Saturday, December 28, 2013

Lebanon, Syria, Iraq...It's All One Big Mess

I've written multiple times about how the conflict/civil war in Syria has been spilling over into Iraq. But what about Lebanon? Things aren't going so swimmingly there either.

Now I fully realize that Lebanon hasn't exactly been the most stable of countries. Hezbollah, Israeli invasions, sectarian violence, etc, etc. I'm also not very knowledgeable on Lebanon and all its quirks. But when bombs kill anti-Asad leaders it becomes fairly clear that Syria is spilling over into Lebanon.

The leader who was killed was a former minister in the Lebanese government and had opposed Syrian President Asad as well as Hezbollah. Who is suspected to be behind the attack? Hezbollah.

Hezbollah also happens to be supported by Iran, who also supports the Asad regime. A targeted hit ordered by Tehran or a target chosen by Hezbollah themselves?

Part of me, the part of me that deployed multiple times with the US Army and knows how exhausted the organization is, wants to steer clear of any involvement with the Syria conflict and let the various players sort it out for themselves. However, the other part of me, the part that doesn't want an Islamic fundamentalist government in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon...and the part that relies on the military industrial complex for a job...thinks it may be time to consider some kind of US/NATO involvement.

This problem is not going away any time in the near future and it's only going to get worse.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

My Attempt To Understand Afghanistan

I've written a few posts in the past discussing certain books I have read, almost always after a deployment and looooong after I should have read them. I did not want to make the same mistake again and deploy to Afghanistan without at least reading a few books that would give me a general sense of the country and the current situation. I also wanted to spend my down time in Afghanistan reading some things that would broaden my knowledge.

My deployments to Iraq while in the Army had caused me to know enough about that country to get by but had led to a complete failure in my understanding of Afghanistan. Why read about Afghanistan when I was going to continuously deploy to Iraq? I was ignorant about Afghanistan, but at least I knew it.

Before I deployed I read The Looming Tower and Ghost Wars. I believe there were a couple of others, but it's been over a year and I don't remember. These books helped give me a general overview of Al Qaida, the rise of the Taliban, and the recent history of Afghanistan. They were a good start.

While deployed there were four more books that I read. The first was Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia. A great overview of the aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal and how the Taliban came to be.

The next two were The Bear Went Over the Mountain and The Other Side of the Mountain. Essentially a series of after action reviews, the former discussed Soviet tactics during their occupation of Afghanistan. The latter was a follow on book that discussed mujahedeen tactics against the Russians. Both were a bit dry and repetitive but I would recommend both for anyone heading to the country to occupy it. They both also show that history repeats itself and that the Taliban are fighting ISAF much the same way they fought the Soviets and that ISAF is repeating many of the Soviets' mistakes.

The last book worth mentioning was Caravans, which is a fictional story set in Afghanistan shortly after World War II. It was published in 1963 but does an excellent job of painting a picture of the country and the culture of the people. I'm also convinced the author had a crystal ball. Here's a quote:

"Do you know what I expect...seriously? When a thousand men like me have rebuilt Kabul and made it as great as The City once was, either the Russians or the Americans will come with their airplanes and bomb it to rubble."

In the near future I'll probably do a post for each of these books with quotes like the one above that I found particularly interesting or noteworthy. Stay tuned!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Do I Get To Go Back Soon?

Take a look below at this map of Iraq that I blatantly stole  borrowed from Reuters through Business Insider. It shows the areas that Al Qaeda in Iraq/Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant either control or have a presence:

Yeah, I purposely made this HUUUUUUGE

Iraq didn't want US soldiers occupying their country anymore, fair enough. But then Iraq pulled its own military out of population centers and shifted from counter insurgency tactics to counter terrorism in an attempt to return to some sort of normalcy.

This has backfired on Iraq. The decrease in security forces gave insurgents some breathing space that enabled them to reconstitute and increase the number of attacks conducted. Then Syria fell apart.

The territory that AQI has presence is primarily in Sunni areas that border Syria. Look at all that war spill-over. Oh, and look at that northwest to southeast line of control that is marked "Hamrin Mountains". Where does that culminate? Could that possibly be Lake Hamrin and 1-14 Cav's old stomping grounds? Why indeed it is! Damn Kurwi tribe. Apparently the As Sadiyah, Jalula, Qara Tapa triangle is still causing trouble.

But what's up with the area south of Baghdad? As far as I know that's primarily Shia (the map also confirms this). What has led to AQI to control chunks of Shia dominated land?

How long before Iraq begs the US to send combat troops back into the country? Will the US agree? Will our allies follow? How long does the world sit and watch the chaos in Syria spread?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

An Old Vet Speaks Of Today's Vets

Interesting article I just read, written by retired Marine lieutenant general Bernard E. Trainor. In the article LTG (R) Trainor discusses his memories of World War II veterans coming home as well as his own thoughts coming home from both the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Some quotes that jump out at me:

"When we went to Korea, all ties with home were cut except for mail, which we usually received weeks after it had been posted. We lacked...the Internet, Skype or telephone contact with loved ones."

"...there was nothing to distract us from the job at hand. What happened at home was history by the time we learned of it."

"Most troops of the Greatest Generation and Korea came home by ship. The long voyage home allowed all hands to talk with one another and decompress."

"Today’s all-­volunteer soldier is alone; very few of his peers have served in the military, much less gone to war. He is largely isolated, with only his iPhone as a comrade."

The veteran of today's wars is unlike the veteran of previous wars. He has deployed often and frequently. He knows exactly what he is missing thanks to the internet. He has been forced to put his life on pause while everyone he knows continues on with theirs, and he gets to watch it in real time, stuck in a sort of suspended animation purgatory. Then when he comes home he has to pretend that everything is normal.

He yearns to go back.

Hat tip to Tom Ricks.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanksgiving Weekend Links

Two incidents in the world caught my attention this Thanksgiving weekend. Neither will likely have much of an effect on the overall picture of anything, but they are interesting nonetheless.

The first was in Mali. The leader of the coup that occurred in March 2012 was arrested for kidnapping. Amadou Sanogo, who was a captain at the time and later promoted to general, had staged the coup because he claimed the government wasn't doing enough to fight the insurgency/guerilla war going on in northern Mali. Ironically enough, almost immediately after the coup the Tauregs along with extremist allies rose up and captured northern Mali from government forces. This arrest doesn't surprise me at all. The new government had little choice but to keep Sanogo around or else risk alienating the army, which would have created problems of their own. Instead they promoted Sanogo and waited for a proper time in which to arrest him. After all, he committed one coup, what's to stop him from doing it again?

Interesting story for me: while doing my constant travelling the past couple of weeks I got stuck on the tarmac in Charlotte, North Carolina. The guy next to me was from Mali so we actually had a pretty good conversation about current events in the country and some of Mali's modern history. He seemed pretty thrilled that he ran into someone who could talk intelligently about his country. I was thrilled just to be able to talk about something that very few people find interesting.

The second story comes out of Japan. An "improvised launch device" was found outside one of the air bases the US controls. Explosions were heard the night before but there was no damage to anything. Improvised mortars were used near the base in 2009 by the leftist group Kakurokyo so they are also most likely responsible for this attack as well. Probably nothing serious will come from this incident but it is slightly concerning.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thoughts On the News

During my long break that I've taken before I start work back here in the States my dad and I decided to visit CNN and take the Studio Tour. It was fairly interesting and kind of neat to see the inner workings of a major news network.

However, I was disappointed in the news that CNN and HLN were choosing to cover. The major news of the day was the recent arrest of George Zimmerman, the Toronto mayor's wacky escapades, and some twin babies hugging while taking a bath (seriously?).

Now I am far from being the first to comment on this nation's piss poor coverage of world or even national news and events, but this is a serious concern of mine and I feel the need to comment. Zimmerman? A regional story at best. Toronto mayor? Interesting, but not something that should be spent a lot of time on. Twin babies in the bath? That's what the internet is for...or local news.

My dad and I visited on a Tuesday afternoon so I know it's not exactly the time of day that a news network is going to discuss major world events in depth but come on. A major typhoon had hit the Philippines, a civil war is occurring in Syria, Russia is preparing for the winter Olympics, and Afghanistan is...well, Afghanistan. No discussion about any of that?

If we are going to have an educated society that is able to have intelligent discussions about world, national, regional, and local concerns as well as vote in a knowledgeable and well informed way then we need to have news programs that provide its viewers with mature programming. It frustrates and bother me that to get adequate information on what is going on in the world I have turn to BBC and Al Jazeera.

