Archive for the 'Afghan National Police' Category

Green On Blue Bloodbath In Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
11 years, 10 months ago

Lt. Col. Michael Styskal, who commands Marines in southern Afghanistan has recently said “the threat within right now is worrying me. And the Marines, they know what the threat is, not so much on the outside — there could be a threat on the inside.”  It’s a well-placed worry.  Sgt. J.P. Huling, a Marine from Ohio, was killed earlier in May in Afghanistan in another incident of so-called green on blue violence.

From a report on August 10, 2012, an Afghan police officer shot and killed three U.S. Marines after sharing a meal with them before dawn Friday and then fled into the desolate darkness of southern Afghanistan, the third attack on coalition forces by their Afghan counterparts in a week.  The Afghan police commander opened fire on the three Americans after inviting them to dinner at his outpost under the pretext of having a meeting to discuss security.

This attack was followed up in the Helmand Province with another one in which six U.S. service members were killed, and yet again where an Afghan police officer killed at least 10 of his fellow officers on Saturday.

Chief spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, Brig-Gen Gunter Katz, told AFP “Those isolated incidents don’t reflect the overall security situation in Afghanistan.”  But these attacks clearly do reflect on the overall security situation, and in fact, they are a function of it.  The situation itself is a function first of jettisoning the strategy of killing the enemy in favor of population-centric counterinsurgency and state-building, and second of announcing a drawdown date and pretending that the enemy will build a nation favorable to the United States.

Regarding the degrading security situation in Afghanistan, in a suicide bomb attack this month, Command Sergeant Major Kevin J. Griffin, 45, was one of two soldiers who died of wounds in Sarkowi, Kunar Province. The other soldier was Major Thomas E. Kennedy, 35, of West Point, N.Y.  Air Force Major Walter D. Gray, 38, of Conyers, Ga., also died in the attack and Army Colonel James J. Mingus was badly wounded

That’s two Majors and one Command Sergeant Major killed, with one Colonel wounded in a single attack.  This attack was another suicide attack, and friend Dirty Mick writes with his take on the incident.

I knew exactly where this was because it is Governor Wahidi’s compound in the provincial capital of Kunar (Asadabad). We would go there a couple times a week because the PRT Commander would have his meetings with the governor, we would provide security, and push patrols with Civil Affairs and DOS to go check on the medical center, court house etc. Now, what’s interesting is we had no problems there (not even mortars) when I was there from Dec. 09 to Sept 10 and the same from goes with the previous PRT. The only incident I can remember specifically was a half assed grenade attack (It’s mentioned in Bing West’s book The Wrong War.). Now I can’t cite specifically how the various PRTs have operated since I left but when I was there I can tell you for sure an aggressive posture was frowned upon. My Navy commander chewed my Army’s chain of commands ass my first week in theater for pointing my M4 (I was a gunner at the time and couldn’t get the m2 on him) at a local and yelling at the guy who got too close to my vehicle at a traffic circle. Then another incident on a dismount patrol where the Navy got upset because I stopped a vehicle at an intersection by raising my weapon and walking torwards the vehicle (he wasn’t paying attention to my hand signals and the vehicle was going at a high rate of speed). I was specifically called out during a mission brief by my Navy Commander saying this wasn’t Iraq and we’re here to practice COIN. Also Navy SOP was to have the crew serves on the MRAPs on Amber Status (I think the Corps calls it condition 3) when we were in downtown Asadabad (we never followed that guidance). Now do I think this is reason why guys got killed? I honestly can’t say, I wasn’t there and I don’t know the current SecFor elements SOPs or how they work with the Navy. But I thought I would pass on to you how general patrols worked when I was there.

I have a buddy I served with in Kunar and is right now in Khandahar and this is what he told me: It was the PRT that got hit. What happened was two suicide bombers blew themselves up at the bottom of those extremely steep steps by the hydroelectric powerplant, on the way to FOB Fiaz. 3 KIA US Army, 1 US civilian state department KIA, 9 US Army WIA, 1 State department WIA, 1 ANA and 1 TERP WIA. Herschel I don’t know if these are the exact details but he was very specific. So pretty much a whole squad got wiped out. I would ask that if you decide to publish this to wait until more details arrive (Editorial comment: We waited until MSM reports flowed in concerning the incident). I don’t how accurate the info (for all we know it was a different unit) is but from what my friend told me it seems about right. Also the KIAs and WIAs is very specific so I would wait because I think it’s an OPSEC issue (Editorial comment: We did wait).

Anyway I thought I would pass the word because I was shocked when I read this article this morning and also how close they got to the Governor’s compound.

Another reader (and veteran of RC East) Jean writes in with this: “The initial report had it happening at the provisional capital, but I think it occurred across the river in Sarkonoi, not far from Joyce. If it was the Command team, they slipped by the PSD, that rarely happens.”  Remember Dirty Mick’s comments and file it away for future reference.  An aggressive posture was frowned upon.  And I do also know that Dirty Mick was involved in other combat operations in various parts of Kunar.  So the enemy was certainly aggressive.

Obama’s Magical Mystery Tour: Long Term Afghan Security Agreement

BY Glen Tschirgi
12 years, 2 months ago

Roll up for the Magical Mystery Tour, Step right this way!

