Last week the auntie of a local girl came from London to assist in her arranged wedding. The bride had little interest in the cousin to whom she had been engaged for the last 15 years but lots of interest in the boy next door so the English Auntie provided the age old remedy for situations like this; poison. It didn’t work but the Auntie made a clean getaway before her involvement was revealed and the young bride has gone missing as has the neighbor kid. The groom is reportedly recovering in Peshawar where the physicians have much experience treating this sort of problem. The crime of passion game is a dangerous one to play in Afghanistan. This kind of thing gets my local guys asking many many questions about us western folk. Tainted love is a bad deal everywhere but here the boys get the poisoning part but the concept of romantic love? That is confusing for them.
If you can’t think in real time you are worthless here. That is a quote from a friend of mine who runs his own security company here. Thinking in real time is becoming a little difficult as we see instability and armed criminality rapidly spreading to parts of the country which were incident free for years. There was an attack last week on and ANA convoy driving the Kabul to Mazar-e-Sharif road last time there was an attack up there they were fighting Soviets. The security situation in all the provinces is trending down; there are many more incidents occurring daily than are being reported. Staying on top of the local state of play has never been harder and to that we can add the upcoming elections which have all sorts of people’s attention. There was a helicopter shot down earlier this week in the south and the US Air Force lost an F-15E somewhere in the east of Afghanistan (probably means Kunar Province) and it appears that the crew was lost with the plane bad news.
There is not much good to report from Afghanistan at the moment. With armed criminality reaching epidemic proportions there is a flood of stories about the dismal state of the Afghan National Police (ANP). The Afghan police are not just ineffective they are despised by rural people who will take the hard tyranny of the Taliban over being preyed upon by the police. This article puts the blame for Afghanistan’s dysfunctional police force on the Germans but that is BS. The Department of State has spent over 10 BILLION on their cookie cutter law enforcement training program which I have written about before. There is only one way to get the police to perform and that is to live with them, mentor them daily, and make them perform. Mentor teams who live on FOB’s and commute to the job become targets because their routine is fixed and predictable. The civilian contractors who work out of the gigantic regional training centers are essential worthless inflicting death by PowerPoint on their students. What can they teach an Afghan cop about being an Afghan cop? Afghanistan cops are functioning as a paramilitary organization and are trained, armed and deployed as such. But some, perhaps a great many have retained the thuggish ways of warlord sponsored foot soldiers and that is obviously not too good.
The Marines continue to hold all the area they claimed in their massive operation and they too are finding the Afghan security forces to be their biggest problem. But the Marines are serious about staying and are putting out a continuous series of RFP’s (request for proposals) to jump start the build portion of their operation. I was just chatting with Michael Yon on Skype he was in Kabul last night getting set to go out on another embed and was talking to 2 European and one American (NPR photographer) Journalists who had just come in from a Marine embed. All three could not say enough about how much they loved the Marines how good they were to them and went out of their way to make things easier or more comfortable (very relative concept for Marines in the field) for them. I occasionally pick up journalist at the Kabul airport and drop them off at Bagram Airbase for embeds with the Army. They all absolutely hate embedding with the Army because it is such a pain in the ass and they don’t get the attentive treatment the Marines are so good at providing. The Army should wise up on how they handle journalists they have a story to tell too and the people back home would like to hear it. In fact here is a cool article about an Army patrol into no mans land they should and could have more of this type of reporting were it not for institutional stupidity.
We had a road trip to Gardez last Thursday and was able to bring the Bot along. We were moving the payroll so bringing all my friends with guns seemed like a good idea. My counterpart from Kandahar Tim of Panjwayi also came along for the same reason and we flew into the airport at around 1300. Gardez is not a happy place these days. The police average 3 to 4 IED finds a day. They don’t report them but instead detonate them with rifle fire. There are frequent attacks on the airport which are also not reported. The pilots seemed to know because we flew over the airport at about 20,000 feet; they pointed the left wing at the runway and spiraled down in about three evolutions coming over the runway still turning righting the plane and slamming down like were landing on an aircraft carrier. We felt G- force pushing us into the seats and the three of us were giggling like school kids. Our Afghan manager Hamid wasn’t too happy about the landing and got a little sick which bugged the hell out of him. Being a little slow I failed to have the camera ready. Taking off was pretty cool too we skimmed at rooftop level over the city and then through a notch in the mountains before climbing like a fighter up above 20,000 feet.
The Gardez project is going well. The city is now cleaned up and we are about to kick off a massive phase II which will clean and rehabilitate all the fresh water canals and Karez systems. I have only around 300 worker doing the side canals and picking up garbage but apparently men came from 12 different districts and rented rooms to get on the project for 52 days of pay. Many of the men are illnumerate and had to get friends to verify their pay as they have never had so much money in their hands at one time. My project is making a positive impact in a critically imporatnt area but without follow up it will amount to very little. If you sent in guys like us and our Afghan teams we could start massive cash for work projects ahead of a military operation and tie up thousands of local men with better pay than the Taliban can give them for much less work and risk. But we are not even close to that kind of thought process yet.
This is a good deal for the city, its people and the program participants but it is not a long term solution. This is exactly what the Marines need to be doing right now but the program I am working was supposed to get urban families through the winter – yet it started in April. We have to find ways to fund and implement programs which can support the speed of our military and we are not even having that discussion in Washington. Gardez is much more dangerous than Garmser because Gardez doesn’t have its very own rifle company of Marines looking after it. Yet we can operate in there with little risk by being smart about it. Guys like Tim of Panjwayi, Shem and I could be all over the Helmand organizing similar work and putting good money directly into the hands of the local poor while the Marines provide stability. No armored SUV ’s, no expensive expat security operatives – just us and our Afghan crew taking care of our own security and getting the job done. Inshallah we will see a doctrinal civ/mil team which operates like we do when this is all said and done. It is pennies on the dollar to our current approach.
We have to come up with a new strategy – better yet and exit strategy for Afghanistan. We are spending billions yet achieving very little. We need to set reasonable goals – meet them and go. The Afghan police problem is a problem which the Afghans must solve – adding more anti corruption PowerPoint classes taught by western contractors who never leave their little FOB’s unless they are flying out on leave are worthless (and ridiculously expensive.) I would bet all the security incidents which are not getting reported are the result of a Kabul initiative to improve reporting because the European mentors there use written reporting as an important benchmark of success. Operating in this country is getting to be really tricky we have to think in real time and do much more planning to move safely.
But there is still time to salvage this effort but we have to get off the FOB’s – out of the body armor and start working directly with and in the cities and towns we were sent here to protect. It is cheaper and safer to embed directly into the communities than it is to commute to the job. We need to pick the districts and provinces we want to improve – get in them and do the projects and go home. There is no good reason to stay unless the Afghan government starts supporting our efforts and works with us like a partner instead of a spoiled client state.