We need to do better America.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Looking Back

As I mentioned in my last post, my forth deployment has come to an end after a little more than a year. After spending well over a week conducting a handover with my replacement I left NKAIA, Kabul and flew to Kuwait; which, as usual, was boring, too warm, and as close to purgatory as I think one can experience in this plane of existence.

I then spent a day and a half at Camp Atterbury, Indiana turning in equipment and doing lots of sleeping. From there I flew to central Virginia and began my inprocessing with my program at NGIC. It was frustrating at first because after a year all I wanted to do was take some time off where I wasn't stuck on some base and had the freedom to get away. Of course, after all my previous deployments I had to sit in either Kuwait or some other base for several days before going home and then do all the annoying redeployment stuff that the Army requires. This time just felt more irritating, especially when I was in Virginia and didn't have anything to do but couldn't leave work because "you still need to put in your 8 hours."

Ok, I'll just sit here and stare at the wall then.

Sitting in Kuwait as usual gave me too much time to look back and think on the deployment. It felt a bit like at the end of my third deployment. The mission felt incomplete; I think this is because I didn't leave with a unit. As a contractor on my own time schedule I was the continuity between the deployments of V Corps and III Corps as they took over ISAF Joint Command. III Corps still has a few more months to go and it kind of felt like I was abandoning them.

There was also a lot of frustration in the lack of success I had with my jackal targets (the insider threat target set). I did everything I could within my lane and capabilities and in that sense I was successful. However, in terms of removing the individuals from the battlefield, there wasn't much progress.

But that's the nature of deploying in support of counterinsurgency operations. You're not going to fix everything, put all the puzzle pieces together, or get all the targets. One of these days I'll remember that.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Year Already?

Where did this year go? It doesn't seem all that long ago that I was arriving at Bagram to spend my time at the Detention Facility In Parwan (DFIP) and then after only a short time moved to ISAF Joint Command in Kabul. Days spent looking over target packets, gathering information on insider attackers, and arguing with lawyers have certainly made the time fly.

My replacement arrived a few days ago and I only have about a week left in Afghanistan. I've enjoyed my time here much more than I thought I would, most likely because my luck in getting assigned to a NATO base/Corps headquarters. So much less stressful than any of my previous deployments. The military personnel and civilians from multiple countries I worked with also made this deployment go easier and occasionally fun. I'm going to miss a lot of these folks.

Blog posts will be extremely light in the coming weeks as I redeploy to the States. Between sitting in Kuwait, dealing with equipment turn-in at Camp Atterbury, IN, and inproccessing NGIC/finding a place to live in Virginia along with moving my stuff from Tacoma I don't think I'll have the internet/time to update much. Once I'm settled I'll come back to my usual blogging.

Afghanistan...I won't say "goodbye." I'll say "until we meet again."

Thursday, October 17, 2013

What Is the Security Situation In Afghanistan? Here's Why I Wouldn't Know...

With only a couple of weeks left here in Afghanistan I looked back at my blog posts and realized that I haven't really discussed what is going on here in this wonderful corner of the world. I've posted a bit about some minor happenings around the base (indirect fire, random attacks, etc) but have avoided discussing what is going on overall in Afghanistan.

I have multiple reasons/excuses for this. The first is that despite being at IJC/Corps headquarters, I really don't know what is going on most of the time. I am aware of major events but I have avoided trying to have knowledge of the day to day occurences in the province or even district level. Why? Well, primarily it's not my job to know. The beauty of being a contractor is that I get to stay in my lane; gone are the days where I was expected to not only have complete understanding of my battalion's area of operations, but also have an understanding of the entirety of the brigade battlespace as well as know what was going on two or three provinces over.

Staying in my lane is essentially the second reason. It's not my lane to be a subject matter expert on all of Afghanistan. It's my job to be an intelligence subject matter expert and review target packets, not terribly exciting to blog or read about so I don't really discuss it.

Thirdly, as I mentioned prior to coming out here, if I cross a line and inadvertantly discuss something that someone feels is classified or violates operational security I could be fired and have my clearance revoked. As long time readers will be aware, during my previous deployment somebody up at brigade stumbled upon this absurd little blog and gave me a warning about releasing too much information. I would probably get no such courtesy as a contractor.

I'm not conceited enough to think that my blog is all that important in the scheme of things or that all that many people read it. As far as I'm aware my readers primarily consist of some friends and family sprinkled with a handful of folks who somehow found this mess of thoughts and decided to keep reading. But I also didn't think Brigade (Hi Brigade!) would ever find this either so it would not shock me to learn that someone at my company or even here at IJC is keeping an eye on Warhorse Intel just to make sure I don't slip up.

Upon my return I will likely write a couple of posts about the daily happenings at IJC as well as my thoughts on how we operate here in Afghanistan, what I think the future holds for this country, and the future of please bookmark and keep reading. I'll do my best to keep you entertained.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Libya Is Lacking Something. Rhymes With...Security.

Is Libya slowly slipping back into chaos and civil war? I ask this question because today the Libyan Prime Minister was briefly kidnapped by gunmen and then later let go. What this a case of political intimidation or an indication of collapsing rule of law in the country? Did rule of law ever return to Libya after the civil war/removal of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011? Militias have complete freedom of movement in the country despite some efforts to rein them in. Oil exports have been disrupted and ministries surrounded by vehicles filled with armed men.

The Russian embassy was attacked earlier this month. The Egyptian consulate in Benghazi had an IED go off in front of it in August.

A Sufi cleric was shot and killed in September. That same month a car bomb detonated in Benghazi. Hell, the security situation is so bad US special forces were able to waltz into Tripoli and capture an Al Qaida leader who was involved with the US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania back in '98.

Get your shit together Libya or before you know it the Italians will invite themselves back in. Nobody wants that.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Another Aussie Gift

Way back in February, one of my Insider Attack targets was detained in Pakistan. The individual had killed 3 Australian soldiers and wounded 2 more. Australia worked for months to have this individual transferred from the Pakistani authorities over to Afghan control. The knowledge that this guy was detained was kept on the down low since Australia has a better relationship with Pakistan than the US does and Australia didn't want to jeopardize anything. Every once in awhile somebody not in the loop would ask about this guy and all I could say was, "he's detained, but I can't talk about it."

It was a tad frustrating. But that's part of working at a joint/coalition command.

Today, however, I came into work and discovered the glorious news that Australia had announced Hekmatullah's capture and transfer to Afghanistan. Happy happy joy joy. Two months and 2 targets officially off my list, both involving the Australians.

I'm crossing my fingers that one or two more of these guys get actioned by the time I go home.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Boooooored...But That's A Good Thing Right?

It's been fairly dull here at ISAF Joint Command the past few weeks. Busy, but dull. I've mentioned before that I wish I had more to discuss since I have consistent access to the internet as opposed to my last deployment where I had lots to talk about but limited internet access. Assuming all goes to plan, I'll be leaving here and going back to a position in Virginia in a little over a month. It's been a quick year and I hope the last month of it is as smooth as most of the other months have been.

Since I have nothing to discuss, here's a link to a news article stating Tunisia's current by an Islamist political party...will likely be stepping down and a transitional goverment will be established followed by elections. Good to see that Tunisia could settle this without widespread violence like what is being currently seen in Egypt.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Al Shabaab Back From The Dead?

It's been awhile since I discussed Al Shabaab, the Al Qaida-linked, Somalia-based organization. Several times on this blog I mentioned that I assessed the organization to be all but dead. Al Shabaab has been losing territory and towns in Somalia to the African Union and has been unable to really mount any offensive action, although they still control a chunk of southern Somalia. From what I've seen all the group has been able to do is conduct a few terrorist/insurgent type attacks in Mogadishu such as this grenade attack in the Bakara Market.

Well it appears Al Shabaab has upped the ante, so to speak, and launched a Mumbai style attack in Nairobi, Kenya. The attack/standoff in the mall is still on-going as I type this but so far 39 people have been killed and the gunmen apparently are holding hostages.

Does this signal a shift in location and tactics by Al Shabaab? It would be an interesting move by the organization if they have decided to abandon Somalia and focus their attention on Kenya which has contributed greatly to the African Union mission in Somalia against Al Shabaab. However, what is most likely occuring is not a shift entirely of the group per se, but merely an attack designed to shift Kenyan popular opinion against the government's operations in Somalia. If Al Shabaab can force Kenya to re-allocate resources to protecting itself and have less focus on Somalia, then it just might be possible for Al Shabaab to go back on the offensive in Somalia.

