Saturday, December 20, 2008

YouTube - The Daily Left - Condi Admits to 9/11 Failures

YouTube - The Daily Left - Condi Admits to 9/11 Failures

Shoe Hurled at Bush Flies Off Turkish Maker’s Shelves Europe: "Dec. 19 (Bloomberg) -- The shoe hurled at President George W. Bush has sent sales soaring at the Turkish maker as orders pour in from Iraq, the U.S. and Iran.

The brown, thick-soled “Model 271” may soon be renamed “The Bush Shoe” or “Bye-Bye Bush,” Ramazan Baydan, who owns the Istanbul-based producer Baydan Ayakkabicilik San. & Tic., said in a telephone interview today.

“We’ve been selling these shoes for years but, thanks to Bush, orders are flying in like crazy,” he said. “We’ve even hired an agency to look at television advertising.”....

[bth; some advertising you just can't buy]

Drone War Continues; UAV Production Sky High

Drone War Continues; UAV Production Sky High | Danger Room from
...Meanwhile, General Atomics, the main U.S. killer drone manufacturer, continues to ramp up its UAV production. "The new schedule will take us up to 15 per month; that is close to a 70 per­cent increase in production facility capacity," a company official tells Defense News. "When we see where UAVs are go­ing, I don’t think we are ever going to turn the tide back."

Not anytime soon, at least. In fiscal year 2002, U.S. military drones (both killer and unarmed) flew 27,201 hours, according to a recent Congressional report. By fiscal year 2007, that figure had increased ten-fold, to 258,502 hours. In the first eight months of fiscal year 2008, the drones had logged 230,000 hours....

Friday, December 19, 2008

Despite Concerns, Pentagon Seeks Civilian Firm to Oversee Contractors -

Despite Concerns, Pentagon Seeks Civilian Firm to Oversee Contractors - "Shortly after an inspector general questioned the practice of the Pentagon issuing contracts to administer contracts, the U.S. Army began advertising this week for an American firm to manage oversight of private security companies in Afghanistan.

As it did in Iraq, the Army is increasingly turning to contractors to provide security services in Afghanistan, duties that include protecting American forward operating bases and the growing number of convoys bringing in supplies from Pakistan."...

[bth: hiring a contractor to oversee contractors which are ripping off the military and the American public is just stupid and shameful.]

Paulson Asks For Rest Of $700 Billion TARP Funds

Paulson Asks For Rest Of $700 Billion TARP Funds: "WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said Friday that Congress will need to release the last half of the $700 billion rescue fund because the first $350 billion has been committed.

Paulson said the use of the rescue fund to provide loans to the auto industry along with all the other rescue efforts for the financial system meant that the administration has now basically allocated the first half of the largest government bailout program in history.

He said he was confident that the Treasury Department, Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. had the resources to address a significant market event if one should occur before Congress approves the use of the second half of the rescue fund.

But it's important for Congress to release the second half of the rescue fund 'to support financial market stability,' Paulson said in a statement.

Paulson said he will be consulting with congressional leadership and President-elect Barack Obama's economic team to determine how to proceed.

Under terms of the $700 billion rescue fund that Congress approved on Oct. 3, when the administration determines the second $350 billion is needed it has to submit a report to Congress detailing how it plans to use those funds.

The money automatically will become available unless both houses of Congress pass legislation blocking the funds within 15 days of receiving the administration's report. The request is expected to generate significant debate on Capitol Hill with key Democrats vowing to block the release of more money unless the administration includes greater efforts to help homeowners threatened with foreclosure."...

[bth: this basically it comes down to a shake down. The use of the first $350 billion has not been fully disclosed to my knowledge. The auto loans of $14 billion are being held up by Paulson in exchange for the release of the second $350 billion which will go out the door before Obama reviews it and it will likely go to Paulson's well heeled banker friends. Nothing will likely make its way to small businesses or home owners or to the production of tangible long lived assets such as highways, bridges, construction, or other stimulants to the economy and Main St. America. I even wonder why the reserves are needed when financial institutions can borrow at almost zero interest from the Fed right now? Why is this money even needed? Buying toxic assets will not stimulate the economy when the velocity of money is collapsing in the US and globally. Has anyone asked banks to report on their lending to small businesses - or lack thereof? This is a serious problem and a major cause of economic contraction now occurring.]

Pakistani Islamists call for block on U.S. supplies | Reuters

Pakistani Islamists call for block on U.S. supplies | Reuters: "PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani Islamists called on Thursday for the government to block vital supply routes for Western forces in Afghanistan in response to U.S. missile strikes on al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan.

Militants have launched a string of attacks in recent months aimed at choking off supplies trucked through the Khyber Pass, but while some have been disrupted, most are getting through.
Chanting anti-American slogans, about 5,000 activists of the Jamaat-e-Islami political party, Pakistan's best-organised Islamic party, paraded through the northwestern city of Peshawar on Thursday.

'We consider the presence of American forces in Afghanistan a big conspiracy against Pakistan,' party leader Qazi Hussain Ahmed told the protesters.

'They take their supplies to Afghanistan on our roads and in return they kill our people with bombs. This must be stopped,' he said to chants of 'Down with America' and Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest)."...

About 300 trucks delivering supplies for the Western forces in Afghanistan have been destroyed in a string of attacks by militants near Peshawar over the past two weeks.

