it was easy for me as a recent veteran to say, "Yup, that's how it is." Read his article over again, if you've read it, and pick up on the difference between truth and the surreal. When you compare the two on the scales of reason, it's so crystal clear that you'd have to be blinded by agenda to not see it.
Okay, if you're as pissed as I am, here's the email address. I don't know about you, but once again I'm going to let a publication know that it has printed a load of crap and it is in fact responsible for the poor editing that allowed such a piece of indefensible garbage to be published in its pages. Some of Pelton's assertions, which I contend with, could actually be harmful. I can't see how it could help but harm Lieutenant Jones' reputation if not in Afghanistan, here at home in his own community. That's assuming that he can defend himself against the charges he may face due to this story. No Soldier fighting in this war deserves to have his service denigrated for the amusement of some fantasy writer who fancies himself a Geraldo Rivera wannabe.
I am still interested in knowing what his motivation was. There are other interesting aspects to this sordid tale, and I'll be following up on them in the coming days. I'll let you know what I find. I do know that the 101st PAO has moved to have him "blacklisted" from Afghanistan, but there is word floating around that Pelton is well-connected. Does this cat have friends higher than a division commander who will get his back even after a stunt like this? He is apparently business partners with Ted Turner and retired General Wesley Clark in a company that has an "intelligence offering" in Iraq that provides information for "much less than the price of a single seasoned intelligence analyst." This same company is offering something called "AFPax Insider" for Afghanistan and Pakistan, but has of yet not officially rolled it out. You can find some announcements about it at IraqSlogger.com.