Our Brothers in Arms are done

Well it appears that our Brothers in Arms, the cousins from the North….Canada are now finished with their mission in Afghanistan.

Canada ended military operations in Afghanistan on Wednesday, ending a 12-year mission as the international community winds down its role in the country ahead of an end-of-year deadline for foreign combat operations to end.

The Canadians formally ended their combat role in southern Afghanistan in July 2011 but maintained a small training operation in Kabul.

“Canada played a critical role in securing Kandahar Province and had a strategic impact across the country with their contribution to the NATO training mission,” the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Joseph Dunford, said during a flag-lowering ceremony at the headquarters for international forces in Kabul.

The Canadian Army has performed superbly and was one of our best coalition partners in Afghanistan. They found shoulder to shoulder with many American Forces, including ETTs, Special Forces, Conventional Army forces, and my Guest Blogger, Rusty Bradley. They were concentrated in the south, commonly referred to as 205th Corps Sector. Canada also gave up it’s sons and daughters for the people of Afghanistan.

According to the Canadian government, 158 soldiers, one diplomat, one journalist and two civilian contractors were killed in Afghanistan.

I guess this is just another sign that our mission is definitely coming to an end. I am curious if the USA will be the last ones left and have to turn out the lights on the way out.

Read the whole story at http://www.armytimes.com/article/20140312/NEWS08/303120036

Rusty Bradley- Special Forces’ terminal diagnosis


BOUHAMMER NOTE- I am pleased to welcome my good friend, Major Rusty Bradley (ret) as a new Guest Blogger here on Bouhammer.com. A Career Special Forces soldier with multiple deployments and an accomplished author, Rusty is a great addition to the list of guest bloggers here on this site.

 

As policy makers look to trim the Defense budget, they should start by cutting the dead weight around the Special Forces community and stop spending millions to train soldiers that would fail to meet the old standards.

  • Special Forces live by five simple truths.
  • Humans are more important than Hardware.
  • Quality is better than Quantity.
  • Special Operations Forces cannot be mass-produced.
  • Competent Special Operations Forces cannot be created after emergencies occur.
  • Most Special Operations require non-SOF assistance

These “truths” act as our compass through the labyrinth of unconventional warfare. But for more than a decade, the Army special operations community has ignored the second, third and fourth truth creating a Special Forces regiment rife with soldiers who would not make the cut before Sept. 11, 2001.

Historically, the Special Forces – designated the Green Berets by John Kennedy – only accepted the most highly qualified and capable soldiers. The standards were never compromised for any reason because the extreme situations and environments where Special Forces soldiers operate require the best our country can produce.

But the demand for Special Forces teams after Sept. 11, 2001 far exceeded the supply. To meet the demand, standards were lowered, corners were cut and training pipeline started graduating substandard soldiers. Look at it from this perspective, imagine the surgeon operating on your child graduated medical school because he could maintain a “D” average or just did not quit. Would you want that him doing surgery on the person you love most in this world?

Green Berets are supposed to be the most diverse and adaptive soldiers on the battlefield. Trained to think and operate like guerillas/insurgents, they are capable of operating far behind enemy lines working with and training rebel forces. They can also train government troops in counterinsurgency and foreign internal defense. Green Berets on horseback led the Northern Alliance to victory against the Taliban during the first years of the war in Afghanistan. Special Forces built and trained both the Afghan and Iraqi armies. On the African continent, Special Forces teams are helping Congolese troops fight the Lord’s Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony and in Colombia Special Forces teams trained soldiers to battle the FARC. Special Forces soldiers must be of the highest quality and caliber because that is exactly what your enemies will put against you.

In the summer of 2005, my Special Forces team was on patrol in northern Kandahar province. We were about to head into a valley where we were frequently ambushed by the Taliban. My team sergeant wanted to test fire the machine guns on our vehicles since we’d had to hastily leave for the patrol. We found a large vertical rock and used that as the target. My gunner was told to fire a short burst. I was in the lead truck and my gunner was a new sergeant who had just graduated from the Special Forces qualification course.