According to this New York Times article, the Obama Administration has just completed the “draft” of a long-term security agreement with the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan that provides a “framework” for support and assistance from the U.S. for at least ten years after the 2014 draw-down of U.S. forces:

The agreement, whose text was not released, represents an important moment when the United States begins the transition from being the predominant foreign force in Afghanistan to serving a more traditional role of supportive ally.

By broadly redefining the relationship between Afghanistan and the United States, the deal builds on hard-won new understandings the two countries reached in recent weeks on the thorny issues of detainees and Special Operations raids. It covers social and economic development, institution building, regional cooperation and security.

Sounds terrific!  Let’s all hop on this bus and ride away in the sunset because this promises to be a swell ride.

Wait.  It’s just a draft and the actual, written text hasn’t been released?  So, we don’t actually know what is in it?

And the NYT article is extremely sparse on sources or attribution?

So what we have here is a very general agreement to get around to having a specific agreement in the very near future, right?

In many respects the strategic partnership agreement is more symbolic than substantive. It does not lay out specific dollar amounts of aid or name programs that the Americans will support; the financing must be authorized and appropriated by Congress from year to year.

Nor does it lay out specifically what the American military and security presence will be after 2014 or what role it will play. A more detailed security agreement is to come later, perhaps in the next year, Western diplomats said, once it becomes clear how much support European nations will give to the Afghan security forces.

I see.  A “more detailed security agreement is to come later, perhaps in the next year…”   After the November elections, of course.  But the U.S. has committed itself to keeping the Afghan government and its security forces as a viable entity, right?

Even so, the United States expects to make substantial contributions toward the cost of Afghanistan’s security forces beyond 2014. A total figure for the United States of $2.7 billion a year has been discussed, and it could easily be more; there would most likely be aid for civilian programs as well.

That would be a steep reduction from the amount the United States now spends here, which has been $110 billion to $120 billion a year since the “surge” in American troop levels began in 2010, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Sorry, folks.  Get off the Obama Mystery Tour Bus.   This thing is going nowhere.  No specific commitments, funding slashed to $2.7 billion per year from over $100 billion per year and meager U.S. combat forces.

Interestingly, Max Boot is still a true believer in the Mystery Tour.  He recently penned an editorial for The Wall Street Journal that is pure, hilarious fantasy.   Or it would be if Mr. Boot did not seem to seriously believe the notion that the U.S. can still save Afghanistan:

The bulk of future fighting must be carried out by the Afghans themselves, but in order to have any chance of success they must have enough troops to garrison a far-flung country of 30 million people. And that in turn will require outside funding. The Kabul government remains too impoverished to pay its own security costs.

Maintaining an Afghan force of 350,000 soldiers and police, the level which will be reached this year, will require $6 billion a year. Yet the Obama administration wants to provide only $4.1 billion a year. That would require laying off 120,000 soldiers and cops—a move that would significantly destabilize Afghanistan without producing significant savings in a $3.8 trillion U.S. budget.

If we avoid such unforced errors and stick with the plans developed by Gens. Stanley McChrystal, David Petraeus and John Allen, we have a good chance to maintain a pro-Western regime in power. The Taliban are too weak to defeat us or our Afghan allies. But we can defeat ourselves.

As the recent posts by Herschel Smith amply demonstrate, Afghanistan is going to hell in a hand basket and the American people know it full well.  Mr. Boot himself acknowledges that it is less and less likely that his recipe for avoiding defeat in Afghanistan can be attained and yet he makes the argument nonetheless.   It is part and parcel of the same fantasy that Obama is selling, that Afghanistan can make a transition from U.S. combat forces leading the fight to Afghan security forces taking over.   It is not going to happen.  The ANA and police are a farce and no amount of training is going to change that in any time frame that matters.   Long-term security agreements are a laughable dog-and-pony show for the electorate, but very few people are fooled this time around.

Dishonesty About Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 4 months ago

In the Armed Forces Journal, Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis drops a bombshell on the community.

I spent last year in Afghanistan, visiting and talking with U.S. troops and their Afghan partners. My duties with the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force took me into every significant area where our soldiers engage the enemy. Over the course of 12 months, I covered more than 9,000 miles and talked, traveled and patrolled with troops in Kandahar, Kunar, Ghazni, Khost, Paktika, Kunduz, Balkh, Nangarhar and other provinces.

What I saw bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders about conditions on the ground.

Entering this deployment, I was sincerely hoping to learn that the claims were true: that conditions in Afghanistan were improving, that the local government and military were progressing toward self-sufficiency. I did not need to witness dramatic improvements to be reassured, but merely hoped to see evidence of positive trends, to see companies or battalions produce even minimal but sustainable progress.

Instead, I witnessed the absence of success on virtually every level.

My arrival in country in late 2010 marked the start of my fourth combat deployment, and my second in Afghanistan. A Regular Army officer in the Armor Branch, I served in Operation Desert Storm, in Afghanistan in 2005-06 and in Iraq in 2008-09. In the middle of my career, I spent eight years in the U.S. Army Reserve and held a number of civilian jobs — among them, legislative correspondent for defense and foreign affairs for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

As a representative for the Rapid Equipping Force, I set out to talk to our troops about their needs and their circumstances. Along the way, I conducted mounted and dismounted combat patrols, spending time with conventional and Special Forces troops. I interviewed or had conversations with more than 250 soldiers in the field, from the lowest-ranking 19-year-old private to division commanders and staff members at every echelon. I spoke at length with Afghan security officials, Afghan civilians and a few village elders.

