Green on Blue equals RED, Part II

This is Part II of a two-part series. Part one can be read at http://www.bouhammer.com/2012/08/green-on-blue-equals-red/

As the Sr. NCO on my team I always told my team to NEVER trust anyone that is not 100% American, even our terps. Even though we trusted them more than anyone else (we had to as our lives counted on them where there were only 2 or 3 Americans typically on mission), there was still a thread of suspicion. The reality is we were in a foreign country and we did not know what everyone’s allegiances were. I would constantly remind them to always have one in the chamber and be ready to drop ANY Afghan that poses an unmistakable threat. Of course that is easier said than done, as each person would have just milliseconds to made a shoot/no-shoot decision on what they see as a threat.

This is also why I always had my weapon in either RED or BLUE status. Just to be clear, I invited the BLUE status name. I would say it looks green (no magazine inserted) but it was really RED (one in the chamber), hence BLUE. I was never going to take for granted that just because I am on a large base or FOB, that every non-American there was not a threat. I understand commanders had to dumb down their protective measures to the “private” level who are pretty much trained to be afraid of their weapon. But I was confident in my weapon and its status at all times.

Another reason to have the weapon always ready is because we knew as embedded mentors with the Afghans there was always a threat. It was an accepted risk that we just dealt with and took as part of the job. Last week there were 3 MARSOC team members who were gunned down after being invited over to share in a Ramadan feast with the Afghan National Police chief they were mentoring. Some of the public have been outraged that our military has put these guys in such a risky position, but I can guarantee you that they were well aware of the risk, and much more aware than any civilian back in the states. What are they going to do, not do their job?

We are not fighting a conventional enemy and our enemy is using whatever tactics they can to inflict harm on us. This is why I referenced this as our “Achilles heel” in Part I of this series of posts. We have to accept that our soldiers will be at risk of doing their job. To mitigate this risk they can take certain counter-measures some of which can be seen and others that can’t. I am not going to discuss those here in an open forum, but I can guarantee you that they are all trained on them. One can only hope they don’t get complacent and continue to apply them.

So yes, losing our soldiers to our Afghan “friends” is terrible but as I mentioned in Part I it has to be expected. Sad but true.

What is truly a shame is when you see reports like this:

Three logisticians were shot to death — and a fourth was wounded — when a gunman opened fire on them as they worked out in the FOB’s gym.

This story can be read at http://militarytimes.com/blogs/battle-rattle/2012/08/18/report-deadly-attack-on-marines-at-fob-delhi-was-carried-out-by-afghan-teen/ and as you can read in the report, this attack was done not by a Afghan Security force member, but by a teenager who was a sexual play toy for the Afghan police chief. Of course that is whole separate issue and one I have talked about on this blog many times.

These guys were not “embedded” per se, but were back on what should have been the relative safety of their FOB working out during some off-time. It sounds like this FOB is just like the ones that I stayed on, with Afghans and Americans living in the same area. Like these guys, I also went to the little gym we had, the showers, latrines, etc. and did not carry any weapon with me. Again, back then the attacks were not as prevalent as they are now so the probability of an internal attack like this happening was lower, but still existed.

In the military the Rules of Engagement (ROE) are always changing, to include sometimes several times a day. In addition to ROE always changing, so does the defense posture of our forces. The defense posture is the level of defensive measures our forces take based on the threat at the time. I really hope their defensive postures are changing and raising in light of these attacks over the last year and especially the last two weeks. Our SecDef talking to Karzai isn’t going to do it (http://www.foxnews.com/world/2012/08/18/panetta-prods-afghan-president-on-insider-killings/), our men and women being ready for any threat at any time is the only way they can ensure their own safety.

 

Green on Blue equals RED

I remember when I wrote about Green on Blue attacks over the last few years and they were like anomalies that were devastating, but rare.  I can’t write about them like that anymore because they are just happening too damned often. We are losing our warfighters to the hands of our “friends” weekly, and that is unacceptable. This is why I and many other Americans are seeing RED over these green on blue attacks. Green represents the Afghan security forces we are training and mentoring, Blue represents our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.

Time and time again I have talked about how the loss of any American at the hands of a “friendly” afghan is not acceptable, but I can’t say it is not expected. I will cover that in part II of this series of posts.