It's an ugly world out there.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Rockets Make For A Crappy Alarm Clock

Rockets...I hate rockets.

It's the sound they make when they fly in. Nothing else sounds like it and my heart always stops when I hear it. Lucky enough, I haven't heard rockets since 2004 when Camp Victory in Baghdad would get hit fairly consistently and I'd lay in bed wondering if the next one flying over would land in my room. Well...lucky until this morning.

This deployment has been boring for me. As I've jokingly said a few times, I get bored if I'm not getting shot at. Each one of my previous deployments there has either been a threat of indirect fire or I was going outside the wire enough on patrols and convoys that there was a potential for getting either blown up or shot at. Other than one minor incident, in which I was in no real danger, absolutely nothing has happened on or to this base. It's like the Taliban just choose to ignore it.

It took 10 months but some neighborhood Taliban asshole finally decided that we needed some rockets in the morning...5:30 in the morning to be precise. Damnit man, you could at least wait until after 8am when I'm at work!

The initial banshee scream woke me up followed by the explosion. A second rocket jolted me completely awake. I had two choices: rush to a bunker in my pajamas, or roll over and go back to sleep. Damn straight I went back to sleep...or tried to anyway. After 10 months of no rockets or mortars, suddenly having to face the realization that you are vulnerable makes sleep a tad difficult. When I finally went into work I learned that one of the rockets landed 100-150 meters from where I sleep. That's far in the scheme of indirect fire but it's a tad bit too close for comfort.

I'm way too close to the end of my deployment to want to deal with rockets. I feel like PVT Hudson in "Aliens" when he states, "Oh man, I was getting short. Four more weeks and out. Now I'm going to buy it on this rock."

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Back Into Purgatory

My short hiatus and vacation are over and I got back into Kabul a couple of nights ago. Very little has changed while I was away, not that I really expected some dramatic upheaval. When I came back from leave on my last deployment there was quite a bit to get caught up on, including 700+ emails. But things are way different up here at Corps than they are at the tactical level.

There are a few new additions and subtractions to the office as some folks left country and were replaced while I was away. One of the new coworkers is actually an old instructor of mine from when I was at the military intellligence career course; spent several minutes catching up which was great. Yet another reminder what a small world the intel community really is.

So back to the Afghan grind...for a couple of months anyway. This year has flown by.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Aussie Revenge

Oh, look at that. One of my targets is dead. Hope you enjoyed the bullet to the face!

Made my day yesterday when I got confirmation of the operation. Thank you Afghan Security Forces and Australians for the gift prior to me going on leave. It took nearly 2 years to hunt this guy down...for various reasons...but better late than never. Crossing my fingers that one or two more of my targets get a bullet or hellfire while I'm on vacation.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Short Blog Break

Due to things being extremely busy here in my foxhole, my upcoming leave (less than 2 weeks to go!), and my current inability to come up with anything to write about, I'm going to take a short hiatus from this blog. I should be back to writing in early September...unless I come across something interesting, or something incredibly stupid occurs here at IJC that I must tell you about.

I'm sure there are plently of other sites on the internet that can keep you entertained.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Top 10 "Global Concerns" 2013 Edition

It's that time of the year again (why I originally started this in late July I will never remember) for Warhorse Intel's Top 10 "Global Concerns". I compile this list based on the reading I do throughout the year and is entirely my own biased assessment. 2012's list is here. Here's what it looked like:

10. Greece
9. Iran
8. Mexico
7. Kurd/Arab line Iraq
6. Somalia
5. North Korea
4. Yemen
3. Mali
2. Syria
1. Afghanistan/Pakistan

Once again the list between this year and last year are very similar. I'm not going to go in depth as much with each of these or provide links to back up my statements because 1) I don't have a whole lot of time and 2) I'm feeling especially lazy and 3) I'm in Afghanistan, what do you want from me? You're lucky you get a list at all. Anyway, as for the changes...Greece fell off because I think their economic issues are not going to lead to much violence beyond rioting. Mexico also came off as it appears from my little corner of the world that the narco gangs may be losing influence and power, but we'll see. Yemen was also dropped because Al Qaida In the Arabic Peninsula (AQAP) does not appear to be gaining strength and that conflict may be more tribal than anything else and is unlikely to spread. Now, on to the 2013 list!

10. Nigeria
Violence caused by Boko Haram led to a goverment crackdown in the north. That crackdown has led to more violence. My question is, when will Al Qaida officially jump into the fray and openly support Boko Haram?

9. Iran
Maintaining the spot at #9 only because at any time they could announce that they have a nuclear weapon which would lead to an Israeli airstrike which would then lead to...well...chaos. Will a new president lead to any significant change? This analyst says no.

8. Tunisia
Arab Spring woke up some demons in Tunisia. Extremists are becoming increasingly vocal and political assassinations are on the rise. Al Qaida In the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is also likely looking for a spot to cause some havoc after being routed in Mali.

7. Somalia
Will Shabaab ever quit? I keep saying they are 6 months from being dead but they keep refusing to die.

6. Mali
The Tuareg tribe took over the north with the help of AQIM and friends. The Tauregs immediately regretted this decision and worked with the French to boot AQIM. Tentative peace has followed. I don't think it's going to last.

5. North Korea
For awhile there I thought war really was going to break out but then cooler heads prevailed. I keep them on this list because one day Best Korea may just actually do it and invade again.

4. Iraq
It's no longer just the Kurd/Arab line that's a problem. Violence has reached 2008 levels throughout the country. Everything Prime Minister Maliki does just creates more tension. At what point do the Sunnis revolt? At what point do the Kurds declare independence? At what point does the US return?

3. Egypt
Holy hell this place escalated quickly. Fallen regimes, Muslim Brotherhood in charge, coups, violence, and a growing extremist threat in the Sinai.

2. Syria
A clusterfuck.

1. Afghanistan/Pakistan
I've spent nearly 9 months here in Afghanistan and now have the hands on experience to repeat what I have said in my previous Top 10s...fuck this place.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

I'm Going To Get Myself In Trouble

You may recall that for some baffling reason I've been allowed to name the objective names for one of ISAF Joint Command's target sets. That target set happens to be the insider attackers (also known as green on blue shooters) who have escaped after conducting their attack. I've had a maddingly good time naming these assholes and I have to supress my giggling when a few of them are mentioned in a meeting. I can also see that others often have to supress their own giggling. It brings a bit of joy and humor in this frustrating and stressful headquarters.

Yesterday I was sitting in an update to IJC's officer in charge of intelligence (a 1 star general) on this current target set when at the end he asks about Fuzzy Jackal and who named him. My boss laughed a bit and then indicated that I was the one who named a majority of the individuals on the target set. For a moment I thought I was going to get lectured about professionalism but luckily for me I think the general is just as amused by the objective names as the rest of us.

However, there is a bit more to the story, as there usually is. For some odd reason, a majority of the insider attack perpetrators...and potential perpetrators for that matter...come from one province. The insider attacks are an Afghan wide problem but for reasons unknown to me at this time, this particular province breeds individuals who join the security forces and eventually conduct an attack more than any other province.

So the general tasked us with developing and targeting the network in this province. He mentioned that since 60% of the attackers come from this province we need to go after the facilitation network. Where did that 60% figure come from? An off-hand comment that I made a couple of days prior to a colonel when he asked how many of the attackers come from this province. I made a quick "ball park" guess based off what I was seeing in the reporting. Now my SWAG (scientific wild assed guess) is being quoted by general officers. Shit...I really need to learn to keep my mouth shut. Luckily I'm pretty sure that 60% number is somewhat accurate.

The general also tasked us with naming this network so it gets some attention. A colonel quickly spoke up and said...

"Mike is not allowed to name the network."

Damn, fun times are over.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

Ever wonder what we spend those billions of dollars in Afghanistan on? $34 million headquarters buildings apparently. I really wish this was an Onion or Duffleblog article, but it's not.

How does something like this happen? How does some jackass at the Pentagon decide that the Marines require a new headquarters building? How does the headquarters in Kabul not realize the Marines don't want the building?

There are some majors and lieutenant colonels at fault for this, I just know it. Of course this should have been caught by a general officer somewhere down the line. You'd think someone would have asked the question, "do the Marines even want this?"