I gave the order to fire and stuck my fingers in my ears to muffle the thunderous boom of the .50 caliber machine gun. Click. Nothing happened. The new sergeant left a piece of the weapon back at the base camp. The gun was useless. The maintenance of weapons is a basic soldier skill, and the new sergeant failed. I found out later, he was part of a number of soldiers who had been allowed to enter the organization as long as they did not “quit.”

That was my first experience with the “new” Special Forces soldier. When I returned to Fort Bragg, I was horrified to learn that the standards had been dropped and would not be raised again because of the expansion of Special Forces. Every group was getting a fourth battalion and commanders needed bodies.

These less than qualified soldiers account for ninety percent of the problems in the command. I can think of at least half dozen cases where soldiers that would not have been selected are now getting charged with crimes ranging from drunk driving to theft. This kind of misconduct is an issue Army wide.

The Associated Press reported in February “enlisted soldiers forced out for drugs, alcohol, crimes and other misconduct shot up from about 5,600 in 2007, as the Iraq war peaked, to more than 11,000 last year.” The general officer corp has its own share of scandals from Army Gen. William “Kip” Ward’s unauthorized spending, sexual misconduct charges against Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, and other episodes of gambling and drinking, according to the Associated Press. The Special Forces community is not immune to “big Army” problems. The issues are just more acute in our smaller community unless standards are upheld.

The problem won’t correct itself, but any objections to the lowering standards are considered non-compliance and is used as cause to deny promotion or schools for professional development to those blowing the whistle. Commanders and policy makers have forgotten how to object or say the word “no” anymore, even if it is detrimental to the force and ultimately the soldiers doing the job.

I’m saying no.

Our country deserves better than what we are giving and what they are getting. We must turn this trend around and get it back on a path to success or there will be fewer and fewer victories at the cost of more and more American lives. As a leader, I didn’t expect my soldiers to do things I would not do myself. You cannot hope for change, you must make it happen. Commanders need to establish higher standards for every candidate – man or woman – and purge the ranks of soldiers that no longer exemplify what it means to be a Green Beret. Cutting the dead weight will be painful at first as there are fewer soldiers to do more work, but it will leave the ranks filled with the best soldiers. If more soldiers, veterans and commanders do not begin to stand their ground and force this great country back on course, we face losing what we all hold most dear.

MAJ Rusty Bradley (Ret.) deployed to Afghanistan eight times, most recently in 2012. After 21 years in the U.S. Army, he was medically retired in 2014. Bradley is also the author of the book “Lions of Kandahar.” www.lionsofkandahar.com
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Thank God for good First Sergeants

This video is making the rounds on the internet right now, and I wanted to share it here with some commentary. It shows a combat outpost in Paktika province (my old stomping ground) getting “accidentally hit by one of our own aircraft’s 500lb bombs.

 

There are several key things about this video I wanted to point out. The first is for those that think women “deserve” or “belong” in the infantry. I am not sure if this is an Infantry or Cavalry unit, but it does not matter. You can tell from this video and from movies like Restrepo this is no place for a female. Not now, NOT EVER.

Second is this is what it means to be living at the tip of the spear. There is no Green Bean’s Coffee house, Flour or KBR cooks, or PX. This is an outpost built with sandbags, hescos, 2x4s and plywood. This is the home for these guys. Not everyone lives like this, and in fact I would say 98% of those overseas don’t live like this for their entire tour. Sometimes soldiers go in and out of this type of place every few weeks or months. I mean they have to get a decent shower sometime don’t they?

Lastly I would like to point out that the First Sergeant (1SG) is credited with saving lives in the story accompanying this video. If you read it at http://www.armytimes.com/article/20140218/NEWS/302180020/Video-500-pound-friendly-bomb-dropped-too-close-soldiers-Afghanistan you will see they state the 1SG knew this airstrike was going to happen and made everyone get into what we call “stand to”, which means everyone at the ready, in their fighting positions with all their protective gear on. I am sure some guys bitched and cried as they were forced to get out of bed and go get in their fighting positions, but I bet they were glad they have the 1SG they do afterwards. This is a prime example of “hard right” vs. the “easy wrong”.

