Friday, February 6, 2009

Registan In The House

Joshua Foust of Registan is in one of my old stomping grounds in Afghanistan this week. He's apparently the guest of the French at the moment, experiencing the wonders of the Tag Ab Valley. Go over to his site and see how the place has changed. Unfortunately there are no pictures, but I almost lost my mind when he was talking about chatting with people that I know.

By the way, the District Sub-governor that he's talked with is not the same one that I had my little chat with when we took one of the local Maliks into custody for tea-partying with the Taliban and possessing prohibited stuff, like Kalashnikov ammunition. That Wuliswahl was fired, and rightfully so, some time ago.

Anyway, Mr. Foust tells the tale of what it's like to arrive in Tag Ab for the first time. I remember that feeling... but the first time I was there it was quite the Wild West. It sounds like the ink blot that we started is spreading. You know, even with the pessimistic stuff you hear about Afghanistan, there was and is tremendous progress being made in placees like Tag Ab, which was the nearest Taliban stronghold to Kabul. It was a place where coalition troops raided but never stayed. Now the ANA and their French compatriots are doing the deal there.

I had to call O about that tonight, and we talked for some time about how it was "back in the day" in Tag Ab. I think we both miss it a little.

Go read Registan. He's also got some really good pictures of Parwan Province in an earlier post. If we're lucky, maybe he'll post some pictures of Tag Ab. Maybe he'll even get up into the Panjshir and take some pictures there. I exchanged an email with Mr. Foust this evening and asked him to pass along a message to Colonel Jhala if he sees him. I hope he does. I miss that guy; he was one of the good ones.

Nostalgia. It really wasn't that long ago.


  1. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 02/06/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  2. I've got some catching up to do on your blog, but I was wondering if you agree with Michael Yon's position on lowering our expectation in Afghanistan?

  3. Good link thanks. It's good see some others without their heads up their ass. Ralph Peters really is a MegaDouce

    It's time for a real assessment of what can be realitically accomplished in Afghanistan. Folks like you and Joshua Foust and Tim Lynch of Free Range International need to keep getting the word out on practical ways to make this a win-win situation.

    Failure in Afghanistan is not an option. Getting off of the big FOBs and living among the peopled in true COIN operations would be a start. I thought Petreaeus had proved that in Iraq.

    Blue, you opened my eyes with your posts about how kinetic action is entrenched in the thinking of Big Army brass. They don't like COIN and don't want to play. Right now it's their ball and it looks as if they won't let Petraeus have it.

    I'd be interested in your thoughts on Michael Yon's position on lowering expectations in Afghanistan. When I read you and Foust and Lynch I see room for readjusting our expectations based on a genuine understanding of the Afghans from people who actually know them.

    Not to say that Yon doesn't know them. But I'll wager he doesn't know them with the intimacy that you three do.

  4. I think Michael Yon sounded tired. He sounded worn out and pessimistic. Also, his main point of reference is Iraq, which has an easy economic basis and more educated people. They come with their own problems, though.

    Afghanistan is tough, no two ways about it; I've called it the Rubik's Cube. A lot of people never solve a Rubik's Cube because they give up on it. When you keep twisting the cube and it isn't working, it's time to try a new strategy. For us, I think that's reading the instruction manual and following it. I don't think that we really do that.

    My Army makes a lot of COIN-like noises, and then goes and does what they know; chasing ghosts. There is an inherent distrust of the doctrine, because it is counterintuitive. There are those who basically don't think it will work and think that the only solution is to kill the enemy.

    Back to Yon, I think that we need to readjust; not necessarily lower our expectations. They just need to be different. Use the Afghan democratic principles. Afghanistan is not going to suddenly leap into the 21st century, but it can get on track and start making progress. Malaysia was a mess; poor, underdeveloped, uneducated. Now it is a modern state. It doesn't look like America, and it has problems, but it isn't an Afghanistan.

    The basic call is to just forget about COIN and go kinetic. That has never ever worked in the history of the world, except in cases of total genocide. Biblical stuff. If we are not prepared to turn Afghanistan into a radioactive wasteland full of bones and poison (poisoning our own world in the process,) then we will only set ourselves up for complete failure by going kinetic.

    9/11 was the strongest statement in a series of statements that have been trying to give us the message for decades that the world is getting smaller. What happens there makes a difference here. Sometimes it can change cityscapes with its effects.