At least three truck drivers have been killed and many truckers have stopped taking supplies on the northern route.

Nasir Khan, a customs official on the border, said supply traffic was down by about half: "About 500 to 600 trucks used to cross daily but now only 200 to 300 truck cross."

About 150 trucks crossed on Thursday

[bth: this to me is the greatest reason for a shift to heavier use of special forces and armed militias in Afghanistan versus more conventional brigades. We simply cannot supply a large conventional army presence in Afghanistan without better supply routes.]

Omar Saeed Sheikh plots assassination from Pakistani jail - The Long War Journal

Omar Saeed Sheikh plots assassination from Pakistani jail - The Long War Journal: "Senior al Qaeda operative Omar Saeed Sheikh plotted to kill Pakistan’s former president while serving a jail sentence and is also believed to be complicit in the murder of a senior Pakistani counterterrorism officer.

Omar plotted to kill former President Pervez Musharraf and Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kiyani while serving a sentence at the Hyderabad Jail for the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002, The News reported. Senior US officials confirmed to The Long War Journal Omar's role as the leader of what The News described as 'a clandestine terror network.'

From prison, Omar called Musharraf on his personal cell phone in mid-November and threatened his life. 'I am after you, get ready to die,' Omar reportedly told Musharraf. The plan was to ambush Musharraf's convoy as he traveled between Army House in Rawalpindi and his farm outside of Islamabad or to blow up a bridge as he traveled to the airport.

Omar also phoned retired Major General Faisal Alavi, the former commander of Pakistan's Special Service Group, just days before he was killed on Nov. 22. It is not currently clear Omar was behind Alavi's murder, a senior US intelligence official told The Long War Journal. 'We do suspect he was involved,' the official said."...

[bth: one wonders why he was given a cell phone and why he isn't brought up on murder charges. One simply wonders if there is any justice in Pakistan and why assassins are tolerated unless they serve some useful purpose for ISI.]

US forces detain Iranian 'agent' near Baghdad - The Long War Journal

US forces detain Iranian 'agent' near Baghdad - The Long War Journal: "Coalition special operations forces captured a suspected Iranian 'agent' and an associate during an early morning raids north of Baghdad, Multinational Forces Iraq reported.

The Iranian is described as a 'commander of Iranian special operations in Iraq who is also believed to be involved in facilitating training of Iraqi militants at Islamic Republican Guard Corps-Qods Force training camps.'

The raids took place in the town of Qastin in Diyala province. The Iranian agent then led US forces to his associate."...

[bth: assuming this is true, one wonders why we aren't trading these guys for Americans held in Iran.]

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Commentary: Bush makes a farewell tour. Good riddance

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 12/18/2008 | Commentary: Bush makes a farewell tour. Good riddance: "We've been treated to a real spectacle this week as President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney limped into the home stretch of their Magical History Tour, employing distortions, half-truths and untruths in a final, desperate attempt to pervert or somehow prevent history from judging them accurately.

The president journeyed to the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., to try to polish his legacy with a rambling 15-minute speech that laid out his many glorious achievements of the last eight years for a captive military audience."...

The president and his spinmeisters keep talking about how, with the passage of time, historians will come to judge his presidency a huge success, much as history has come to judge the administration of Harry S. Truman.

Balderdash. Or as I much prefer to say in situations like this: Bullshit!

Historians are more likely to rank George W. Bush as the worst president this nation has ever had in the 232 years of its existence.

While I'm at it, George W. Bush shouldn't even be mentioned in the same sentence as Harry Truman. Harry Truman was a friend of mine early in my career, and George W. Bush is no Harry Truman. Not even close.

Truman kept a little wooden sign on his Oval Office desk that declared: "The Buck Stops Here."

The buck never stopped anywhere in the Bush administration. It just circled the Capitol Beltway at ever-increasing speeds.

Bush kept us safe at home. Yes he did, by delivering nearly 200,000 American soldiers and Marines to Iraq and Afghanistan where they were much more accessible targets. Some 4,500 Americans have been killed in those ongoing wars, and more than 75,000 have been wounded or injured. Hundreds of thousands more have come home suffering mentally for what they've seen or done in these brutal wars.

Bush told his War College audience that of all the things he loved about the job, he was proudest of all of his role as their commander-in-chief.

Why then did he and his minions oppose virtually every attempt to reinforce their numbers and shorten the time they spent in Hell? Why did they oppose virtually every attempt to increase their pay and their benefits, and those of millions of American veterans of these and other wars?

How could so proud a commander sit idly by while soldiers and Marines were sent off to war without the armored vehicles and body armor they so desperately needed in this new kind of war?

How could his administration pinch pennies when it came to funding and manning the military hospitals that treat the thousands of wounded troops flowing home from his wars?

How can this man talk about making the world a safer and freer place by his actions when so much innocent blood has been shed by civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan? When millions have been turned into homeless refugees inside and outside Iraq? When America is left with far fewer friends and allies among the nations of the world?

The only good news left to us this gloomy, cold December is that we only have to put up with this wretched spectacle for another 30 days or so.

George W. Bush should make a hurry-up call to his architect and see if it's not too late to substitute firing slits for the ground floor windows in his new Presidential Library in Dallas.

Good-bye George, and good riddance.

[bth: Galloway hits it on the head. Just leave already Mr. Bush. Go away.]