I saw the incredible difficulties any military force would have to pacify even a single area of any of those provinces; I heard many stories of how insurgents controlled virtually every piece of land beyond eyeshot of a U.S. or International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) base.

I saw little to no evidence the local governments were able to provide for the basic needs of the people. Some of the Afghan civilians I talked with said the people didn’t want to be connected to a predatory or incapable local government.

From time to time, I observed Afghan Security forces collude with the insurgency.

Much of what I saw during my deployment, let alone read or wrote in official reports, I can’t talk about; the information remains classified. But I can say that such reports — mine and others’ — serve to illuminate the gulf between conditions on the ground and official statements of progress.

And I can relate a few representative experiences, of the kind that I observed all over the country.

In January 2011, I made my first trip into the mountains of Kunar province near the Pakistan border to visit the troops of 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry. On a patrol to the northernmost U.S. position in eastern Afghanistan, we arrived at an Afghan National Police (ANP) station that had reported being attacked by the Taliban 2½ hours earlier.

Through the interpreter, I asked the police captain where the attack had originated, and he pointed to the side of a nearby mountain.

“What are your normal procedures in situations like these?” I asked. “Do you form up a squad and go after them? Do you periodically send out harassing patrols? What do you do?”

As the interpreter conveyed my questions, the captain’s head wheeled around, looking first at the interpreter and turning to me with an incredulous expression. Then he laughed.

“No! We don’t go after them,” he said. “That would be dangerous!”

According to the cavalry troopers, the Afghan policemen rarely leave the cover of the checkpoints. In that part of the province, the Taliban literally run free.

In June, I was in the Zharay district of Kandahar province, returning to a base from a dismounted patrol. Gunshots were audible as the Taliban attacked a U.S. checkpoint about one mile away.

As I entered the unit’s command post, the commander and his staff were watching a live video feed of the battle. Two ANP vehicles were blocking the main road leading to the site of the attack. The fire was coming from behind a haystack. We watched as two Afghan men emerged, mounted a motorcycle and began moving toward the Afghan policemen in their vehicles.

The U.S. commander turned around and told the Afghan radio operator to make sure the policemen halted the men. The radio operator shouted into the radio repeatedly, but got no answer.

On the screen, we watched as the two men slowly motored past the ANP vehicles. The policemen neither got out to stop the two men nor answered the radio — until the motorcycle was out of sight.

To a man, the U.S. officers in that unit told me they had nothing but contempt for the Afghan troops in their area — and that was before the above incident occurred.

The bombshell isn’t that things aren’t going well in Afghanistan.  The bombshell is that this specific Lt. Col. went on record saying so.

But the reader would have already known many of these things by reading my categories on the horrible Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.  I repeatedly called for chasing the insurgents, just like Lt. Col. Davis expected would happen, but General McChrystal withdrew troops to the population centers just like the Russians.  I said that al Qaeda and the Haqqani fighters would come back to the Pech River Valley, and they did.

Michael Yon and I have both called for withdrawal (me, because we have not and aren’t taking the campaign seriously).  But it’s significant that staff officers have begun to break ranks.  The campaign is not as advertised.  Regular readers already knew that.  Now staff officers are saying it.

Afghan National Police Defections

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 9 months ago

From The Sacramento Bee:

A local policing venture in Afghanistan’s northeastern Kapisa province is faltering as men leave the force because their wages have been cut.

The men are part of the Afghan Local Police, originally village militias that have been brought under a centralized command structure since last year. They remain distinct from the regular Afghan National Police, ANP.

In Kapisa’s Tagab and Alasai districts, around 40 men are said to have left the force after effective command shifted six months ago from France’s NATO contingent stationed in the area to the Afghan interior ministry.

Until the changeover, they say, they were paid good wages by the French army, which also supplied weapons and conducted joint operations with them.

“The French troops stationed in Kapisa used to provide us with all kinds of assistance. They paid our salaries and gave us arms and ammunition. But once we were transferred to the interior ministry, everything became disorganized,” Nazir Ahmad, who has resigned from the local police in Tagab, said.

He added that although the local police created security over large swathes of territory, they were more or less ignored by the Afghan authorities.

“The government pays wages of 150 dollars (a month), but the payments have been held up for several months. And it’s a low wage,” Nazir Ahmad said. “The (ANP) police headquarters doesn’t care about us. Even if the Taliban kill us all, police headquarters isn’t going to help us.”

His concerns were echoed by Mazar, deputy commander of Afghan Local Police unit in Tagab’s Landakhel area, who said the French had paid wages of $500 a month, not the $150 the government was offering.

“We’re unhappy about this process. Ever since we were incorporated into the interior ministry, we’ve had no supplies and our wages have been delayed for months,” he said.

He said lack of resources meant his police were unable to perform as effectively as they used to. In one recent clash with the Taliban, their Kalashnikov rifles proved no match for the heavier weapons deployed by the insurgents.

Under French control, Mazar said, “We had trained up some people behind the Taliban lines … to inform us about their movements, in return for payment. We provided good security in the region, but now we can’t do anything. Our militia members are having to leave their jobs and go into some other business.”