    We need to stop looking at Afghanistan as some kind of charity case and view them as allies in need in a war. That's how we treated the Northern Alliance, and now the war has changed from a route to an insurgency. Now we need to use our doctrine... actually use it... to continue to support our ally. Part of that is helping them to help themselves.

    We screwed it up in Viet Nam. No doubt in my mind that the Soldiers fought the best that they could and the leaders never figured it out, even though they knew some of the principles. We have solid doctrine and we are not using it, because most senior leaders don't buy it. It doesn't work that way. We are repeating Viet Nam in that respect.

    The funny part is that Yon spent a lot of time with Tim Lynch. They saw the same things and came up with different conclusions.

    I'm more with Tim on this one. We have a chance, but we have to change our ways and readjust our vision, not necessarily our goals. Maybe drop some adjectives, like "Western" from "Democracy." How about "functional representative government?"

    When I get pessimistic, I blame us, not them. Afghans are not freaks. They can do this, but it has to be an Afghan solution with considerable help. We're the ones who can't seem to figure out how to help them.

  5. Oh, one more thing about COIN and its kinetic unbelievers. When you do good COIN, you force the enemy to fight. If it's the kinetic that you crave, when you do the un-kinetic, you will have more of the kinetic. You will make the insurgent desperate and paint him into a corner.

    That's also when the less committed begin to change sides. The "reconcilables" begin drifting in towards the center. We are just not getting that done except in some local areas.

    What Foust describes in Tag Ab is not what I saw when I was there, and it makes my heart glad. We did something that has slowly begun to change that valley of 40,000 inhabitants. That's no small number of lives that are changing. We didn't see a ton of change while we were there except in our operations, but it has obviously done something. That's what I'm talking about.

    We didn't do COIN perfectly; there were plenty of things we could have done better. It is still working, though; or at least it seems to have a chance. The proof is in the results. Josh Foust is seeing what I can't see, and he can't see what I saw the first time I rolled up in there.

    Things like that can be done elsewhere, too.

    Firebase Morales-Frazier now has a French pizza shop (go figure) that Foust says is damned good. When I was there it was a hole on the edge of what some called, "The Valley of Death."

    The Battle of Tag Ab is by no means over; but there have obviously been some changes. That's something. It's something good.

  6. I appreciate the kind words! Indeed, I am quite surprised at the hope people there still express, even if it was guarded and under the auspices of a district shura. It is actually Blue's work, and the work of his successors, that is largely responsible for that.

    I thought it before, but now I am vehement about it: The ETT mission is vital to Afghanistan's future, and to our ability to eventually leave. But that is another topic...

  7. We need to stop looking at Afghanistan as some kind of charity case

    Then send all the NGO do-gooders home and do not rush to satisfy the insatiable demand for hand outs.

    and view them as allies in need in a war.

    Who decides what they're in need of, us or them?

  8. No, Cannoneer, the NGO's need to be there. Most of them are not doing giveaway work, but helping to do things like train midwives to lower Afghanistan's abysmal maternal and infant mortality rates. Literacy programs and the like are most beneficial. They need to be coordinated and protected, though. In fact, we need more governmental and NGO programs to help with economic development.

    Note that I did not say handouts; development. Afghans are very entrepreneurial, but they often need training.

    Finally, we need mining companies and rail companies to start investing in Afghanistan in partnership with Afghans. The tremendous mineral wealth of Afghanistan needs to be exploited for the benefit of Afghans.

    We need to help them find what they need in a mentoring role. Afghan decisions with Coalition assistance. Sometimes we will see things that they don't know to think they need. There are many good ideas that are Afghan ideas. They want to mine their iron ore, for instance; but they don't have the technology. American companies could help, especially if they were somehow encouraged by the government. That would create jobs, too. Fat chance we'll see that as part of any economic stimulus plan, though.

    The Afghans don't know how to manage their gem trade, so they've made it illegal. That won't work and only contributes to criminal activity. Smuggling is a national sport in Afghanistan.

    The handouts are more likely to come from our own State Department tossing money over the walls of their compound instead of going out to supervise how the money is spent. Almost none of it makes it to the local level to benefit the people.

  9. Canneer 4, "Who decides what they're in need of, us or them?" In my opinion it's them. Which leaves us with the follow-on questions; Can we and/or should we?

    I'm very encouraged to see others particpate in this debate. People are dying: Afhgans, Americans, Canadians, British, others. We need to discuss or goals in a way that is condusive to an outcome that works for all parties involved.

    Kind of like Iraq.


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