 

People need to be fired, NOW!

This is beyond sad, this is despicable. How are we supposed put trust into the leaders that the Administration have put in charge of the efforts in Afghanistan if they are not capable of answer simple questions to Congress that they, of anyone, should know.

How many American troops have been killed in Afghanistan this year?

None of the witnesses at the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Afghanistan had an answer.

How much is the U.S. spending in Afghanistan? Mr. Rohrabacher asked.

No one could say.

“We’re supposed to believe that you fellas have a plan that’s going to end up in a positive way in Afghanistan?” Mr. Rohrabacher asked. “Holy cow!”

Mr. Rohrabacher’s incredulous questioning came during a two-hour hearing on U.S. policy in Afghanistan that revealed increasing congressional frustration with U.S. policy as the administration tries to rescue its plan to keep thousands of troops in Afghanistan through the end of this decade, if not beyond.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D., Va.) called the witnesses’ inability to rattle off the facts “a stunning development.”

“How can you come to a congressional oversight hearing on this subject and not know” the answers? He asked. “Like that wouldn’t be a question the tip of one’s tongue.”

If they were leaders of a company, they would be fired.

If they were leaders of a military unit, they would be relieved of command.

If they were elected representatives, they would probably be voted out of office.

The administration needs to quit helping out its cronies or anyone it can find to fill positions, and start putting in qualified personnel into key positions. It is almost like they are on a co-ed D-league softball team and they look to the stands to find anyone they can to fill an outfield position.

The idea that U.S. officials didn’t have basic facts about the war in Afghanistan on the tips of their tongues seemed apt for a conflict that has fallen off the radar in Washington, where battles over the budget, President Barack Obama’s health care program and talks with Iran have eclipsed interest in America’s longest war as it winds to a close.

bigstock-Afghanistan-Passport-And-Dolla-50857586Photo courtesy of www.Bigstockphoto.com
 

Read the whole story at http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2013/12/11/simple-question-on-afghanistan-leaves-officials-stumped/

Going beyond 2014?

Just a few weeks ago all the news was talking about the Zero Option in Afghanistan, which implies that ZERO troops would be left in Afghanistan after 2014. Now we are hearing that the US and Afghanistan are nearing an agreement to keep some troops there beyond 2014 (http://www.news-leader.com/article/20130731/NEWS07/307310126/us-presence-afghanistan-extension).

That just goes to show you that either the press makes news by just guessing stuff, their inside “sources” are full of crap, or the DoD is good at “leaking” stuff to them to keep them thrown off the trail and they fall for it all the time.

Should we be there beyond 2014? Personally I say no, at least not chasing bad guys and trying to help dig wells and build schools. However we SHOULD try to establish our foothold in the region and keep some type of presence there. We still have troops in Japan, S. Korea, Germany and Italy don’t we? The administration lost its ability to negotiate a foothold in Iraq so I really hope they don’t screw this up and lose a military presence in this critical location in the world.

The Afghan Security Forces are long overdue on stepping up and TRULY taking the reins themselves, this should have happened years ago. So we don’t need to be coddling them, but we need to keep some space there to serve as a jumping-off or staging location just in case we ever need to get back into that part of the globe and straighten things out.

Time for the final exam


The announcement was made this morning after a ceremony in Kabul marking the formal handover of combat operations in Afghanistan from NATO forces to the Afghan Government.

The handover of responsibility at a ceremony, attended by NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Mr Karzai, marks a significant milestone in the nearly 12-year war.

It also marks a turning point for US and NATO military forces, which will now move entirely into a supporting role and opens the way for their full withdrawal in 18 months.

So now they have taken over all combat operations in the country. I wonder how that will work out for them and how long it will take until the Taliban really tests them….

The handover came the same day as a large bomb exploded in the Afghan capital, killing at least three people.