If their rifles proved no match for the “heavier weapons deployed by the insurgents,” it’s likely that the Taliban are utilizing crew served weapons against the police.  The French left Taliban using crew served weapons, and the ANP to maintain security and combat the Taliban.  The French are back home enjoying good wine and food, while the “system” they set up is collapsing and leading to an exodus of the ANP and even death in some cases.

Honestly, this reads like a bad joke.  But it isn’t, and it is a sign of things to come as we draw down forces in Afghanistan.

NYT Changing Tune on Afghanistan? Are Fairies Real?

BY Glen Tschirgi
13 years, 4 months ago

When a newspaper as biased and agenda-driven as The New York Times begins to voice even cautious optimism about Afghanistan, there is only one question to ask:  how does this help the liberal agenda?

Herschel covered the opinion piece by Nathaniel Fick and John Nagl in his most recent post and threw considerable cold water on Fick and Nagl’s optimism.   Within the space of a day, The New York Times runs an almost companion-piece/follow up article by Carlotta Gall that reports on growing “fissures” between the fighting ranks of the Taliban and their Pakistani-based masters.

Consider this hopeful tone:

Recent defeats and general weariness after nine years of war are creating fissures between the Taliban’s top leadership based in Pakistan and midlevel field commanders, who have borne the brunt of the fighting and are reluctant to return to some battle zones, Taliban members said in interviews.

After suffering defeats with the influx of thousands of new American troops in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand last year, many Taliban fighters retreated across the border to the safety of Pakistan. They are now coming under pressure from their leaders to return to Afghanistan to step up the fight again, a Taliban commander said. Many are hesitant to do so, at least for now.

“I have talked to some commanders, and they are reluctant to fight,” one 45-year-old commander who has been with the Taliban since its founding in 1994 said in an interview in this southern city. He spoke on condition he not be identified because he was in hiding from American and government forces. “Definitely there is disagreement between the field commanders and the leaders over their demands to go and fight.”

It is a bit disorienting, I admit.  I will have to ask my father, a WWII veteran, whether this is what newspapers used to sound like before they began bleating unashamedly for American defeat.

At any rate, after reading these, two articles (and regaining my equilibrium) I wonder whether we are beginning to see the first bit of 2012 Campaign messaging on Afghanistan.

I should state up front that I would like to believe that the war in Afghanistan is going better.  I am not afraid to use the word, “victory.”  Indeed, it is almost impossible to believe that the influx of additional troops — although far too few vis a vis the Iraqi Surge– could not achieve at least some tactical gains.  Furthermore, when I reflect on the unbelievably negative reporting from liberal media throughout the Iraq campaign, I consider that a few, like Michael Yon, who spent long embeds with combat units, pointed to a turnaround in Iraq long before it became clearly established, so, perhaps, Fick and Nagl have insights that the rest of the media is missing.

Could major media outlets like the NYT have learned from their mistakes on Iraq and actually be catching the first signs of a turnaround in Afghanistan?

Maybe.  But I doubt it.  As any parent will tell you, when your 12-year old, who is allergic to washing dirty dishes, starts cheerfully cleaning the kitchen, the first reaction is suspicion not sudden conversion.  It is about knowing with whom you are dealing.

And when we are dealing with liberal media like the NYT, we know that they have a congenital predisposition to echo whatever talking points they are given by Obama and the Democrats in general.

Turning to the Fick/Nagl piece and the Gall article, is there a discernible message being conveyed?  Yes, it seems that way.  When you compare these, two pieces on Afghanistan, there is a narrative that emerges that may very well be Obama’s re-election theme for 2012 on foreign policy: bringing Afghanistan back from the drift of the Bush years and making it possible to “Afghanize” the war by 2014, ending U.S. involvement.

Consider the Fick/Nagl opinion piece.

It stresses themes that are clear, Obama policy goals such as drawing down troop levels:

It now seems more likely than not that the country can achieve the modest level of stability and self-reliance necessary to allow the United States to responsibly draw down its forces from 100,000 to 25,000 troops over the next four years.

Here is another liberal talking point that argues that we can prevail in Afghanistan by simply protecting population centers and key road:

Half of the violence in Afghanistan takes place in only 9 of its nearly 400 districts, with Sangin ranking among the very worst. Slowly but surely, even in Sangin, the Taliban are being driven from their sanctuaries as the coalition focuses on protecting the Afghan people in key population centers and hubs of economic activity, and along the roads that connect them. Once these areas are cleared, it will be possible to hold them with Afghan troops and a few American advisers — allowing the United States to thin its deployments over time.

Again, the key aim emphasized is to leave behind a “few American advisers… to thin [U.S.] deployments over time.”  I am not against reducing deployments “over time,” but this is a basic disagreement over strategy between having enough troops to beat down the Taliban and getting by with insufficient numbers for too short a time to do any, lasting good.   In order for the “less is more” approach to work, however, the ANA has to get much bigger, much better and, most importantly, much faster.  Strangely enough that is just what Fick and Nagl find:

Afghan Army troop strength has increased remarkably. The sheer scale of the effort at the Kabul Military Training Center has to be seen to be appreciated. Rows of new barracks surround a blue-domed mosque, and live-fire training ranges stretched to the mountains on the horizon.

It was a revelation to watch an Afghan squad, only days from deployment to Paktika Province on the Pakistani border, demonstrate a fire-and-maneuver exercise before jogging over to chat with American visitors. When asked, each soldier said that he had joined the Army to serve Afghanistan. Most encouraging of all was the response to a question that resonates with 18- and 19-year-old soldiers everywhere: how does your mother feel? “Proud.”