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Olbermann: 'The president is just full of crap'

The Raw Story | Olbermann: 'The president is just full of crap'

Prominent neoconservative: 4,000 Americans 'had to die'

The Raw Story | Prominent neoconservative: 4,000 Americans 'had to die': "Four thousand American troops 'had to die' in Iraq, even if the United States knew Iraq didn't have weapons of mass destruction, a prominent neoconservative said in a shocking interview on MSNBC Tuesday evening."Vice President Dick Cheney told ABC News earlier this week that the U.S. would have invaded Iraq regardless of whether or not they had weapons of mass destruction.

Adding fire to Cheney's surprising comments Tuesday was prominent neoconservative and former Assistant Secretary of Defense Frank Gaffney, who told MSNBC's Chris Matthews during Tuesday's 'Hardball' that the United States had to invade Iraq whether or not its intelligence was sound.

Asked about why the United States should have invaded Iraq even if they knew there were no WMDs, Gaffney said, "The real reason was we thought he constituted a mortal threat."

"You believe a mortal threat to the United States," Matthews responded, incredulous. "Where do you get this from? What kind of -- where do you get these words from?"

"My position is that it's regrettable that any Americans died. And it is regrettable that they had to die, but I believe they did have to die," said Gaffney. "The threat we did know about is the chemical capability Saddam Hussein used against his own people.... The danger was that inaction could have resulted in the death of many more Americans than 4,000."

Matthews revisited the decision to invade Iraq on "Hardball," with guests neocon Frank Gaffney, and Mother Jones' David Corn during a discussion of weapons of mass destruction and Cheney's admission that the United States would have invaded Iraq regardless of the presence of WMD.

Gaffney is the founder and president of the think tank Center for Security Policy, as well as a contributor, contributing editor, and columnist for a number of publications, including the Washington Times, National Review Online and WorldNetDaily.

"Was there anything Saddam Hussein could have done to stop that war?" Matthews asked Gaffney, and when Gaffney attempted to justify the case for war based on the first Gulf War, and not the presence of weapons of mass destruction.

"Why the long inspections debate if they didn't matter?" Matthews asked. "If they didn't matter, why did we have inspections?"

Cheney's "admitting that they didn't have to have stockpiles for him to believe the war was justified," he added. "That's what's astounding."

[bth: as one of the Gold Star Families, one whose son died in Iraq, I want to say that Gaffney is a traitor to the American public. He sees the public as people to be conned - sheep to be led to slaughter. He and his criminal co-conspirators led and lied to us.]

Madoff Out On Bail: Gets Curfew, Monitoring Bracelet At Hearing (VIDEO)

Madoff Out On Bail: Gets Curfew, Monitoring Bracelet At Hearing (VIDEO): "NEW YORK — Disgraced investor Bernard Madoff made an appearance at the federal courthouse in Manhattan to complete paperwork for his bail after a judge set new conditions for release, including a curfew and monitoring bracelet.

Madoff, wearing a baseball cap and a black jacket, said nothing to reporters as he walked out of the building and drove away in a sport utility vehicle. He was at the courthouse to sign over his Upper East Side apartment and his homes in Palm Beach and the Hamptons for his $10 million bond."...

[bth: this insults any sense of justice the American public may have or expect from its legal system. This guy cost investors and charities $50 billion and yet he's treated far better than a petty criminal.]

Sunday, December 14, 2008

VIDEO: Reporter Throws Shoes At Bush - FishbowlDC

VIDEO: Reporter Throws Shoes At Bush - FishbowlDC

YouTube - 50 cal Kill IED.flv

YouTube - 50 cal Kill IED.flv

Free Range International » Blog Archive » The Reconstruction Man

Free Range International » Blog Archive » The Reconstruction Man: ..."The free market is a wonderful thing and the Afghans are responding to the trickle of money not going directly to DynCorp or The Louis Berger Group by developing their capacity to compete without CoE or US AID help. Which brings us to Dan The Reconstruction Man. The Afghans may not have much formal schooling but they are smart. They know they have to perform to standard and need to learn how quickly. There is a model in use which works and works well – Dan is one of the expatriate operators working under that model. Dan works for a small group of local construction companies who are building various bases around Nangarhar for the US and Afghan government. His job is to ensure that the bids are written and priced correctly, the work is done correctly, to keep all the various subcontractors honest and on schedule, and to keep the amount of (US Taxpayer) project monies lost to bribes and theft to an absolute minimum. Dan lives at the Taj with us, drives all over the province in a Toyota Corolla, and spends long hours doing the tedious work of mentoring young Afghan construction workers on the finer points of project management. His life support costs are somewhere this side of 2% of the life support costs we pay for State Department and Corps of Engineers (CoE) personnel stationed in Afghanistan and unlike them he is out interacting everyday with the locals – by himself mind you. Dan has been in Afghanistan, off and on, for seven years, speaks some Dari (no Pashto which is a tough to learn) has a full set of local garb and like the so many other Afghan hands is perfectly comfortable being the only international around for miles while working on his projects."...

Surprise, surprise it turns out the CoE Quality Assurance engineer (a local national from the government) wanted his “sweets” (shereni) from the subcontractors and was not getting a penny. He thought Dan was gone for a month and being a typical greedy dummy made his move the first day he figured he could get away with it. Shereni is a dreaded word in Afghanistan. It is the code for a bribe and everyone gets asked about sweets at some point in time – for Afghans it is every time they deal with the Karzai government.