The blast was in the Pul-e-Surkh area of the western part of Kabul.

Seeing that both these quotes are from the same article, I guess the answer is “not long”. So this is it, this is the time for the Afghans to truly step up and take it, this is the final exam before this 12 year class is over. I am sure the “leaders” (I use that term very loosely) in the Afghan government are very happy for this, but I am bet the Afghan soldiers aren’t.

I also how “support role” will be defined for the NATO forces. I mean, when I was there in 06-07 we were in a “support role” with every mission requiring an “afghan face” on it. Afghan face meant 15 Afghans in two Ford Ranger pickups at the front of a convoy of 4 heavily armed up-armored HUMVEES with TACSAT radios and bombers or jets just a radio call away.

I am sure the Afghan government and the military will do whatever they can to give themselves an advantage and avoid the true kinetic head to head fight…

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has said his government will send representatives to the Gulf state of Qatar as soon as possible to hold formal talks with the Taliban.

Yep, I would say trying to work out a deal with the enemy would qualify as doing whatever they can. An enemy that has no reason to give any consolations or even care to. They just need to hold on long enough for us to get our troops out, then the whole place can destroy itself because in the end the people are accountable to themselves.

Have Americans Forgotten Afghanistan?


The day that the soldiers saluted their fallen comrade at Combat Outpost Sperwan Ghar, Sergeant Mark Schoonhoven died at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, from wounds suffered in Afghanistan. Schoonhoven was from Plainwell, Michigan. His mother and oldest daughter had sat by his hospital bed for nearly six weeks hoping he would recover from the coma. His wife had returned to Michigan to look after the five children at home. He never recovered from the injuries suffered when insurgents detonated explosives as his vehicle passed. At his funeral his wife and his mother received folded flags and each of his children put a rose on his coffin. Other than local coverage, there was little attention paid to these deaths.

This quote was from a story written on March 25th, 2013 in an article on the website of http://m.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/03/have-americans-forgotten-afghanistan/274331/ It caught my eye so I bookmarked it so I could come back and write about it later as it hit a nerve with me.  See I was in Afghanistan in 2006-2007 when we commonly referred to it as the “New Forgotten War”. The Korean war was the original Forgotten War as it started not long after WWII and quite frankly America was burned out of that one and not ready to embark on another one. Afghanistan was an “item” from Oct. 2001-March 2003 (when the Iraq war kicked off). The Taliban was defeated quickly and decisively in late 2001-mid 2002 in Afghanistan and it had to retreat what it had and lick its wounds. So things got pretty quite for the most part after mid 2002 there. However with the embed-reporter Iraq War kicking off in 2003, all eyes went to it. 2006 was the year that the Taliban really started to come back in force in Afghanistan. You can see this in the blog posts I wrote on this blog during that time, or in books like Outlaw Platoon or Lions of Kandahar. Both of which were written about major battles and enemy actions in the year 2006. However, by 2006 it was all about Iraq and with it going to hell in a handbasket at that time and then the oncoming surge of 2007, that was where the media focused. Like all good sheep that only look and see what they are pointed and told to see, the American people for the large part of it, forgot we were in Afghanistan. But that all changed starting around 2009 as the lessons of years of war in Iraq started to be learned in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Afghanistan was again in the first few minutes of every 6PM newscast so America now remembered and “cared” about the war there. That did not last more than a few years though.

Afghanistan did not become an issue during the fall presidential election campaigns, and the war seldom was a substantive issue in congressional races. Candidates scarcely discussed the war other than in passing references. In fact, they focused more on the putative next war in Iran. Ignoring the current war may have been politically or even morally derelict, but it was not of electoral consequence. Voters did not seem to consider war strategy as relevant to their election choices. Afghanistan did not figure in public opinion polls as a major issue and had not for some time. Nonetheless, we could hope that after the election political leaders would finally focus on the war in Afghanistan. If it did not seem relevant to swing-state campaign strategy, it surely was an important issue in developing national military strategy.