And then we have the theme that Obama and liberals everywhere hooted constantly– the tragic distraction of Bush’s Iraq (the “bad war”) that we are now, at long last overcoming; the prospect of negotiating with the Taliban to end the war that is “vital” to our national interests (the “good war”):

Not since the deterioration in conditions in Iraq that drew our attention away from Afghanistan have coalition forces been in such a strong position to force the enemy to the negotiating table. We should hold fast and work for the day when Afghanistan, and our vital interests there, can be safeguarded primarily by Afghans.

The planned drawdown of forces in 2014 is a foregone conclusion.  Negotiations with the Taliban is a favorite fantasy of the Administration.

The news article by Gall picks up the ball from Fick and Nagl nicely. As noted in the quote above, the “influx of thousands of…troops” has worn down the Taliban and created “fissures” between the fighters and Taliban leadership in Pakistan.   The opportunity for negotiation just keeps getting better and better.  In fact, as Gall frames it, if it wasn’t for those stick-in-the-mud-mullahs in Pakistan, Hillary Clinton would be signing peace deals all over the place:

The differences point not just to the increasing stresses on the battlefield for midlevel Taliban commanders like him, but also to the difficulty of ending the insurgency as long as the Taliban’s top leadership has sanctuary in Pakistan, which has long protected and sponsored the Taliban.

Secure across the border, and tightly controlled by Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies, the top Taliban leadership remains uncompromising. At the urging of their protectors in Pakistan, Taliban members say, they continue to push midlevel Taliban commanders back across the border to carry on the insurgency, which extends Pakistan’s influence in southern Afghanistan.

The midlevel commanders have little choice but to comply, as they also depend on sanctuaries in Pakistan, where they maintain their families, say residents in Kandahar who know the Taliban well. The Taliban commander said in his interview that the field commanders would obey their orders to resume the fight, however reluctant they might be.

We have this about won, it seems.  But as Herschel has repeatedly noted, the Taliban cannot be beaten with the whack-a-mole strategy.  We have too few troops spread out across too much territory.  This Administration has been trying to find the exit ramp out of Afghanistan since day one.

If the NYT stories are any indication, the message from Obama on Afghanistan in 2011 and beyond is more smoke and mirrors.  Or is that ‘hope and change’ ?

Afghan National Security Forces: Promise or Problem?

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 7 months ago

Jim Foley gives us a little room for hope in the Afghan National Army.

… this was the first time the Afghans attached to HHT 1-75 had decided they were going after a bad guy.  It shows the importance of getting native soldiers who can speak the language and know the culture, off the Forward Operating Bases and out into the problem towns etc.  Captain Krayer said it was the first patrol the ANA had gone on without the U.S.  Also the first one they’d acted on their own intelligence gathering.

I’ve seen U.S. forces try to place Afghans in critical areas in Kunar and down in Kandhar after larger offensive operations.  In most cases the ANA/ or Afghan Police failed to hold the area- following Eagle Strike in Kunar the ANP supposedly abandoned their positions after a few weeks.  And in one of the most contested clearing operations in a heavily IED-ed strip called Macwan here in Kandahar, where two U.S. have been killed and many more wounded, the ANP are still dragging their feet on putting up an outpost.

Still, I can’t forget the speed and control the ANA were able to use in apprehending the suspects.  Some U.S. guys later joked they still would be out there trying to blow through grape walls if it had been done jointly.  The U.S. would surely have done it safer, but probably wouldn’t have been able to identify the suspects, much less nab them.

Read Jim’s entire writeup.  In this case the ANA showed some promise.  In other areas, the ANP is showing how bad things are in parts of the Afghan National Security Force.

An Afghan police unit cut a deal with insurgents to torch their own police station and defect, government officials said yesterday, in a bitter parody of the Government-led effort to bring rebel fighters in from the cold.

The incident triggered hours of pillaging as insurgents swept into a remote district south-west of Kabul, burnt government buildings, stole weapons, food and pick-up trucks, and escaped along with 16 policemen who were in on the plot. Nato and Afghan forces re-took the district in the volatile province of Ghazni the same morning.

The reintegration programme, one of the main planks in the Government’s efforts to make peace with the Taliban, offers low-level fighters amnesty and vocational training if they switch sides-or rejoin the “national mainstream”, in President Hamid Karzai’s words.

The programme has met with some success: yesterday 15 insurgents in western Afghanistan handed over their weapons and promised to lobby other insurgents to do the same.

But despite pledges from the international community of millions of dollars to the programme, there have been consistent reports of promises of training and support being broken. And many potential defectors are thought to be too scared of Taliban retribution, and doubtful of the Government’s ability to protect them, to make the change.

In Ghazni, provincial governor Musa Khan Akbarzada said that police stationed in Khogyani had handed over the district to the militants without a shot being fired, contradicting some earlier reports that the rebels had seized the area by force. When coalition forces arrived three hours later the attackers simply melted away.

A Taliban spokesman claimed that the police had switched sides after “learning the facts about the Taliban,” according to The New York Times.

“We never force people to join us,” he said. “The police joined us voluntarily and are happy to work with us and to start the holy war shoulder to shoulder with their Taliban brothers.”