Dan was able to send back his own tempered response which should serve as a wake up call but won’t. He pointed out that they were not pouring concrete yet and that the pictures of his “stone masons” were taken at the Afghan business located next to his site which has nothing to do with the project in question. He deals with issues like this almost daily and more than earns his salary by doing so. Dan and people like him are taking serious risks operating without a wing man, armored vehicles, radios, or any kind of protection from his government. The American embassy does not encourage guys like him or I to be here. Dan provided an immediate, direct, positive impact on all the projects being funded in the eastern region. Without myself or guys like me the Government of Japan would not be able to operate here and they are about 1,000 more effective than US AID. Makes no difference to the idiots who man our embassy - we’re just a potential problem they’ll have to deal with if we get hurt or killed or commit some sort of strange crime which the Afghans would consider prosecuting (hard to know what that would be in a country where woman are routinely set on fire by their sons or husbands for various minor insults or infractions.) It is not like we are the only ones who have broken the code on this, I know a few of the CoE reps in Nangarhar and they, to a man, want to operate the way we do, get around like we get around, and use their talents to make a difference. It is easier spending so much time in Afghanistan when you live like we do, when you can have your own little Scout puppy dog, your own room with attached bath, a bar where you can sit and spend time with friends. But that is not the reason to imitate our operational posture – the reason to mimic us is the cost savings. We cannot afford to continue operating with the lavish overhead found at the embassy and all large military bases in this country. Quick expamle - KBR charges the military $35.00 per man per meal. I can feed myself and 10 guests for $35.00 a day…total.

I live like a king….well a king whose family is almost broke but a king all the same and I do so for pennies on the dollar of what is currently spent for life support by the military and Department of State. And I mean pennies. I also impact the local economy – every bit of food consumed on our military bases and embassy is flown in from Dubai, every stinking morsel. We eat locally procured food prepared by locally trained cooks and it is good. When I need work done on the Taj I hire local contractors and use local products, the military hires KBR and imports every bit of their construction material. I would think “capacity building” means trying to build capacity. To our friends from Washington DC “capacity building” seems to mean talking about various million dollar programs with well healed lobbyists who recently retired from either State or the military. I guess a complicated society like ours needs and values people who have the fortitude and stamina to engage in endless conversations and meetings about things like “capacity building.” I can’t do that, I hate meetings with a passion. Dan is the same way –he doesn’t talk about capacity building nor does he think he is building capacity. He has been paid a fair wage, given a set of tasks and like every good SNCO I have ever known goes quietly about his job demonstrating more initiative and self motivation than any three self help gurus you can think of. Actions speak louder than words in the third world.

...The way forward is clear; the operational model designed and verified by the people who have been working effectively here for years. I will say this again knowing that I sound like a broken record – we are running out of time. When the people of Afghanistan decided that we are not serious and not really here to help they will eject us and we will have no choice but to go. The butcher’s bill for that will be more than most Americans will want to consider. Look at what happened back in 1978 when the people of Herat decided they wanted the Soviets and their families to go, they all went, in body bags.

[bth: this article is worth reading in full]

Free Range International - Irregular Warfare

Free Range International:... "The Taliban are controlling large swaths of Afghanistan not because they are better fighters – they are beating the Karzai regime because they bring better governance in the areas they control. The people know that a Taliban tribunal will not award land and water rights based on the largest bribe. They also know that once issues of this nature are settled the dispute is officially over and the loser has no choice but to accept the ruling. Fire fights between families involved in land and water disputes are frequent and bloody affairs – unless the Taliban controls the area. In those areas the losing party must accept the Taliban ruling or they will cut his head off. People tend to cooperate in a system like that."

But they don’t like it too much and would rather see a platoon of Marines or Army soldiers hanging around than a crew of religious zealots. It would be a pleasant surprise to see the Army and Marine units who flow into the country next year deployed down to the district level. I suspect that there will be tentative steps to branch out like that and these steps will involve what the new directive terms “civilian-military teams.” That will be really interesting to see and I believe strongly that small teams working at the district level can, if properly funded and deployed, make a huge difference in the battle to control the only thing that matters in Afghanistan and that’s the people. The mixing of civilian experts with the military in the current Human Terrain Team program has not gone well and I don’t care what you read in the press on the subject believe me when I say the program is an abject (multi-million dollar) failure. HTT teams can only venture off base when embedded with large American convoys and therefore seldom get out. Because their offices are on base they use the military computer networks which will not allow them to access the very Jihadist website they are supposed to be monitoring. They will not be a useful tool to any commander until they are let off base and given the freedom of action to move about their areas of responsibility, develop relationships with the tribal elders and basically gather the information the program is supposed to gather.

One hopes that is what the “civilian – military teams” end up doing. Add in a few security guys, an agriculture expert or two, some construction types, and irrigation specialist and maybe a female medic and you have a little group of civilian-military warriors capable of going out daily in separate teams to do good deeds. They would all need to be armed and may well have to fight from time to time but when you are at the district level and know the district power structure every time you have to fight or take an IED strike you can go right back to the Shura with a well deserved “WTF?” “You guys promised this would stop if we came in here to help – better let me know who did this and what you did to them.” Or words to that effect – it is a different way to fight but could prove very effective if we give those types of tactics a chance to mature.