The crazy thing is that there is a new headquarters building here at NKAIA as well. Nobody is occupying it and no one seems to know who it is for. Would not shock me to learn if they decide to bulldoze it after a year.

Feels like a damn circus around here sometimes.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

X-Files: Kabul?

Remember during my last deployment to Iraq how 1-14 Cav had some strange shit flying around COP Cobra and nearly shot down a national level aerial asset? No? Well here's the link so you can catch up. I bring this up because I had assumed that when I came to ISAF Joint Command I'd probably never look up to the night sky and say, "what the hell is that?!"

I was wrong.

This story is not quite as interesting as my Diyala UFO story but it's slightly weird nonetheless. It occured last night as I was walking home. A plane was coming in to land and as I watched it something caught my eye. Looking up I saw three, very bright, very orange, stars in the shape of a triangle (I am aware that any 3 points are going to look like a triangle). After about a second the stars/lights/whatever were gone. My first thought was that they were flares.

But flares don't burn away that fast. They were way too high to be flares anyway. What about the landing plane? If it had shot off flares they would have been behind the aircraft. These were in front of and waaaaaaaaaaaaay above. Another plane? I didn't see anything else in the sky.

Perhaps it was the blimp that floats over the Green Zone/US Embassy/ISAF HQ? Nope, the blimp was blinking its standard lights and was pretty low to the ground from my perspective.

The hell did I see?

Like I said, not as interesting but still strange.

But back to the Diyala story...I now have more to add. A college buddy of mine found himself here at NKAIA for a couple of days about two weeks ago. I just happened to tell my "UFO's flying over my combat outpost" story and he gives me a funny look. Apparently he had been talking to someone awhile back to was in Iraq at USF-I HQ around late 2009. This individual told my friend the story of some trigger happy jackasses on a patrol base who tried to shoot down a US aircraft.

Hell yeah, I'm one of those jackasses. Perhaps trying to shoot down US aircraft is why we had so much trouble getting collection assets...

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Rewards In A Rural Society

Let's say you're at the post office, or grocery store, or wherever and you happen to notice a wanted poster offering a reward for an individual. You happen to recognize the individual as one of your neighbors, fellow Crossfit gym cultist, or just someone you see walking their dog every day. Being the good citizen that you are you inform the police and they arrest the wanted individual. What would you expect the reward to be?

Most people in Western society would probably say money, a new car, or season tickets to your favorite sports team. A few of you may want a life time supply of Twinkies but if you're turning people in for Twinkies you've got other issues.

But what about people in Afghanistan? What sort of reward should be offered to those people willing to turn in their neighbor/villager/own tribal member?

After 12 or so years of this war apparently we up here at IJC believe it's money.

We up here at IJC are a bunch of idiots.

That rural villager living in some valley doesn't want money. Give him $10,000 for pointing out the location of a wanted individual and you just painted a giant bulls-eye on the guy. What is he going to do with $10,000 (or the Afghan equivalent) anyway? A better reward would be livestock. Give an informer 20 sheep, goats, or whatever the hell he wants and he's a lot better off. The sudden appearance of a bunch of goats is also easier to explain than 10 grand.

"Hey Abdul, where'd you get all that American money from?"

" cousin sent it to me?"

"Yeah right." *shoots Abdul*

Better situation...

"Hey Abdul, where'd you get all those goats?"

" cousin got them for me as dowry/loan payment/opium harvest."

"That makes complete sense and I totally believe you." *does not shoot Abdul*

The problem is that being a giant bureaucracy, IJC can't handle anything like switching around reward systems. If we're offering $10,000 then by golly we're going to give $10,000. Nevermind the fact that giving away large amounts of cash like that doesn't usually make sense.

I hope the lower echelons have more common sense than we do up here above reality.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Next Time Please Wait Until I'm Already At Work

Well I had a hell of a morning. In case you haven't been keeping up on Afghan current events, there was a wee bit of violence against my base. You can read about it here and here. Long story short, a bunch of insurgents...sorry, Enemies of Afghanistan...occupied a building next to the Kabul Airport/the-base-I-live-and-work-at and proceeded to attack.

At 4:30 in the damn morning.

It was rather irritating and I was rather annoyed.

I woke up to the sound of RPGs and machine gun fire. It sounded close but what was I going to do? I rolled over and tried to sleep through it. The fighting got louder and more intense. My tentmates began to wake up and ask eachother what was going on. Then the "Big Voice" went off warning of a ground attack. I figured there was no chance of me sleeping through this.

I got up and wandered over to the entrance of the tent. There were others milling around outside and the sound of RPG fire and machine guns was quite clear. I made the decision to get dressed, no way am I going through an attack on my base in my pajamas. That's just unprofessional.

I also decided to put on clean underwear. If I'm going to die, it's going to be with clean underwear on. Pretty sure I was taught that lesson by Calvin and Hobbes.

A group of us were hanging around outside the tent when we encountered the surreal moment of seeing a woman in her late 60s wearing a bathrobe and body armor; got to love contractors, we come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. Eventually, the soldier in charge of our living area shoo'ed us to the bunkers. I haven't cowered in a bunker since '04, I'm not about to cower in one now. I stood defiantely outside the concrete protection. Shit continued to explode in the distance. A woman clung tightly to her M4 rifle.

Old Russian helicopters that the Afghan Air Force uses showed up about an hour after the attack began and circled over where the fighting was occuring. Some Blackhawks arrived a bit after that. The "Big Voice" continued its announcement that the base was on lockdown and everyone should stay where we were. People stood around checking the internet on their smartphones for any news they could find.

The noise eventually began to die down. However, every time I thought it was over an RPG would go off and the fighting would start all over again. In my head I knew that every random RPG launch would mean another hour or two of me sitting by the damn bunker.

I retrieved a book from my tent. If I'm going to be stuck sitting around while an attack is occuring I could at least do something productive.

By 7:30 I decided I'd had enough and went back into my tent and fell asleep. "Big Voice" announced around an hour later "All Clear".

Damnit, can't even miss work now. Inconsiderate bastards.

Final report: 7 dead insurgents, 0 Afghan Security Force casualties, 0 ISAF casualties. Worst insurgents ever.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Changing the Name Does Nothing!

Time to pack the bags and get the vehicle convoys ready to go, there are no more insurgents in Afghanistan.

You read that right. There are no insurgents in Afghanistan. At least according to ISAF.

We are now fighting "enemies of Afghanistan" or EoA's for short. Yep, another damn acronym.

Somebody had the bright idea that we should change our terminology to be more in line with what the Afghans use, or something like that. Having faced many name changes in Iraq I should have seen this coming. I guess I was just hoping that after over a decade of being in the country we'd have our terms sorted out by now.

People just need more bullets for their evaluations though. Working at an echelon above reality continues to amuse me daily.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

This Is Either Legit Or I Really Am An Asshole

The more I deploy, and the longer I stay in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, the more I find myself increasingly distant in understanding my friends. This is a bit challenging to convey without coming off like a complete asshole but essentially whenever I read on Facebook about some tiny gripe one of my friends has I just want to scream, "THAT IS SO DAMN PETTY!"

Example: the other week I got a message from one of my friends stating she felt really bad because she was missing another mutual friend's birthday party. She was missing this party because she was obligated to go to another party. There I sat wondering if she had any clue that I work 12+ hour days, every day, and have absolutely no social life. Invited to 2 parties on the same day but can't make both? Great, I'm in the middle of trying to get somebody killed with a hellfire missile, but I suppose your social life is worth complaining to me about.

Here's another one that irked me: an acquaintance of mine had a status update stating she had jury duty and was looking for a way of getting out of it. I nearly commented but felt anything I would have said would have come off as bitter and made me out to be a jerk, so I refrained. The US asks very little of its citizens. Pay your taxes, follow the laws, and if you register to vote you may just end up selected for jury duty. I get it, jury duty interferes with work and your life but from the perspective of someone who has gone to war zones 4 times in support of his country it comes off as pathetic to try to avoid jury duty.

Teachers. Yes you are underpaid, the job is difficult, and there doesn't ever seem to be enough time to get everything done. Guess what, you don't have a monopoly on lack of time. Many people need more time professionally and many jobs are difficult. We all chose our career paths and you knew what you were getting into.

It's this lack of understanding of people that is leading me to consider extending my time here. Not like I really have anything back in the States to go home to anyway.