Some news articles are focusing on astoundingly stupid things like whether ANP stations are being constructed according to seismic design criteria (yes, seriously).  Still short of answering the all-important question of whether the stations are able to withstand earthquakes, there is the question of whether the ANP should even be there.  If they are loyal to the Taliban (or only to themselves), then they have no business being employed.

And that’s the root of at least one problem.  The U.S. has made it clear that we want more ANP, even more than doubling the current size.  I advocate exactly the opposite approach.  We need a smaller Afghan National Security Force, both ANA and ANP.  Since the U.S. controls the purse strings, it doesn’t work to say that we don’t have authority over this process.  That “dog won’t hunt.”

We need a smaller, more reliable, well trained, force that will do the things that Jim Foley observed, and even more efficiently.  U.S. troops should be working hard to ferret out those who will and those who won’t, send home those who won’t, and give the extra pay to those who will.  Incentive is a common motivator for all mankind.

Everything wrong with the campaign in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 8 months ago

A depressing report from NPR (which, by the way, shouldn’t have government funding).  Only part of the report is reproduced below, but the excerpt is still lengthy.

“That house that has that flag on it? There are two individuals, he’s just confirmed,” Horton said into the handset. “But he’s not going to fly over it because he’s pretty sure it’s Pakistan. Yeah, it is. Well, they’re watching us.”

After walking about half a mile, the men from Alpha Company stopped at their objective, a series of bunkered outposts astride the road.

They cleared the rooms out but discovered some strange litter — nice sleeping bags, fleece jackets and uniforms — quite valuable in Afghanistan, and strange things to leave behind. The men were tired, so they established a guard duty while the others pulled out their sleeping bags and crashed on the dirt floor, curled up for warmth.

A chilly dawn drew back the curtain on a stunning view of the valley to the west into Afghanistan and razor wire marking the Pakistan border just 50 yards east. But a stranger sight lay across the dirt road — a concrete building that looked as if a bomb was dropped on it.

But it wasn’t, said one soldier.

“It wasn’t blown up, they abandoned this,” he said. “This was all self-destruction. Like the vehicles that we passed way up there, they just abandoned all these compounds. I’m not sure the reasoning behind it.”

Part of the reasoning has to do with who left this compound in such a hurry — the soldiers all refer to them as the OGA, which stands for “Other Government Agency” and is common slang for the CIA. The CIA declined to comment.

But interviews with Pakistani border guards and U.S. soldiers, and some Pakistani press reports, all suggest that the CIA built this massive base compound more than two years ago. The construction included a road, the helicopter landing zone and several hard structures, including one at the top of the mountain called “Camp Karzai.”

Now it’s all charred and demolished. Up the hill, half a dozen vehicles are jammed together and burned. Another brand-new pickup has had the engine stripped out. An Army generator sits in one demolished building.

The occupants appear to have left in a hurry, though with few signs of battle, other than a floor littered with shells from a belt-fed machine gun.

The sight of hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted doesn’t go down well with the soldiers in Alpha Company, but they’ve got a more personal gripe.

Many of them spent the summer fighting in the valley to the west — killing scores of Taliban and losing some of their own — in an operation called Strong Eagle meant to clear the Taliban out of the area. The “OGA” base at the Ghakhi Pass served to keep the border under control, the soldiers say.

But when this base was evacuated, all the U.S. military assets in this part of Kunar were looking for Norgrove, and there was no time to send anyone to the border.

The soldiers in Alpha Company draw a clear line from the abandoned compounds — what they say was a spy base — the rocket-propelled grenade that hit the Chinook helicopter.

“The [Taliban has] reseeded the valley a little bit — not to the extent it was before when we first cleared it out,” says Billig, Alpha Company’s commander. “The bird [Chinook] came here and took contact, as a result of this position being abandoned.”

The day turns out quiet, and a few of the officers in Alpha Company make an effort at a little international diplomacy. Lt. Ken Kovach clambers down the hill behind the outpost to chat with the Pakistani border guards, who seemed just as curious.

It gets a little testy when one Pakistani tells him, with rough translation by an Afghan interpreter, that he thinks Americans don’t care about Pakistan. “How can he believe that?” Kovach says. “We have our helicopters giving aid for all the flooded areas? How can he believe we don’t want to help them?”

Tempers are soothed quickly, when the Pakistanis bring milky chai, which they pass carefully in white teacups through the razor wire to the Americans.

Billig, the company commander, goes a step further some hours later and strolls with a few of his men down to the Ghakhi border point, where his counterpart on the Pakistani side, Lt. Colonel Ahmed Salim, is.

“Anything we can do for you, you’re just welcome,” says Salim, a tall man with a neatly trimmed mustache.

American officials say the Pakistani army has made gains in Bajaur, the tribal district across the way, but there’s still mistrust. Elements of the Taliban and al-Qaida are believed to cross the border at this point from safe havens inside Pakistan.

There are misgivings on the other side as well: All of the Pakistani border guards have put reflective tape in a cross on top of their helmets — to keep Americans drones from bombing them, they say.

Still, Salim invites the Americans across the border for lunch, pointing them up some steps to his outpost. Several of the U.S. soldiers flinch. On the rooftop are three dozen men with beards, turbans and Kalashnikov rifles. But they’re not Taliban, Salim insists.

“Don’t think they are Talibs,” he says with a laugh. “They are the local Lashgar who are working with us — the local population which is supporting the government.”