We were able to conduct a “civilian – military team” field trial a few days ago on a road mission to Kabul. The Army guys are digitized due to their current assignments. They were able to use our unarmored vehicles and we wore local hats and scarves not really making too big an effort to blend in but not looking that military either. This was a demonstration of why we prefer unarmored local vehicles for most road missions and they caught on fast. One of the Captains remarked that he never really got to see too much of the country from because the visibility out of armored humvees is so restricted. They also marveled at how we attracted absolutely no attention except for in the busy, narrow main street of Surobi. We also rolled up (at speed of course) on a French convoy which gave the boys an excellent opportunity to experience the joy of low visibility ops as the a Frenchman on a .50 cal swung the barrel towards just in case we hadn’t figured we should stop on our own....

More importantly they got to “feel” the road to Kabul like we do and we do not consider the people using that road a threat. The military travels in convoys and do not allow the local vehicles to get near them. They do this to avoid being hit by “suicide vehicle borne improvised explosive devices” (VBIED’s.) But it is impossible for a turret gunner to recognize a potential VBIED, orient on it and engage it before it slams into them from the opposite lane. That’s a function of the OODA loop – an infantry 101 subject understood (in theory) by every infantry officer and SNCO in America. Many gunners have thought they spotted one and engaged it killing the occupants inside. To the best of my knowledge they have never stopped a VBIED and have killed over 400 civilians who were driving aggressively but were not VBIED’s. In the south Canadian and British forces force all traffic off the road to prevent VBIED’s. That is an easy tactic for VBIED’s to beat – they just pull off to the side and wait for the vehicles to draw abreast of them. In the east sometimes all the traffic will pull off to the side and sometimes it won’t – it can be confusing and very tense to run up on an American convoy at speed; we always just pull over. I once saw a patrol of Humvees allowing the local traffic to intermix with them and pass like they would Afghan Army convoys – that was smart because the Taliban doesn’t like killing innocent Afghans too much. Kill the wrong ones and you may find a little “badal” (pashtun concept of blood debt) action heading your way which can cost experienced leaders. Unemployment is high in Afghanistan on any given day you can see 6 to 7 thousand military aged males just hanging out around Jalalabad and the surrounding districts who would welcome a good blood feud for the sense of purpose it brings them. Plus it is something to do – even the most dim witted amongst us would get tired of squatting on a wall watching the traffic go by every day no matter how much hash he was smoking.

He says it better than I can – it was true in Vietnam, and it is true today – we need to win the people and that means being in the districts with them 24/7. We can do it and do it for pennies on the dollar we currently spend to support our forces in the field. But only if we reach back to our past and remember how to conduct independent small unit operations on a very large scale. Not by using more command and control but by pushing the decision making very low and allowing our military to focus on stability operations. Throw in some augmentation to facilitate reconstruction, medcaps, and mentoring of local officials and now you’re talking solutions. Let them live and move around like myself and the thousands of others outside the wire and you’re talking change. Change you can really believe in because it will cost billions LESS than we are spending now. That’s the kind of change I can believe in – effective and cheap....

One last point and the topic of my next post – America cannot bring security to the rural population of Afghanistan if every time they interact with that population they treat them as potential enemy fighters. The military believes “force protection” is the job number one and I have listened to officers wax eloquent on the subject of protecting their men and woman no matter what because this country is not worth the noble sacrifice that their young troopers would represent if they lost life or limb here. I have used all my self control to avoid kicking these idiots in the teeth which is what they deserve. That kind of thinking will lead to our defeat just as certain as day follows night. It is ridiculous and based on an inflated self centered egotism which I find alarming. Infantry officers are paid to think – to think about the best way to beat those who ask for it while maintaining the cohesion and high morale amongst their troops. The job of military leaders is to spend blood, American blood, and spend it wisely in pursuit of the missions and objectives given them by their civilian masters. I know what those masters have said is our mission in Afghanistan. I also know the current American TTP (tactics, techniques and procedures) do not in any way support the mission they have been given and in fact do the exact opposite by alienating the very population we are supposed to be “winning.” I might be being a little harsh here but how else do you explain the performance of our military to date? Sure they can fight like demons against the Taliban in the south but the Taliban in the south are not the same ones who currently own every province around Kabul except Laghman which is only half Taliban. So what difference does it make killing hundreds of Taliban in the south while a majority of the population (not in the south) falls to Taliban control....

AFGHANISTANSHRUGGED.COM: On Fence Sitting and Operating in the Fringe

AFGHANISTANSHRUGGED.COM: On Fence Sitting and Operating in the Fringe: "Most people in Afghanistan operate in the gray area, the fringe of being one side or the other. They're hedging their bets. As an American it's hard for me to understand this, the choice seems pretty clear, help us and free your country or help them and take your chances. It's confusing to me and at times infuriating. However, it's not that clear to the people that we encounter. There's a saying that the Afghans have, you can't buy an Afghan's loyalty but you can rent it. Often times its dependent upon who's there at the moment, us or the Taliban. The locals will wait on the sideline and see who's winning."

Our main effort as ETTs is to ensure that the ANA provide the security required for the people to carry on a normal life. Normal is a relative term and doesn't resemble what we think it does.