Rant over. I'm going to go back to watching one of my targets stand in an open field and wonder why he isn't dead yet.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Enough With NATO

In my last post I tossed out the question of "will Afghanistan be the end of NATO?" What I have to remind myself, and you the reader, is that my opinion is based on the very limited experience of 7 months in Afghanistan and no other experience with NATO operations such as Bosnia or Kosovo.

However, from what I can see here and now in Afghanistan, NATO is a completely useless organization. Many of the nations participating have a limited number of troops here and the few that do have a significant amount refuse or are unable (due to government restrictions) to conduct combat operations. My biggest gripes are with RC-W (Spanish and Italiens) and RC-N (Germans). I fully understand that much of counter-insurgency is protecting the population and using a little force as possible, but when insurgents are actively over running a district or are overwhelming an Afghan Army outpost, sitting on your hands is not the best option. Get outside the wire and go kill something damnit. RCs West and North seem perfectly ok with letting things fall apart around them as long as none of their soldiers get hurt.

There are some nations that are not afraid to get their hands dirty and appear to be carrying the weight of the ISAF/NATO mission. The British have no issues going out and cracking some skulls, as long as it's obviously legal...they are pretty hung up on legalities, they're essentially ISAF's conscious. The Aussies and Kiwis are excellent to work with as are the Canadians. The Poles and Georgians are up for pretty much anything. The Hungarians, Czechs, and Lithuanians are also helpful, but have limited numbers. The French would be great partners if they didn't always leave too soon. Same with the Dutch and the Danes, who also never seem to have enough manpower.

If I were Supreme Ruler I would dismantle NATO and form a new alliance for these pesky counter-insurgencies. US, Great Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Poland, and Georgia can bring the most personnel to the fight and stay for the long haul. France, Denmark, and The Netherlands provide troops at the beginning when more outside support is needed and local forces aren't capable yet and then can run back home. Hungary, Czech Republic, and Lithuania provide the reserve.

And we keep the Mongols on standby in case shit really hits the fan.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Graveyard of Emprires? Not So Much

Afghanistan has the nickname "Graveyard of Empires" because of some silly notion that no conquering state can seem to control the place. However, if you actually look closely at history other than the British getting trounced a couple of times and the Soviet Union collapsing a few short years after leaving the country, Afghanistan has actually been the "highway of conquest" for many civilizations who were quite capable of conquering and controlling the region now known as Afghanistan, at least until 1842 or so.

Darius I and his Persians controlled the region until the upstart Alexander showed up and took it. Alexander's successors then held Afghanistan for 200 years. There was some back and forth control for awhile between various Indo-Greek nations until the Sassanids/Persians claimed the territory. Those pesky Mongols eventually showed up and had very little to no trouble until Tamerlane arrived. The Timur Empire would eventually move its capital from Samarkand to Herat. Doesn't exactly appear that Afghanistan is the graveyard for any empire.

But what about those Brits? They never actually wanted to absorb Afghanistan into the Empire. Afghanistan was a buffer state between British India and Imperial Russia. London only sent troops into Afghanistan in order to ensure the king in Kabul remained "pro-England" and did not become "pro-Russia". Yeah, I'm simplifying things a bit.

The Soviet Union? They were probably winning against the Mujahideen in Afghanistan up until 1984 or so when the US decided to arm the insurgents with Stinger missiles. Did Russia try and fail in Afghanistan? Yes, of course. But there were numerous factors at play.

Which brings me to now. I just completed reading Ahmed Rashid's Taliban (add that to the long list of books I should have read a long time ago) which describes the Taliban's rise and impact in Afghanistan. It's pretty obvious that the West, and specifically the US, bungled Afghanistan after the Soviets left, mostly because the West chose to ignore Afghanistan and let Pakistan handle things. It continued to be ignored even after 9/11 and the US invasion, mostly because the US focused its attention on Iraq. The challenges ISAF is facing here in Afghanistan can be traced back to the complete lack of security forces and troops from 2002 until about 2008/2009 which allowed for the Taliban to regroup and re-arm. Keeping our head in the sand about Pakistan didn't help either. Don't even get me started on Pakistan.

All of this got me thinking last night, which in itself is always dangerous and makes my head hurt. One question popped into my brain that I will attempt to tackle in my next post and kind of goes against my entire thought process above...

Is Afghanistan the graveyard of NATO?

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Damnit Special Forces, Help A Brother Out

This should be easy, apparently it is not

The past week or so has been full of ups and downs. Here's a general run down of how things are going from the perspective of my little corner of the universe:

- LA Kings win. Yaaaaaah!

- I get sick. Booooo (It's either malaria or a bad head cold, I can't tell...)

- I got promoted! Double yaaaaaaaaah!

- Special Forces won't action (kill) the target I want them to. Booo

- Special Forces will action my target because I got someone to ask nice like. Yeeaaahh!!!

- Kings win their playoff series! HEAD EXPLODE YEEAAAAAAAH!!!

- Special Forces giving excuses for not actioning target. WTF boo.

Without going into too much detail, ISAF Joint Command does not have an action arm. We're a headquarters, not a battle space owner. The assets we have are tasked down to other organizations. The organization we typically use to action an operational level target is the special forces guys. It's not usually a problem.

For some reason we're getting a weird push back from the SF guys for a particular target we are trying to eliminate. 3 weeks ago they were all about giving this target a hellfire present but all of a sudden they are saying IJC should use it's own action arm to target the guy. Umm, what?

It's a real odd feeling for me to be pushing this much to try to get someone killed. I feel like my karma is going to be all fucked up for it. Ugh, enough of this frustration; here's a picture of a kitten to make me feel better:

This little guy would kill my target for me...kill him with cuteness!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Iraq The Unraveling

Is Iraq nearing some kind of collapse? My professional crush Emma Sky seems to thinks so.

Bodyguards of ministers being arrested; large and widespread protests by Sunnis; military moves around disputed Kirkuk; and media organizations, including Al Jazeera, being banned. This isn't your standard crap going on in Iraq. It's a series of events likely caused by a escalating problem.

My favorite quote: "We may be witnessing the breakdown of the post-WWI settlement and the nation-states established under the Sykes-Picot agreement."

That seems unlikely, but Ms Sky is far more intelligent than I am and understands the region much better than I. So two questions from me:

1. What does Iraq look like in 5 years? Shia dictatorship, autonomous regions, or something else?

2. Will the US do anything to try to keep Iraq stable and united or will we just sit back and watch it all unravel? This situation is essentially due to our little "intervention" afterall.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Fighting Season, Woot!

The Taliban has finally bothered to announce the beginning of 2013's Fighting Season/Spring Offensive. About time guys, I was getting worried; and as I mentioned, many a staff officer at ISAF Joint Command were getting all stressed about it.

Fighting Season officially begins tomorrow (Sunday) on April 28th, which corresponds to Afghanistan's "Mujahideen Victory Day" which is also observed on Sunday.

In other amusing Afghanistan news, today at lunch one of my colleagues was discussing how he doesn't want Afghanistan to change its culture, "Afghanistan is fine for Afghans. We shouldn't be trying to change anything. That's like walking into someone's house and stating, 'you should really change the color of those walls.'"

I responded with, "so we're somebody's annoying mother in law?"

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

UPDATE 2: My Probably Wrong Boston Marathon Attack Analysis

I've waited over a day to comment on the attack in Boston because I didn't want to jump to any sudden conclusions seeing how I've been so blatantly wrong in the past when it comes to terrorist attacks.

Having said that, my analysis is the attack was most likely domestic terrorism. The analysts here at the IJC that I've discussed the attack with also agree. From my perspective there's nothing for Al Qaida or any other major terrorist group to gain from conducting this attack. Yes, it was high profile, but it wasn't exactly set up to cause a lot of casualties. Al Qaida uses vehicles for their mass casualty attacks and targeting a bunch of marathon runners doesn't strike me as a tactic they would use. The point of Al Qaida's attacks are to either draw the West into a war that bleeds money and resources or causes US allies to abandon the mission. The Boston attack was just too small to be Al Qaida.

Which to me means it was most likely 3 or 4 individuals who are either not affiliated or only loosely affiliated with an organization in the US. They knew what they were doing; multiple bombs, placed in bags near where large crowds would be, and detonated by timers (maybe). I'm going to make another assessment: these guys, or the guy who made the bombs, were likely combat vets from Iraq or Afghanistan.