Billig accepts the invitation, despite some strained looks from his men, and walks up the stairs to a Pakistani banquet of chicken, mutton, rice, lentils and yogurt. The conversation is friendly, but it starts with a rather pointed question from the host about the empty bases up the hill.

“Why didn’t you tell us they were pulling out?” Salim wants to know, adding that his border guards would have adjusted if they knew the other side was suddenly going to be empty.

Without mentioning the “OGA,” Billig simply nods in agreement, and allows that the abrupt departure came as a surprise to him as well.

The long lunch ends when the Pakistani colonel is called away, and the Americans walk back up the hill. Full bellies, heavy flak jackets, and the altitude at 7,000 feet have everyone moving a bit slowly, but then they get some information from their interpreter that makes them walk a little faster.

The interpreter tells the soldiers that some of the Pakistani commander’s men are spies for the Taliban. “So he suggests we get out of here quickly,” a soldier tells Billig.

Returning to the abandoned compound, the soldiers find Afghan border guards have arrived. They emerge from one of the bombed-out rooms in a cloud of pungent smoke; marijuana plants cover the hills like milkweed.

Some of the members of the Afghan force, who appear to be less stoned than others, talk for a while with the Americans about how many reinforcements they’ll need to hold this border.

But it’s a bit of a fiction: The Afghan border police don’t have the helicopters to resupply this place, and the road from the center of Kunar is far too dangerous for them to travel. And it’s not clear the Americans will be manning it either, despite the strategic importance of the pass.

“I think what’s going to happen here is another two days or so, we’re waiting for Afghan border police. So we’re going to clear it hold it and then put the Afghan border police in here. And if they don’t want to come in here, we’re going to go home. Back to Monti,” he says.

In fact, the men from Alpha Company don’t even stay the night. With dusk comes an order to pack up and march up the hill again to the landing zone, where the broken Chinook helicopter is ready to be hoisted away.

After getting warmed up on the hike, the Alpha guys sit for another several hours in the cold, as choppers come and go, blasting them with dust. Near midnight the Chinook is lifted out like a bundle in a stork’s beak.

Then the guys from Alpha make it back to Outpost Monti in the small hours of the morning, take showers and get ready for more foot patrols in the hills of Kunar.

Analysis & Commentary

This exemplifies just about everything that has gone and can go wrong with the campaign thus far.  Things are left off of the list, to be sure, but there are many unfortunate examples of mismanagement of the campaign.

First off, as sad as it is that Linda Norgrove was captured by Taliban and allegedly killed by SOF attempting to rescue her, there is absolutely no reason to tie up the forces in Kunar attempting to locate here whereabouts.  This is a counterinsurgency campaign, not a corporate-financed rescue operation.

Second, while I am not per se opposed to the use of CIA-financed military operators, in this case it seems that it was wasted effort.  They would have spent their time better by studying the inner workings of the Taliban in the area, including the Pakistani collusion with their spies.  It would have been effective if the commanders who sat in the meeting with Pakistani forces (and Lashgar) have pointed out to the Pakistani forces that they had Talib in their midst.  It would have been better to have said in the meeting that the U.S. was watching them – all of them.

Third, the laughable conversation with Afghan border guards telling the U.S. forces how many of them it will take to secure the border is as irrelevant as their high.  It wouldn’t have been remembered the next day.  High Afghan border guards are a drain on the campaign.  It would be better not to have any at all, thus ensuring that the commanders would think about the need for border security rather than rely on troops that are high on dope.

Finally, the author refers to the strategic importance of the pass.  I have argued for the strategic importance of interdiction of forces flowing from Pakistan into Afghanistan and for chasing the insurgents into their safe havens and sanctuaries, but the campaign as currently constituted is population-centric.  It is focusing on large population centers like Kabul, Kandahar and Jalalabad (except for the Marines in Helmand and the Army in Kunar and Nuristan).  Strategic importance indeed.  But the current commanders don’t see it that way.  Thus, the pass will remain open, and the insurgents will continue to pour through it.

Alignment with Losers in Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 3 months ago

I have long decried our irrational support of Nouri al-Maliki, who is a sectarian leading a sectarian party.  His sectarianism may be part of the reason that Allawi, a Sunni, is virtually tied in the vote count with him.  He allowed – and as Prime Minister, is accountable for – the dissociation of religious and political sects under the guise of the Iraq Justice and Accountability Commission.  In many ways, the path forward has been more difficult in Iraq because of our alignment with losers like Chalibi and Maliki.

We mustn’t make the same mistakes in Afghanistan, but it appears that we are careening headlong into the same failure there.

The Taliban, who imposed de facto rule in Marjah in 2008, appear to have scattered since the offensive, but their influence still looms. The leaders of the insurgency mostly fled, locals say, and their shadow government – complete with Islamic courts and a “police” force – has disbanded.

But the residue of nearly two years of Taliban rule remains. Most midlevel leaders and the rank and file have simply melted back into the population. “They still have spies and supporters everywhere. If they catch us talking to the troops they can behead us,” says Musa Aqa Jan, a laborer, echoing a widely shared view …

Many of those who have fled have returned, however, and say they are ready to brave the possibility of Taliban threats. But for them an even greater potential danger lurks: the new government slated to take the Taliban’s place.