Unfortunately the enemy has finally figured out this Achilles heel of our military mission. When I was there in 2006-2007, my teammates and I would frequently say how lucky we were that the enemy did not know how soft or vulnerable we were, because if they did we would have all been wiped out several times over. In those days we were extremely lucky and blessed that the enemy we were fighting were very ignorant. But since that time they have learned their own lessons, plus new ones from the fighting in Iraq.

At the time we did not fully appreciate how much of a risk we truly were. Since my team has returned we commonly reflect and talk about our experiences and are amazed all of us made it back and many of us were not killed. Most of the time there were just two of us on a mission with around 15 Afghan soldiers. This lasted from a few hour mission to being on missions for weeks at a time. There were two different times that I was rolling around country with just one other American and a terp in our HUMVEE and no Afghans.  Those were truly risky missions even though we took every measure we could to ensure we were not a target.

You can go back and look at the archives of this blog and read through the posts from May 2006-April 2007 to find many posts where I talked about being out on the edge with just one or two other Americans with me. Heck there were some times I was by myself. I truly thank God for listening to the prayers of many family and friends and keeping me alive.

So I get it that Americans who are embedded with Afghans are at risk, constantly at risk but that does not mean seeing these attacks on our soldiers any easier to accept. They are happening just way too often and at all levels. This is evident when all soldiers are ordered to have their weapons in an Amber status at places like the ISAF HQ (http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/08/17/coalition-troops-now-armed-at-all-times-on-afghan-bases-in-wake-insider/).

 

Our troops are surrounded

The fight in Afghanistan is referred to as an asymmetric battlefield or a 360 degree battlefield. This is because it is not the standard linear type of fight we have faced in the past in many wars like WWI, WWII, Korea and many other wars of past. The 360 degree battlefield means that there is no real “front line”. The enemy is around our troops everywhere and all the time, inter-mingled with the civilian populous.

We have been calling it a 360 degree battlefield for a while, but it has never been more true than it has over the last 6 years, and especially this week.

A man in an Afghan army uniform shot and killed three American service members on Friday morning in southern Afghanistan, the U.S. military command said, the third attack on coalition forces by their Afghan counterparts in a week. The Taliban claimed the shooter joined the insurgency after the attack.

These “green on blue” attacks have been happening for longer than the US Military has been tracking them, which started in 2007. No doubt this year is one of the worst and this last week is no exception with at least 3 of them happening in the last several days.

The two gunmen wearing Afghan National Army uniforms fired on NATO troops at a base in Paktia province of eastern Afghanistan, killing a soldier, according to the U.S.-led coalition and Afghan officials.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the shooting, the latest in a rising number of so-called “green-on-blue” attacks in which Afghan security forces, or insurgents disguised in their uniforms, kill their U.S. or NATO partners.

Last week I talked with my old friend, MG Robert Abrams on You Served Radio (http://www.blogtalkradio.com/youserved/2012/08/01/episode-203–mg-robert-abrams-and-michael-gold) and we talked about these green-on-blue incidents and the impact they have on the US warfighters and the relationships we have with our Afghan “partners”.

The fact is that our troops are surrounded, and literally serving “shoulder to shoulder” with the enemy. When it comes to tactics I can’t say I blame out enemy, as it is tactically smart. They have penetrated our Achilles heel as we have no choice but serve with the Afghan security forces in order for us to mentor them. In saying that, in order to be effective, we can’t work them all “kitted-up” in full tactical gear all the time. It just doesn’t work that way, even though that may be hard for some to understand who have never been there.

 

The author (closest to the camera on the right side) with his team members meeting with Afghan National Police in Paktika Province, Afghanistan (2007)

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/08/10/three-us-troops-killed-by-man-in-afghan-army-uniform/#ixzz239BZqkMl

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/kabul-police-roadside-bomb-kills-8-civilians/2012/08/07/75c9cc56-e048-11e1-8d48-2b1243f34c85_story.html

40 Taliban killed? I am not so sure


About 40 Taliban militants were killed and 14 injured when militants launched a cross-border attack against police checkposts in Afghanistan’s eastern Paktika province Saturday, a provincial government spokesman said.

That sounds like great news but the fact that this information is from the Afghans makes it highly suspect, especially with Afghan police in the Gomal district. The rule of thumb used to be whatever number of enemy that the Afghans told you were attacking them or that they killed, divide that in half, then subtract 80% from that, and you may be close to the actual number.