This Kandak has a huge area and very little force. In military terms they call this and economy of force mission, I call it too much ground and not enough dudes. I think my description is more accurate, but it doesn't brief as well

Here's a illustration of what the Afghans and ETTs face everday. We roll up to a town where we've heard there's a small clinic possibly giving aid to the enemy. The town is in the foothills at the end of a wadi, the wadi starts in Pakistan and ends here, like a sewer pipe. I say sewer pipe because this is where the sewage empties into Afghanistan. Sewage in the form of chechyens, arabs and various other foregin fighters. We know they're foreign; not by any high tech signal intelligence intercept. That looks cool in the Bourne Identity or some other Hollywood flick. No, we know this because we go through the trash that they leave behind and can tell from the type and quantities. This is low tech warfare at its finest; we look less like James Bond and more like Paparazzi going through Paris Hilton's garbage in the morning for a story. A strong stomach is more useful than a Predator UAV. The sewage spills out here.

We're in the town because we wounded somebody several days ago in a fight; several of the ETTs have been to the town before and remembered a well stocked clinic. Logic tells me and the others, "Hey, I'm shot I should try to find a Doc." So here we are.

The ANA put in local security and we start across the wadi. The ANA scamper like goats and the Americans plod like beasts of burden. An ANA officer once tried putting on our equipment and about passed out in the attempt. The wadi is used as farmland just as anywhere flat with water usually is here. Tiered to retain the small amounts of rain and runoff. These tiers serve as excellent fighting positions for the enemy if they choose. We plod across. Each time a bird or animal jumps out from a berm I envision ACM. This ends about 3/4s of the way across the wadi and now I'm focused on just moving.

Finally after what seems like decades to me, we reach the town and check to make sure our security is still in place. At times Afghans are similar to a teenager who's consumed several cases of Redbull, their attention span is very short. The security's still there and we advance to the clinic.

The fabled clinic. It looks like any other Afghan Khalat, mud walls with a steel gate. This gate however is different. It’s dimpled by gunfire. Afghans repair bullet holes in their gates by placing a bolt with a washer on it, through the hole and then tightening the nut on the back side, there's no welding out here. If there were the chemical tanks would've been taken long ago to be used as IEDs. If you see an acetylene tank it's a good indicator he's a bad guy.

The bigger the bolt the larger the caliber of weapon used to knock on the door. AK-47- size of a pencil or pen, PKM -is a quarter, DSK -is your fist and SPG9 you're out looking for the gate. This gate is pockmarked with various size bolts and washers, Frankenstein's monster.

We knock with our gloved hands and it's answered by an older man. He speaks fairly good English, he's educated and he can identify my rank a good indicator that he's had a run in with ETTs before. I ask if we can come in and take a look around, he hesitates for several moments and replies in English,"Yes".

The ANA follow him in and we come enter into a very nice courtyard, centered in it is a garden and off to the side is a very nice Hilux, pickup truck. The ANA start searching and I ask how he is. The conversation is going well almost purely in English. He tells me he's the doctor and was educated in Kabul.

We're walking as we talk, into a well stocked pharmacy. Strange in a small town like this, given its location at the end of the wadi we all feel pretty strongly that he’s helping the ACM. There are plenty of beds almost as many as people who live in this village. The whole place is in good condition.

The terp tells me the doctor is really nervous. I'm dependent on the terp to tell me these kinds of things. He knows the culture. Gestures or verbal ticks I take as nothing he recognizes for what they are, stress. A good terp is the best thing you can have with you; he's your early warning. You trust your terp with your life. He already trusts you with his and his families just by working with you. Being a terp pays well but if the ACM finds out it may be one night letter telling them to quit, then execution. We can't function without them.

I ask the $64,0000 dollar question, "Was ACM here"?

Suddenly, the doctor fails to understand me. A minute ago he was pretty fluent and now he's looking at me like I have two heads.

The terp translates and the doctor says, "Yes, they were". There were seven of them here until they saw us coming up the road and they fled back up the wadi and one was wounded severly. We missed them.

"What happened to the gate"? I ask and wait for the interpretation. I know the doc understands me but this is the game we're going to play. I think I know the answer.

"The ACM shot it, they've been here several times", he responds. He knows that I can recognize what happened to the gate.

"Do you support the ACM"? I enquire. We've both now stipulated that we're going to dance around.

"Yes", he replies; plainly ending the dance, more suddenly than I expected.

"Why" I ask

Then we get to the gist. "They're here at night and you aren't, if you were here at night I'd support the government." He says this to me through the terp and acts as if I've asked one of the most obvious questions. Which in retrospect I have.

"If I don't help them they will cut off my head". He's right, they will and we're not here to stop them.

"Do you have a Thuraya"? Thurayas are the ubiquitous sat phones in Afghanistan, there's no cell phone service here. "Could you call us next time they come"? I realize I've just asked this man to sign his own death warrant.

"No, they will kill me". The point is obvious I'm just too dense to realize it up front

"I understand, but any help you can give would be great". I state

"I did, I told you they were here, what else do you want from me"

He's right, the doctor has done more than 80% of the people would do, he told us they were here and left. We can't protect his guy at night and they will cut his head off. He won't even get the dubious honor of having it done on the internet, it'll just be done in the dark of night and we'll get a report about it after several days.