There is a third option. The perpetrators are not officially linked to Al Qaida or any other international terrorist group, but conducted the attack in their name or were influenced by Al Qaida.

In the meantime, an envelope sent to a Senator from Mississippi tested positive for Ricin. Coincidence?

The Pakistani Taliban (or TTP as we refer to them) has denied responsibility. Probably because they are focused on Pakistan and not the US and who attacks marathon runners anyway?

UPDATE: The ricin guy has been arrested in Mississippi. Apparrently it's not related to Boston. That's some good news I suppose.

UPDATE 2: Ok, how correct or incorrect was I? I claimed domestic terrorists, 3-4 individuals, no affiliation/loose affiliation, combat vets. Turns out it was 2 guys (so far, it would not shock me to learn that others were involved); it was domestic in a sense that it wasn't international terrorism but the brothers were only resident aliens, not full fledged citizens...I'll claim I'm half right on that point; no affiliation to any group so far; not combat vets.

Not great, but I didn't have much to go on. I'll admit I didn't see the Chechnyan angle at all but then I doubt anyone did.

As a side note, the Canadian analyst we have here is thinking that Russia may have been involved with this attack in some way. His reasoning is that the US made a big stink about Russian human rights abuses in their two Chechnyan wars. If Chechnyans attacked the US, then Russia could make the claim that Chechnya is a larger problem than it actually is and Russia is justified in their heavy-handedness. Chew on that for a bit.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

UPDATE: Yah! Another Acronym!

Remember back in March when I stated my belief that the Al Nusrah Front in Syria was likely just Al Qaida in Iraq?

Yeeeeaah, about that. It looks like I was correct for a change. Even a broke clock is right twice a day.

Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader/emir of Al Qaida in Iraq just announced that he is merging AQI, aka the Islamic State of Iraq, and the Al Nusrah Front. The new organizational name is al-Dawla al-Islamiyya fi al-’Iraq wa-l-Sham. Say that 10 times fast. Roughly translated it means "Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant." ISIL? Works for me.

The good news about this merger? We can blow them up. Al Nusrah/ISIL now falls under the  Authorization to Use Military Force or AUMF that governs military action in the "War On Terror"©; the 2002 Congressional authorization for the Iraq war is also still in place which would allow for targeting Al Nusrah/ISIL; and to add icing to the cake, the State Department added Al Nusrah as a terrorist organization back in December.

Enjoy your hellfires gentlemen.

UPDATE: That didn't last long. Apparently Abu Muhammad al Julani, the leader of the Al Nusrah Front, has rejected this merger and is swearing allegiance directly to Ayman al Zawahiri, the emir of Al Qaida. Infighting amongst Al Qaida leaders? How awful.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Winter Is...Not Coming For Awhile

For those of you who are not aware, Afghanistan has two unofficial seasons: Fighting and Winter. During the Winter months attacks by insurgents decrease significantly as many insurgent leaders leave Afghanistan to go hang out in Pakistan, leaving a few lower level guys to conduct the occasional attack in order to keep ISAF and ANSF on their toes. The reason for this is that snow blocks most of the mountain passes in the region making personnel and equipment movement challenging for everyone, even those with modern equipment. Fighting season begins once the snow melts and the insurgent leaders begin to return.

This year Winter was fairly mild with Kabul only seeing a few snowfalls and the snow accumulating only a few inches. The temperature began to rise in early March leading to a shorter Winter than usual.

So what?

The so what is that I'm now amused by all the leaders and analysts up here at IJC wondering when the Fighting Season will begin. They are sifting through intelligence reports looking for that announcement from insurgent leaders stating they are all returning and Fighting Season has begun.


Based on what I've seen the past couple of weeks, a Taliban assault on a government facility in Farah Province, attempts to take over Warduj District in Badakhshan Province, and the recent suicide attack against US personnel in Zabul Province...just to name a few...are pretty clear indicators that Winter is over and the Fighting Season has begun.

But I guess IJC just needs that Taliban memo. Maybe they announced it on Twitter.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Been Awhile Since I Had This Much Hate


...rage and revenge.

I'm currently focused on Green on Blue (Afghan Security Force members who attacked Coalition Force soldiers) targets and in the course of developing one of the targets I read the unit's incident report of the attack. I can't get into details about it but the way the attack was conducted builds up the anger. But it's not how the attack played out that is making me rage right now. It's who it was against.

1-14 Cav and 502nd MI.

This fuck and some of his buddies attacked soldiers from two of my old units.

I take all the GoB targets seriously and put the same effort into all the targets. However, this one is personal for me. My rage just adds more motivation. The hellfire for this guy can't come quickly enough.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Diyala...I Can't Quit You: Part II

This post is one of those posts that, if he reads it, will make my old warrant officer shake his head and say something along the lines of, "damnit sir."

I had a serious Diyala regression a couple of days ago. My curiosity got the best of me and I began to look up old reports from the Jalula-Tibij area just to see who was getting reported on and what 2-14 Cav was dealing with after 1-14 Cav left. I'm not proud of myself.

After 1-14 took over for 5-1 Cav in NE Diyala I would occasionally receive emails from 5-1's old S-2 asking about the situation and how things were going. I even got an email from him after we left Iraq. That guy really couldn't let Diyala go. As 1-14 was sitting around Balad Air Base waiting to go back to the States my warrant officer specifically warned me against emailing the 2-14 S2. "Just let it go," he said.

Well, I couldn't fully let it go. I never emailed 2-14 but followers of this blog know that I kept up on what was going on through open source news. There were just too many unanswered questions. Too many puzzle pieces left lying around. Too many nights staying up thinking about my mistakes and failures. It was the most painful, challenging, frustrating, glorious, amazing, and life-changing time in my life. I likely will never let Diyala go completely.

So I regressed and started looking up reports. But what did I find out?

- One of our top high value targets, hell he may have been my top guy by the end, I can't remember, with the initials ZM likely died in either Mosul or Baghdad from tuberculosis. Good, that guy pissed me off.

- Another of our HVTs, who Brigade nicknamed Bigfoot because they didn't think he existed, apparently took over AQI operations in the area and possibly began to have influence all the way to Baqubah. There was even a report I found on the guy that would have had me, and the S3, jumping for joy. Information, with specifics, that could have allowed us to use a UAV to find a track him. Actionable intel like that doesn't come around very often.

- Ansar Al Sunna was mentioned a few times. We had no reporting of AAS in the area while I was there except from the Iraqi Brigade S2 who claimed there were some individuals claiming to be AAS running around. I knew AAS had been in the area a few years prior to our arrival but had assessed they were either gone or had joined AQI or JRTN. Was my assessment wrong, had AAS returned, or did AQI, JRTN, and AAS just share members?

- There may have been more contact and coordination between the AQI group around Jalula and the AQI group in the Nidah Tribal Region than I thought.

Here I am doing research on my old stomping grounds when I should be focused on the current conflict. Diyala is more a part of me than I am willing to admit.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Counting Insurgents

Today's annoying question of the day (actually the past couple of days) comes from a random analyst out of RC-West (Regional Command West). The question was, "What percentage of the population of Farah Province are insurgents?"

I should back up a bit. Shortly before my arrival to IJC there was a governance analyst who developed a mathematical formula that (in theory) could determine the number of insurgents in Afghanistan. On his own he determined that knowing the exact number of insurgents would be useful for some reason and attempted to push his project off on my section. He argued that each RC should let us know how many insurgents they had. If they couldn't provide the answer, then the section NCO needed to travel around Afghanistan and determine the number. Yes, count insurgents.

Asking the Regional Commands seemed like the best answer instead of a traveling insurgent counting mission. This led to some humorous responses of answering the RFI (request for information) in ways that didn't actually answer the RFI. RC-North asked for a definition of what an insurgent is (gotta love the Germans). RC-East first claimed 6,000 insurgents and then 2 weeks later claimed 27,000 insurgents. When asked about this discrepancy RC-E replied that yes, the second number did seem a bit high, so they just split their two answers and claimed 18,000 insurgents.

The project quickly died after that and by the time I arrived insurgent counting was pretty much a running joke.

RC-N's response is probably the most correct. Who should be counted? The individual emplacing an IED because he has been threatened by the Taliban? The part timer who only conducts insurgent attacks when he needs money? Or the die-hard, ideological fueled individual? There are so many factors at play that the number of insurgents can and will fluctuate, often day to day.