So now we are faced with the question, Does America Care? Are they burned out on war? Do they have more “important” things to worry about?

Quite honestly I don’t care what the answer is to those questions, because Americans SHOULD care. Our sons and daughters are still there, fighting, bleeding, and dying, not because they want to but because they have taken an oath and then intend to keep it. Our warfighters don’t get to pick and choose their wars, they go where they are lawfully told to go. As for burned out, unless they have been the ones over there living in plywood huts, getting the Afghan Crud, watching innocent people get maimed by a heartless enemy and most importantly trying to save their buddy’s life then they don’t know what “BURNED OUT” means or how they get it. As for the last question, I guess it depends on what you (or they) define as “important”. If it is Honey Boo-Boo and the firing of American Idol judges then I feel sorrow for them, because they have a very shallow and empty life.

Failure in leadership by the USA and UK

Last fall a group of 15 Taliban fighters breached the perimeter of one of the largest bases in Afghanistan, completely unchallenged. They made their way on the base, taking the lives of two Marines and then destroyed over $200 million dollars worth of US Marine aircraft (almost the entire Squadron).

av-8b-taliban-attack

After the attack, which resulted in the deaths of two Marines and the largest loss of allied materiel in the 11-year-long Afghan war, the top U.S. commander on the base did not order a formal investigation into the security lapses or sanction any personnel responsible for guarding the facility, the officials said.

It was a joint base with the British and now it appears that because of that fact our country is worrying about embarrassing the British military leadership by publicly stating what everyone in the military knows already.

In the days following the raid, some U.S. and NATO military leaders insisted that the Taliban got lucky by choosing to breach where they did. But several officials with direct knowledge of the assault said in recent interviews that staffing decisions by U.S. and British commanders weakened the base’s defenses, making it easier for the insurgents to reconnoiter the compound and enter without resistance.

This is a disgrace to our entire military, our country and worst of all, the families of those two fallen Marines. There used to be a saying in out country, “The Buck Stops here” which means that whomever is in command it accountable.

You can ask any of my soldiers that ever served with me while I was their First Sergeant and they will tell you that I spoke at length about R.A.I.D. It stands for Responsibility, Accountability, Initiative and Discipline. These were the four tenants that I demanded all of my soldiers exercise all the time. I stressed to them how important it was to apply these to their the lives both on and off duty. In my talks with soldiers about R.A.I.D. I would stress the fact that Responsibility can be delegated but Accountability never can. It is impossible to delegate it. If someone charges you with a responsibility to get something done, you may be able to delegate the task to someone else to physically perform, however you are and always will be accountable to the person that asked or told you to do it. You can’t whine with a “but I told him to do it”. That does not hold any weight or integrity.

So back to this story that came out on Saturday about the dereliction of duty and lack of accountability on behalf of the US and British leadership on the base. The base has been the site of an attempted attack on Secretary of Defense Panetta just six months earlier and it was September of 2012, which was still well within the height of the fighting season in the worst year of violence to date.

“You can’t defend everywhere every day,” Gurganus said in response to a question about the attack. “You base your security on the threat you’ve got.” He said the Taliban caught “a lucky break.”

That statement by MG Gurganus is in itself reason enough to relieve him of his duties and force him to retire. There are many parts in the whole story that are disturbing to read, however that quote above is 100% whining and excuse making. If I was his CSM and was near him, I would have tossed my career right there while I ate him up one side and down the other. I am sure this MG didn’t take whining excuses like that from the Marines in his command throughout his career. Him stating that on the record is a stain on the impeccable reputation of the entire Marine Corps.

The second worse thing stated in this story is the following

No U.S. or British military personnel have been reprimanded as a result of the attack. The Marine Corps does not plan to release its review. NATO also intends to keep its investigation confidential, in part to avoid embarrassing the British for leaving towers unmanned, according to officers briefed on the findings.

“We’ve corrected the deficiencies in security, but we don’t want to put a stick in the eye of our closest ally,” said a senior U.S. official who served in Afghanistan at the time.