That's the central issue here, how do you protect them? Those who defend everything, defend nothing. We aren't here at night and the ACM are. When we roll in they roll out. It's whack a mole on steroids! We try to build the ANA and ANP, the last two ANP chiefs were shot in the face in broad daylight by ACM

The doctor is indicative of a great number of the population. It's not that they hate us they just don't know if we're going to win. We will, we just have to show them in tangibles. Promises are empty. Deeds not words. If the ANA says that they'll protect them then they have to 100%

It's a battle of inches, slow, plodding, and deliberate. It's low tech. We dig through the trash to find them. It's happening here. Predator, Reaper and all of the other cool billion dollar weapons systems help very little. As T.F Farenbach wrote, "It is a battle of wills in the dirt

[bth: posts like this need to be in broader circulation. This is probably the only way people in the US are going to get a sense of what is actually happening in Afghanistan and get some inkling of what to do about it. This kind of information certainly is not going to come from the MSM - too risky - or from the government - to truthful and less about shiny new weapons. ]

Bill and Bob's Excellent Afghan Adventure: Waxing Kipling

Bill and Bob's Excellent Afghan Adventure: Waxing Kipling: ..."Afghanistan is no land of deep and abiding imponderable mystery. Most assuredly, they are a proud people with a long history. The landscape of Afghanistan is dramatic, and the society of Afghanistan is an ancient lifestyle emerging into the 21st Century on crutches. Crippled by ancient practices that are not complicated, the only thing that is difficult to make sense of quickly is the tangled web of relationships in a seemingly undefined mass. Most are boggled by the intermingling of interests and allegiances and just walk away shaking their heads and spouting mysticism."

That's the easy answer; the intellectually lazy answer. Look, Afghans do not have some secret superiority. They are simply survivors. No one has conquered Afghanistan for Afghanistan. Many have conquered Afghanistan; but they were on their way to somewhere else, or they were there to interfere with or foil someone other than the Afghans. The most notable exception to this was the Russians, and they were doomed to failure by two things; the atheistic nature of communism and the brutality of their methods.

The Afghans are tough; no doubt about it. They have to be tough to survive, and they are above all survivors. They are smart, even though most of them can't read. Here's the best part; many of them are on the side of the IRoA. Remember, 60% of all Afghans are not Pashtuns, and not all Pashtuns are Taliban. Many of the Mujaheddin from the Soviet days are sitting this one out or working with the government because they believe that the coalition is not there as an occupation force, but as an assistance force to help the infant IRoA survive the birthing pains of coming to being under the pressure of the Taliban, who will not go quietly into that good night of history.

Here's what I can tell you about Afghans; they are people. They have a culture that is different from ours in many respects, but it is not rocket science to learn their culture and be respectful of it even if we disagree or don't understand it. Afghans hate arrogance. You can show an Afghan a good way to do something and they will adopt it, if it works better, because they are supremely utilitarian. If you try to force them to do it your way, you are in for a struggle.

Afghans are not some strange otherworldly creatures, although many would be happy for you to believe that they are. They are neither Predator nor Alien. They are people who can and do learn. Most are good, some are bad, and most just want to be safe, have some hope of justice, and be left alone. The ones who can provide them with that will gain their support and who wins that struggle wins the war. Everything should be done with that in mind. ...

Keep this in mind; we are not trying to conquer Afghanistan. We are attempting to help Afghanistan conquer itself. I've been there, I know what my efforts were directed towards and what I was directed to do, and it was all in that vein. No matter what conspiracy theories you hear or what Taliban or HiG propaganda says; I was never there to conquer, I was never there to occupy anything other than my own personal space. I was there to help Afghans conquer their own country, and there were plenty of them who were grateful for that help. ...

[bth: very interestng and worth a full read]

Fence-Sitting in Afghanistan: Theory and Practise - THE REVIEW (Weblog) - The Complex Terrain Laboratory

Fence-Sitting in Afghanistan: Theory and Practise - THE REVIEW (Weblog) - The Complex Terrain Laboratory: "Occasionally pundits and western operators on the ground express frustration with the habit of 'fence-sitting' in Afghanistan. A few characterize it as some form of exotic behavior by people who care little about ideals and refuse to risk their security for the common good. Others, while clearly frustrated, acknowledge the rationale behind the behavior. An America Embedded Tactical Trainer (ETT) in Afghanistan remarks:"

Most people in Afghanistan operate in the gray area, the fringe of being one side or the other. They're hedging their bets. As an American it's hard for me to understand this, the choice seems pretty clear, help us and free your country or help them and take your chances. It's confusing to me and at times infuriating. However, it's not that clear to the people that we encounter. There's a saying that the Afghans have, you can't buy an Afghan's loyalty but you can rent it. Often times its dependent upon who's there at the moment, us or the Taliban. The locals will wait on the sideline and see who's winning. [my emphasis]

Other foreign troops and journalists have made the same observations about the locals' strategy of fence-sitting, often with some sympathy and understanding. When a villager in eastern or southern Afghanistan sees the Taliban in his village on a far more regular basis, is it not the logic of self-preservation that causes him to 'wait and see'? When the strength of the insurgency is increasing, should an Afghan in an area of contestation throw his/her support behind the Afghan government and the foreign troops?