So this analyst at RC-W apparently saw some product that the Governance Section created months ago and called up one of the poor analysts here. She tried to explain that the product was outdated and no longer used but this RC-W individual just wouldn't quit and so the inquiry got passed on to my section. My NCO is sitting on his response so that he can come up with a politically correct way of telling the RC-W analyst to "get his head out of his ass."

It doesn't matter how many insurgents there are. Like I said, it fluctuates. Asking for an insurgent count is exactly like the problem in Vietnam of body count. It's an irrelevant statistic and isn't really a metric of anything. If you kill 10 insurgents, that only means that the insurgents left will just work a bit harder until they replace those 10 guys they like a day or two.

As our Marine 2-star general here said:

"We're never going to defeat an insurgency through attrition."

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Donkey Had It Coming

I had promised a couple of weeks ago to write about a situation which shows how ISAF is pretty much beating itself here in Afghanistan. Well I got busy with work and approving people to get whacked by hellfires as well as a couple of other projects so I didn't have much time to write a post. I'm still pretty busy but screw it, I'll take some time to blog...and this is why we'll lose the war. This and Facebook.

Anyway, a few weeks back the SOF guys (special forces) were tracking an individual moving rockets and other bad stuff through the mountains on his donkey. Because this indivdual wasn't on our "kill list" they had to do up a packet real quick like and submit him to get on the list. It should be a quick process, but on this day it wasn't because the Regional Command (RC...think division headquarters) had some issues with the target and dragged their feet on it.

We had learned about the target and the situation early in the day and my first comment about the whole thing was, "why not just shoot the donkey?"

Shooting the donkey would probably start a blood feud with the donkey's relatives though...

There is nothing saying we can't fire a hellfire at a donkey loaded with weapons. If the guy leading the donkey accidently gets killed, well he shouldn't have been near a donkey loaded with weapons. Even the lawyers agreed with me.

It took several hours for the RC to finally give concurrence to go after the target but by that time the target was no longer targetable and the donkey had run off. I'm not going to say that by removing this individual (or his donkey) from the battlefield would win the war or anything, but at the very least removing the rockets would prevent some future attack that would be rather annoying for somebody in the near future. We're so hung up on legalities and fear of doing something wrong that we're tying our own hands behind our back.

Of course now PETA is going to see this and start some stupid protest campain.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Syria Bleeds Into Iraq

I was going to write about a situation that occurred that illustrates how ISAF is beating itself here in Afghanistan but an incident in Iraq (because I can't let go) caught my eye so you get my thoughts on that instead. Perhaps in a couple of days I'll get to writing more about the insanity that is ISAF.

Back in August I wrote about how it appeared that the civil war in Syria was spilling over into Turkey. Well now it appears that the civil war is spilling over another border, and what border is that?

Iraq of course. Fighting had occurred near one of the Syrian/Iraqi border crossings between Syrian troops and rebels. 48 wounded Syrian soldiers crossed into Iraq seeking medical treatment...or possibly trying to defect. While being transported to another border crossing to be transferred back to Syria they were ambushed by gunmen who had apparently crossed into Iraq from Syria. All of the (unarmed) Syrian soldiers as well as the 9 Iraqi guards escorting them were killed.

The article doesn't state who was responsible for the attack but I suspect it was the Al Nusra Front which is the most aggressive and successful rebel group operating in Syria. They are also affiliated with Al Qaida...there's a shocker. I also suspect that the Al Nusra Front is really just a re-branding of Al Qaida in Iraq.

I'm not naive enough to believe the insurgency in Iraq was completely done with but I did think that it was fading. With Al Nusra able to control territory in Syria as a base the group may be able to breathe some life into AQI and make life hell for Iraqis in the Anbar Province. And until the Kirkuk issue is completely settled I don't think Iraq will ever be able to completely remove the insurgent cancer.

And now I'm thinking about how the Arab Spring movement is linked to Mali/central Africa, Syria, Kirkuk, and the Iraqi insurgency. Hopefully someone writes a good historical narrative of it all in the future.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Poor Database Management

In a shocking bit of news, ISAF has announced that the drop in attacks that was reported is not actually correct, it was a mis-count of the stats.

Here's another article on the situation by the Christian Science Monitor.

This bit of "whoops we kind of screwed up the data" doesn't shock me at all from this organization. I'm not suggesting that ISAF Joint Command is a bunch of bumbling idiots, but battle tracking doesn't really seem to be their strong suit. They can certainly track incidents that occur on a big map that is displayed, but getting those incidents into the database seems to be a challenge. A few times I've been on current operations floor and seen an incident or two displayed that I've tried to look up when I got back to my desk only to discover that the incident isn't in the database.

Same for the next day, and the day after.

Hell, even the target set that I'm currently assisting in, Green on Blue attackers who have fled, is not immune to this problem. In the past couple of weeks there have been multiple GoB attacks that we have "discovered" that somehow never made it into the database and had to be added.

How does this happen? Is it incompetence or an attempt to hide the truth?

From my perspective it is neither. It's just what happens when you have a large headquarters with multiple different nations attempting to do several things at once. Plates are going to get dropped.

I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating...the number of attacks isn't even that critical of a metric to track when it comes to an insurgency. A low number of attacks in an area may indicate that the insurgency is defeated in that area, or that there are no security forces in that area and the insurgents actually control it. The flip side, a high number of attacks may indicate that insurgents are not in control and are trying to gain dominance.

So I suppose what I'm trying to say is, this failure by ISAF to properly account for attacks isn't that big of a deal. However, ISAF needs to get its shit together.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Ready For A Bit Of The Old Ultra-Violence

So other than defeating lawyers with nonsense words what has been going on in Afghanistan during the Winter lull prior to the start of the fighting season?

Well, ISAF/Coalition/US forces are methodically pulling out of all those smaller bases we (and by "we" I mean all those folks who were here when I was chilling in Iraq) had slowly and painstakingly established over the years. In most cases ISAF is handing the bases and outposts over to Afghan forces who hopefully are willing and able to continue the counter-insurgency operations ISAF troops were doing before. So what occurs when ISAF begins pulling troops out of these bases?

Violence of course. Those Taliban/Haqqanni forces still operating during the winter are attacking the retrograding troops as they pull out of those bases. As there are less and less ISAF troops the Taliban increases its attacks in order to attempt to retake territory previously lost. The article linked just discusses US forces but believe me, it's happening to other coalition partners as well.

We're also removing threats as they pop up. The author of the article makes it sound like the Special Forces shot the individual in cold blood on a base but that really wasn't the situation at all. Shocking, a news article that isn't accurate. Two quotes from the article I'd like to bring up:

“Even if he was supporting the Taliban, did the Americans have the right to kill him?” said Wali Khan, a Parliament member from Helmand...
Yes, yes we did. Why? Because of this other quote:

Mr. Khan was on the American military’s list of people to be killed or captured, known as the Joint Prioritized Effects List, according to officials
Don't get on my list people. It probably won't end well.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Unicorns and Rainbows

About two weeks ago we had a target come up to my section for nomination that to me appeared pretty straight forward. Intel reporting stated that he was a weapons dealer for the Taliban and one of the reports mentioned a large amount of ammunition that he was acquiring.

The lawyer who reviewed the packet, however, determined that the reports just weren't quite good enough for them to fully approve the target. I argued the point about the report that mentioned the large quantities of ammunition and how from an analyst's perspective it was clear that he wasn't using that ammunition for good things. I was quite animated about it in fact and if you know me you know that I don't usually get worked up about things. The lawyer remained stubborn.

During the weekly update to the general about our target nominations the lawyer brought up her concerns about the target, specifically that only one report stated he was working for the Taliban and that the report of acquiring large quantities of ammunition didn't necessarily mean he was affiliated with the insurgency. Her argument was lengthy and I will admit, a bit convincing.

The general then looked at me for a rebuttal after the lawyer was finished, and I stated: "he's obviously not using *insert ammunition amount here* for unicorns and rainbows."

There was a bit of a stunned silence in the room as you can imagine. The general's reply?

"This target's good (for lethal nomination). Next."

I love beating a lawyer with nonsense.

Unless the ammo really was for rainbows and unicorns...oh hell, what have I done?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Al Qaida Is All Gone I Swear It!


Hold on, need to catch my breath...