The man tapped to be Marjah’s governor is Abdul Zahir, a Helmand native who has spent the past 15 years in Germany and is unknown to most of the local population. He only travels with heavy protection and has yet to visit most parts of Marjah. It may take months before his efforts can be appraised, Helmand authorities say.

In the meantime, he is helping assemble one of Marjah’s key governing institutions: the local shura, or council. This group will draw from local notables and will aid Mr. Zahir in running day-to-day affairs. The Afghan government will ultimately pick the body’s members, but with input from the local population and Western officials.

It’s the makeup of this council that stokes the most concern among locals. At the heart of the fears is whether it will include a notorious veteran mujahideen commander who has played a central role in Helmand’s politics for more than 20 years. Abdur Rahman Jan was the province’s police chief until 2006, and he heads a 34-man council of landlords, elders, and commanders that ruled Marjah until the 2008 Taliban takeover.

While in power the council became so infamous for abuse that some say it turned locals away from the government. “The main reason the Taliban grew in Marjah is because of these people,” says Qasim Noorzai, a government official in Helmand who works with tribal elders from the area. A number of other government officials, Marjah elders, and locals agree with this assessment.

Marjah elders who met President Hamid Karzai earlier in the month insisted that their backing of the new government depends on whether the old officials are excluded, authorities say. “But they [the old officials] have really good connections and backing in Kabul, so they are not out of the picture yet,” says Mr. Noorzai.

As Afghan officials work to develop a new council, the old council is angling for influence in the post-Taliban administration. “We want to convince the Afghan government and the Americans that only we can stabilize Marjah,” says Muhammad Salim, a council member, interviewed in Kabul. He and more than a dozen others have traveled to the capital several times in recent months to lobby lawmakers and associates of President Karzai

The Afghan National Police are still as problematic as ever, a continual theme at the The Captain’s Journal.

Mohammad Moqim watches in despair as his men struggle with their AK-47 automatic rifles, doing their best to hit man-size targets 50 meters away. A few of the police trainees lying prone in the mud are decent shots, but the rest shoot clumsily, and fumble as they try to reload their weapons. The Afghan National Police (ANP) captain sighs as he dismisses one group of trainees and orders 25 more to take their places on the firing line. “We are still at zero,” says Captain Moqim, 35, an eight-year veteran of the force. “They don’t listen, are undisciplined, and will never be real policemen.”

Poor marksmanship is the least of it. Worse, crooked Afghan cops supply much of the ammunition used by the Taliban, according to Saleh Mohammed, an insurgent commander in Helmand province. The bullets and rocket-propelled grenades sold by the cops are cheaper and of better quality than the ammo at local markets, he says. It’s easy for local cops to concoct credible excuses for using so much ammunition, especially because their supervisors try to avoid areas where the Taliban are active. Mohammed says local police sometimes even stage fake firefights so that if higher-ups question their outsize orders for ammo, villagers will say they’ve heard fighting.

With corrupt government and corrupt police, there is little left for the population to do other than turn to armed gangs for defense.  Enter the Taliban – again – after they have been dislodged by the blood, sweat and tears of U.S. warriors.

We are in such a hurry to develop a legitimate government and security apparatus that we are on the verge of developing an illegitimate one.  We (or rather, the British) made this mistake in Musa Qala as well.  If we are going to appoint rulers, the least we can do is appoint men who actually care about the people under their charge.

Afghan Army Troop Surge?

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 5 months ago

From Reuters:

Afghanistan is sending 8,000 to 10,000 troops to its most volatile southern provinces, where U.S. and NATO commanders complain of having too few Afghans to back them up, the Afghan Defense Minister said Saturday …

U.S. and British commanders complain the Afghan army and police have fielded far too few troops in the main battlefields, especially southern Helmand province, where 10,000 U.S. Marines and 9,000 British troops vastly outnumber their Afghan allies.

Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak told Reuters about 8,000 to 10,000 additional Afghan troops will deploy in Helmand and neighboring Kandahar, by far the deadliest areas for foreign forces since the war started in 2001.

Neither the British nor especially the U.S. Marines need Afghan National Army “backup.”  They are implementing the policy dictated from above, namely a quick startup of the ANA.  But one recent report from the Helmand Province isn’t so promising concerning their new Afghani colleagues.

The U.S. Marines were tense looking for bombs buried near a mud compound in this remote farming town in southern Afghanistan. Their new Afghan police colleagues were little help, joking around and sucking on lollipops meant for local kids.

The government had sent the new group of 13 police to live and train with the Marines just a few days earlier. Most were illiterate young farmers with no formal training who had been plucked off the streets only weeks before.

ANP, sure.  But the ANA aren’t any better.  We’d better plan on pacification of Helmand without the ANA or ANP.

The Horrible Afghan National Police

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 9 months ago

We have covered the Afghan National Police in their own separate category, and the links and prose are there to be studied.  I have the best readers on the web, and yet another sad example comes to us via reader amarriott, an incident in which more than 70 Afghan National Police voluntarily surrendered their weapons and body armor to 10 Taliban.  It happened in the Baghlan Province.  See 3:30 into the video.

Folks, this isn’t an “I told you so moment.”  It’s not a time to preen or posture.  This is sad – very sad and depressing.  Training the ANSF is seen as the ticket out of Afghanistan for some nations who do not yet understand what General Petraeus said, i.e., that of the long war, the campaign for Afghanistan would be the longest.

See also Here is your Afghan National Army

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