Viewing 'fence-sitting' as some sort of 'eastern eccentricity,' rather than basic human behavior, is grossly incorrect. We in the west like to view our choices, and the choices of previous generations, as made out of consideration for some higher ideals. Collaborators and 'cowards' who decline to participate in some 'noble struggle' are often framed as an anomaly, a disgrace to the nation, surely not representative of many. And judgements are made: it was quite easy to criticize the French from the Nazi-free cities of Britain. But what does a search for fence-sitting in the west reveal?

For an excellent, and brief, discussion of fence-sitting I will refer to Stathis Kalyvas's 2006 book The Logic of Violence in Civil War (Cambridge University Press). Civil war, for Kalyvas, is defined quite widely to include most insurgencies and, as a tool for understanding violent conflict, the book is invaluable. I'll mostly skip Kalyvas's citations here. If you want to go to the original sources, you will find them on pages 226-232.

I'll excerpt Kalyvas's main arguments:

...contestation makes it difficult for most people to align with a single political actor.

...For most people, fence-sitting takes the form of passive neutrality and attentisme: caught in the crossfire between incumbents and insurgents, with their life on the line, they prefer to remain as uninvolved as possible

But Kalyvas's argument is not absolutist:

It is important to stress that fence-sitting, though generally presented as a constant feature of civil war is a variable one, closely associated with the level of contestation

Kalyvas cites many examples from the west, including England and from America's own wars on home soil. During the English Civil War a Cheapside man wrote:

"Iff I might butt stand a newtrall [neutral] I should then be well; for I should...butt follow my owne, and not looke after another's business."

And a man in Missouri remarked during the American Civil War:

"Which side should you appear to support? ... Under such peril, how ought you to act? Who were they? Who were you

The source for this quote, Michael Fellman, provides more examples of fence-sitting among the population, which "sought to be disengaged, neutral." His description of Missouri sounds like that of a village in a rural area of Afghanistan where the insurgents are engaging the coalition and the government:

"They were to be whipsawed between two organized poles of power; in the destruction of the ensuing guerilla war, the everyday translation of ideology became the question of which side would enable them to survive ... [They] adopted the same mode of lying [about their involvement] in order to gain as much protection as possible from both sides ... If they had a truly free choice, most Missourians would have remained neutral during the war."

And this description of Missourians by a Union commander sounds just like parts of Afghanistan:

"The worst feature in the country is the cowed and dispirited state of the people. All manhood appears to have gone out of them. Alike in fear of the soldier and the bushwacker, all they ask is military protection of provost-marshals and the privilege of neutrality."

And even more like areas of contestation in Afghanistan is Fellman's description of a Missouri survival strategy:

"Loyalty was not the safest and most common presentation of self during this guerilla war; prevarication was. Frankness and directness led to destruction more often than did reticence and withdrawal."

In Civil War Missouri people "sought alliances with men of a wide range of loyalties as a form of contingency planning." That sounds like the occasional district governor in Afghanistan; tea and mutual promise-making with the Americans/Brits/Canadians, next week with the Taliban. This 'hedging' is even present in the rhetoric. In 2005, a local Afghan man told Carlotta Gall:

"The people support the Taliban because they don't loot and they respect the women."

But then he remarked:

"The whole district wants to help the Americans, because our country is destroyed

In 2004 an Iraqi National Guard commander in Ramadi said:

"I am neither with the resistance nor with the Americans."

Kalyvas goes on to cite examples from Northern Ireland, Colombia, Greece, Vietnam, China, Mississipi, El Salvador, Malaysia, Angola, Algeria, Ukraine, etc. I can think of further examples from the Basmachi counterinsurgency, the Soviet-Afghan War, the Russian Civil War, and so on. There are even claims that some families, as a hedging strategy, had one son in the mujahideen and one with the communists.

And the prescriptions for this? Obviously there is no good substitute for actually being strong and winning. But others try shortcuts, as Kalyvas goes on to describe in his discussion of reprisals and 'manipulating expectations' (psychological warfare/information operations/propaganda). Ignoring 'hearts and minds', one could look to Lindsay Franklin's statement in 1962:

"When two forces are contending for the loyalty of, and control over, the civilian population, the side which uses violent reprisals most aggressively will dominate most of the people, even though their sympathies may lie in the other direction."

Is there any doubt that the Taliban and its allies excel at this
? Certainly it's not something that the government and coalition side should attempt, but it is an 'advantage' that the insurgency holds nonetheless.

Regarding 'manipulating expectations,' at the moment I agree that the momentum is in the insurgency's favor in many of the contested areas, and beyond. ICG states the obvious:

The Taliban has proved remarkably successful in projecting itself as much stronger than it is in terms of numbers and resources on a battlefield where independent verification is nearly impossible. Increasingly the Afghan population in conflict-hit areas is sitting on the fence or weighing options amid a sense of insurgent momentum.

That momentum is of course not just in the people's minds. Quantitatively and qualitatively there is no doubt that the Taliban (broadly defined) is gaining ground. There was massive bandwagoning when the overwhelmingly decisive 'tipping point' arrived in 2001 in the form of foreign intervention. Afghans in contested areas will wait and look for the next tipping point, vague as it may be in the current environment.

Further reading:

Afghanistan Shrugged, Keeping an Eye on Afghanistan and Bill and Bob's Excellent Afghan Adenture - blogs by ETTs in Afghanistan who deal with these issues in practise, not theory.

[bth: a very interesting discussion.]