Apparently Pakistan's foreign secretary has his head buried in the sand. While I certainly assess Al Qaida's capabilities and size has been degraded, and much of its leadership killed/captured, Al Qaida is still very much active and running around in Pakistan.

If Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas truly believes that drone strikes are unnecessary and that Pakistani security forces have eliminated Al Qaida from its territory then maybe he should take a little trip to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and confirm this. Without a large military escort.

I want whatever Mr. Abbas is smoking, although I suspect he's just conducting some political posturing.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

PowerPoint Really Does Make Us Stupid

Yeah, that's an actual PowerPoint slide

From my short time here at ISAF Joint Command it has become way too apparent that some people have an obsession with PowerPoint. It's almost as if they believe the PowerPoint slide they are working on will give that key piece of information that will defeat the insurgency here. They have it in their mind that their presentation is so glorious that GEN Allen will view it and state, "that's it folks, the Taliban can't possibly beat us now. Time to go home."

The other day I received a panicked call from someone in another analyst section asking for a target pack (basically a whole bunch of PowerPoint slides) on an individual. I was curious since this analyst doesn't have an action arm (ability to conduct a lethal strike) but I found an older packet on the guy and sent it. The analyst called again with even more alarm and informed me that there must be a more updated packet and she needed this urgently for a PowerPoint brief that was to be in 2 days.


Your lack of planning does not constitute an emergency on my part.

I've produced slides in the past couple of months that come back to me with so much added information on it as to make the slides pretty much unreadable and therefore useful to no one. Less is more people, especially when it comes to PowerPoint.

Excel on the other hand...

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Teenagers, Ugh

I have blogged fairly recently about what I think will happen to Afghanistan after 2014 when most, if not all, international forces leave the country. But what do ordinary Afghans think? It's easy to sit up here at ISAF Joint Command and make assessements, it's the Afghans who actually have to face the current and future situation.

Luckily, the LA Times has provided everyone with an article interviewing average Afghans and asked them their view of the future...and by average I mean teenagers and 20-somethings who live a sheltered life in a gated section of Kabul. I had no idea a neighborhood like that existed. It's good to get their perspective but I take most of what they have to say with a grain of salt, especially when they say things like:
Tooba doesn't worry about what her life might look like after the departure of most U.S. and allied foreign troops next year.
"It will be the same," she says, nibbling a date. "This is a dangerous place for Americans, but not for Afghans."
And I thought I was out of touch up here at the IJC. I highly doubt rural Afghans who have daily dealings with the Taliban and other insurgents would agree with 16-year-old Tooba. Here's another gem:
"There are many modern men here in Afghanistan," Hazhir says, "so I don't think the war will begin again."

His friend Abdullah Hakimi, also 17, nods. "The Taliban just come with big turbans and long beards," he says between bites. "I think they look funny.… They are not as strong as people think."
These two are so out of touch I kind of feel sorry for them. Although I'm pretty sure I was a similar know-it-all-asshole when I was 17. I'm glad teenagers in Afghanistan are just as teentarded as teenagers in the States are (teen-tarded? I wish I could take credit for coming up with that word).

I prefer the attitude of the individual in the third part of the article. A 23-year-old shop owner whose family never left Afghanistan during the civil war and Taliban rule of the 90's. His cynical humor makes me smile and he's not completely naive about the future.

The ambition and dreams of the youths who were interviewed is to be admired. I feel for them and truely hope they are the future of Afghanistan. However, I believe many of them are in for a rude awakening come 2014 and beyond.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

No Food = Revolution?

My Swedish Fish supplier emailed me this article by Matthew Lynn about how rising food prices may be a cause for revolutions in 2013. It's an interesting article that points out many regimes have fallen in the past due to food shortages and the rise of prices that accompany those shortages. Lynn points to Algeria, Greece, and possibly Russia and China as potential hotspots for revolutions this year.

While I agree with Mr. Lynn that food shortages/prices can certainly be one factor in a revolution (insurrections in Ethiopia during the 80s comes to mind), and I agree that it can be a spark leading to a revolution, but I do not believe high food prices or food scarcity is the primary cause of a revolution. In fact, I find one statement by the author as, well not wrong, but certainly not entirely factual as it ignores multiple other factors at play:
...a shortage of food and soaring prices led to strikes in Petrograd in 1917 — and sparked the Russian Revolution.  
I would argue the war with Germany, which was going poorly, and a strained economy were more of a factor in the Russian Revolution than food shortages in Petrograd...but I'm sure one could link everything together.

Revolutions in Russia and China this year seem highly unlikely since both those countries currently have regimes that are quick to subdue any potential revolts. Algeria is a possibility, but only because of Al Qaida In the Islamic Maghreb and Al Qaida linked elements currently operating in the region. I could see an argument that food shortages could cause an increasing amount of the population to side with AQIM and friends thus leading to a revolution but that's a stretch in my opinion.

Then there's Greece. I will admit I know little of the causes of the current problems facing Greece other than they are economic in nature but if revolution does occur, it will occur because of a tanked prices being only one part of that.

Mr. Lynn does have one statement in his article where he points out "there are other factors at play", but then wouldn't other factors be "at play" to prevent a revolt despite high food prices? If food prices really caused revolutions than why wasn't there any kind of violent revolution in Zimbabwe between 1999 and 2000, a time period of forced land redistribution and droughts caused food shortages and hyperinflation?

In any regard, it's an interesting article and a reminder that people don't just up and storm the streets over nothing.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Mali and Sudan Update

Saddle up folks, it appears that the battle to re-take northern Mali from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, and Ansar Dine has begun.

A few days ago, soldiers from the above organizations moved south and captured the Malian town of Konna. This finally provoked a response from the West and French troops are now openly conducting attacks in support of Mali. French aircraft have apparently blocked the assault of the jihadist forces and could potentially enable a counterattack by Malian forces.

So far, the United States has only offered UAVs to support the operation against AQIM and friends but as this conflict drags on...and it likely will...I wouldn't be suprised to learn that the US sends more than just some drones.

In the meantime, Al Qaida appears to be expanding its influence in Sudan (Al Qaeda in the Land of the Two Niles? Are you kidding me?).

A global game of whack-a-mole? This should keep me employed for a few years.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

UPDATE: My Afghan Legacy?

I've been occassionally curious about military naming conventions when it comes to operational or objective names. For example, who came up with the name Operation Overlord (Allied invasion of Normandy)? Or Market Garden? Or Sea Lion (planned German invasion of England)? Was there a specific alphabetic naming convention or was it just some words someone came up with?

Stars and Stripes (actually shocked I found this article) had a brief article about coming up with operation names in 2007. The imbedded reporter did an interview with the two planners in one of the infantry battalions of 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division. The battalion was the "Polar Bears" so their naming convention always had "Polar" at the beginning. Must have been a slow news day.

My brigade, 3-2 SBCT, had a similar way of naming operations in '06/07. Since we were the Arrowhead Brigade all operations started with "Arrowhead"; the second part of the name was an operational name from 2nd Infantry Divisions exploits in WW1 and WW2. They didn't always make sense like when Comedy Central's Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show" mocked 3-2 SBCT's name for the operation in Baqubah...Operation Arrowhead Ripper (Arrowhead ripper? What does that even mean? Are we fighting the terrorists with nonsense words?).

When naming operations and objectives in '09/10 the planners were given limited guidance by the Squadron Commander...nothing offensive or animals that could be considered offensive. Not only did he not want us unintentionally offending our Iraqi security counterparts, but he didn't exactly want to write a letter to a mother stating that her son died on Objective Pukeface during Operation Dog Fart. The squadron planners would eventually adopt Washington state counties and towns for our naming convention or would just adopt what higher headquarters had named the larger overall operation/objective, i.e., Operation Arrowhead Pursuit would become Operation Warhorse Pursuit. Later on, our Squadron XO would tell us to channel our inner 5 year old and if an operation or objective name made us giggle...don't use it.

So what does this have to do with anything?

The fools here at ISAF Joint Command have allowed me to name certain objectives. Having seen some of the other objective names I have come to the conclusion that there is no standard to the naming convention and have taken the liberty of ignoring all previous advice from my former Squadron commander and XO. If it makes me giggle, it's an objective name. I have found a way to make my mark on this war.

Some time in the future, when someone is briefing a general about Objective Fuzzy Jackal, my inner 5 year old will be giggling madly. Professionalism? The hell is professionalism?

UPDATE: My inner 5 year old did indeed giggle madly while Fuzzy Jackal was briefed.