The spokesman said that two policemen were slightly injured and no civilian was harmed in the clash in the province bordering Pakistan.

Of course claiming that just two of their police were slightly injured makes these claims even more suspect of not being true at all.

You can check out the whole story at http://english.sina.com/world/2012/0728/490579.html

How tight can the Shoulders stay together?


Afghan intelligence officials arrested 16 people after an apparent mass suicide bombing attack was foiled in Kabul, Sky News reported Tuesday.
Some 11 suicide bombing vests were also seized from inside Afghanistan’s defense ministry, according to security officials, cited by news website Khaama Press.
A number of the suspects were members of the Afghan National Army, the security sources added.
It is believed the suspects planned to detonate the bombing vests on buses transporting more than 1,000 staff from one compound to the next, Sky News said.
The arrests follow the killings of three NATO troops Monday in two separate incidents involving gunmen allegedly affiliated with Afghan security forces, as unrest in the wake of a mass shooting by a US soldier earlier this month continued to be felt through southern and eastern Afghanistan.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2012/03/27/afghan-officials-arrest-16-after-alleged-mass-suicide-attack-plot-is-foiled/?test=latestnews#ixzz1r5FXuGIQ

This story came out about a week ago and I have been meaning to talk about it. Without a doubt this is a good news story, because they stopped it. Of course it is not a great thing to think that even more of our “friends” and partners were about to do this. I mean these are the guys that our coalition forces (to include Americans) are training at the primary military training centers. These are the guys we are shoulder to shoulder with. When our troops hear of this (even thought it was stopped) it makes them even more wary of the guys on the left and right of them.

It is a serious psychological mind-screw when we are taught from the first day of basic training the the guy fighting next to you has his life in your hands and yours in his. This makes you question every move, motive or action by those that our soldiers must fight and train with side-by-side. Continue reading

Gardez takes another hit

It appears that Gardez, Afghanistan which has always been a target of IEDs and suicide bombers is once again in the news. This time the bombers took out some important people in the security forces there. My good friend Scott Kesterson has many friends there in the Gardez-based ANA and ANP. I surely hope none of them he knew were killed or seriously injured.

Kabul – A suicide bomber detonated his explosives in a busy market in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday, killing himself and nine other people and injuring 27 more, a government spokesman said. The bomber targeted Baser Ahmad, a commander in the Afghan Campaign Forces that are allied with international troops in Gardez, the capital city of the south-eastern province of Paktia, Rohullah Samoon, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said.
“The bombing killed Baser Ahmad, two of his bodyguards, a border police officer and five civilians,” Samoon told the German Press Agency dpa.
One police officer and 26 civilians were injured in the blast, he said.
NATO in Kabul confirmed the attack in a statement and said its forces were helping evacuate the injured people to the provincial hospital.
“The insurgents have again proven that they are the enemy of the Afghan people,” Italian General Luigi Scollo said in the statement. “We strongly condemn these indiscriminate, cowardly acts of murder.”

Corruption is still a major enemy

http://story.afghanistansun.com/index.php/ct/9/cid/6e1d5c8e1f98f17c/id/487761/cs/1/

Click that link and read that article to see how today in 2009 we are still fighting corruption as a major enemy and obstacle to achieving goals in Afghanistan. Granted we have been there since 2001 and embedded with the Army since 2002, but we have only been mentoring the police since 2007. Prior to TF Phoenix being made to embed with the police, we usually fought the police in battle. Yes, they were our enemy and it was not uncommon for us to kill them. Then one day a General or two decided we would not embed with out “friends”.

We are only two years into mentoring them and it is going slow. Anyone who reads this blog regularly or has in the past knows that I consider corruption one of the 3 main reasons why we are struggling in Afghanistan. The problems listed in this article “stealing of fuel”, “taking of bribes” still happens in the Afghanistan army and we have been trying to stop that (at varying degrees) since 2002, without major success.

This is one of the reasons why ETTs/PMTs are burned out by the time their tour comes to an end. This is why they have little patience for anything and why many feel hopeless at the end of their tour. I routinely tell new or about to deploy ETTs that the single trait they need to posses more than anything else is patience. They will need more than the human psyche can posses.