To not hold those accountable and be transparent about the mistakes made is a failure on all of the leadership in both countries, all the way to the top. It is amazing how we can make public spectacles out of and punish soldiers who mistakenly throw Korans into a burn put with the other trash they are mixed with, or Marines who out of disgust and anger with a cowardice enemy urinate on their dead bodies (which by the way, nobody in the world gave a crap about except our civilian leaders in the Government) but they don’t make public and hold accountable the leaders and decision makers on this base that directly allowed this to happen.

If this is a sign of what is to come as we drawdown, then it makes it more important than ever to pull all troops out now instead of leaving them there as IED and IDF Fodder for our enemies.

Please take the time to read the whole story. I look forward to your comments and feelings on this topic. Feel free to comment on this blog post and lets chat about it.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/taliban-attack-exploited-security-cutbacks/2013/04/20/b22a0c18-a796-11e2-8302-3c7e0ea97057_story.html

Loss of another brave soul for no reason


An Afghan teenager killed an American soldier in eastern Afghanistan by stabbing him in the neck while he played with a group of local children, officials said Monday.

May of 2012 I started calling for the immediate withdrawal of all of our soldiers since they are not allowed to do their jobs anymore of being an Army who’s job it is to kill bad guys and destroy our enemies. Telling out enemies when we will leave does nothing than embolden them to wait us out.

I have said it on this blog in the past, the Afghans have a saying of “The Americans may have the watches, but Afghans got the time” and now they know how long they have to wait for us to be gone. So why do we continue to keep soldiers on the front lines being wounded and dying for objectives (if there are any) that cannot be achieved by next year.

Lets be honest here, as the number of soldiers deployed to Afghanistan get cut over the next 20 months, the soldiers that are there will not be focusing on warfighting or even training Afghan forces. They will be focused on helping pack stuff up, closing up FOBs and shipping stuff home, which means we are essentially ending our kinetic operations a lot sooner than the end of 2014.

So I ask why are we going to hang around? Why are we going to watch our sons and daughters be murdered like the soldier mentioned above? Not just murdered, but murdered by a Afghan child who he was trying to bond with and show humanity to.

My heart bleeds for this family to know they lost their loved one via an unselfish act their soldier was performing trying bond with Afghan children.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/04/01/afghan-teenager-kills-us-soldier-by-stabbing-him-in-neck-military-officials-say/

Hmm, the good news isn’t so good I guess

Coming hot off the presses….

The U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan incorrectly reported a decline in Taliban attacks last year, and officials said Tuesday that there was actually no change in the number of attacks on international troops from 2011 to 2012.

The corrected numbers – from the original reports of a 7 percent decline to one of no change – could undercut the narrative promoted by the international coalition and the Obama administration of an insurgency in steep decline.

So it seems that a “clerical error” continues to try and support the notion of faking progress.

In mid-December, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said “violence is down,” in 2012, and that Afghan forces “have gotten much better at providing security” in areas where they have taken the lead role. He said the Taliban can be expected to continue to attack, “but overall they are losing.”

On Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman George Little said Panetta was “concerned to learn of the errors” and was only very recently briefed on the matter.

“This particular set of metrics doesn’t tell the full story of progress against the Taliban, of course, but it’s unhelpful to have inaccurate information in our systems,” Little said.

I chalk it up to Panetta, who in my opinion is probably the worst Secretary of Defense this country has had in 40 years, trying to pad his legacy and resume as he walks out the door as the self-proclaimed champion of military equal opportunity.

It supports why I think he is one of the worst as he tries to spin the numbers and make it look like our warfighters are not fighting the hard fight, like they know they are. This country deserves more than putting lipstick on a pig and calling it pretty. It deserves the damned truth, as ugly as it may be. Our young men and women are not being wounded and dying for politicians to cover it up and create a great sounding soundbite on the 6PM news.

Read more at http://www.stripes.com/reported-drop-in-taliban-attacks-incorrect-1.209641