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

A failing program


Pentagon Defends Afghan Local Police Program

The Pentagon defended a program Monday that recruits local police forces in Afghan villages despite a U.S.-funded report that raises questions about the militia’s performance and alleged abuses.

Top officers, including the former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, have portrayed the Afghan Local Police initiative as a crucial tool in rolling back the Taliban in rural areas.

But the unpublished study commissioned by the Defense Department and prepared by the RAND Corporation think tank offers a less optimistic analysis, according to the Los Angeles Times, which obtained a copy of the report.

The study found that one in five U.S. special operations teams advising the local police units said the Afghan militia had committed violence or abused civilians, and there were recent allegations of bribe taking, rape and drug trafficking, the newspaper said…

Working with the ANP on one of my last missions in country

Of course they are defending this largely failed program. Pride gets in the way of many people admitting their are wrong. For an agency like the DoD, there is now way they are going to publicly admit defeat. When this program was announced a couple of years ago I said then I thought it would not work.

It was patterned after the “Sons of Iraq” program which GEN Petreaus had great success with, but Iraq is not Afghanistan. The motivations, values and beliefs of Afghans are not the same as Iraqis. This program was ripe for corruption and bad things to happen. I know that may sound negative but that is just how I saw it.

We took over mentoring of the police in 2007, which was a little five years after we had ben working with the Afghan Army. The level of corruption was off the charts with the police at the time and as I have said on this blog a few times, when we started mentoring the police we felt as if we were mentoring the enemy we had been fighting for the last 8 months.

I am not saying that at the micro level that good things haven’t happened. I know when I worked with the Afghan police we made some progress, but at the macro level those small steps of progress didn’t amount to much. In my humble opinion, the DoD needs to just admit that not every strategy works in every situation. Sometimes they just don’t work out. It never has since they started this program and it still isn’t.

Read the whole story at http://www.military.com/news/article/pentagon-defends-afghan-local-police-program.html

Finally some good news on the ANP

It is good to finally see some positive stories coming out of Afghanistan when it comes to training the Afghan National Police. Now if these could just start becoming common and not the exception.

While still primitive, U.S. Army Lt. Col. John Voorhees boasted of its progress when he visited one rainy day last week as a ragtag group of Afghan policemen — some still in summer uniforms — were lined up.Outside the building, there are damp tents furnished with bunk beds. A tarp hung over an outdoor eating area. There was a latrine and even a pingpong table made of scrap lumber.”I think we’ve moved from an F to a C or C-plus,” said Voorhees, commander of the 504th Military Police Battalion, which is deployed in Afghanistan’s largest city in the south. “They have hot showers, water, heated tents.”The substation is one of 16 that ring Kandahar to help keep the Taliban from getting into the city to launch attacks.Afghan policemen and American MPs live together at all of them, jointly protecting their piece of the city of 800,000. Ten substations are housed in buildings. Two are under construction. Four still operate in tents or temporary quarters.With hundreds more policemen on the streets, fewer insurgents are slipping into the city.There are 1,600 Afghan policemen in Kandahar. That’s 800 more than last year and the total is slated to rise to 2,100 by summer. They are partnered with 850 U.S. military policemen — up from 170 MPs last summer.The city is safer than it was, but it’s far from safe.

While still primitive, U.S. Army Lt. Col. John Voorhees boasted of its progress when he visited one rainy day last week as a ragtag group of Afghan policemen — some still in summer uniforms — were lined up.

Outside the building, there are damp tents furnished with bunk beds. A tarp hung over an outdoor eating area. There was a latrine and even a pingpong table made of scrap lumber.

“I think we’ve moved from an F to a C or C-plus,” said Voorhees, commander of the 504th Military Police Battalion, which is deployed in Afghanistan’s largest city in the south. “They have hot showers, water, heated tents.”

The substation is one of 16 that ring Kandahar to help keep the Taliban from getting into the city to launch attacks.

Afghan policemen and American MPs live together at all of them, jointly protecting their piece of the city of 800,000. Ten substations are housed in buildings. Two are under construction. Four still operate in tents or temporary quarters.

With hundreds more policemen on the streets, fewer insurgents are slipping into the city.

There are 1,600 Afghan policemen in Kandahar. That’s 800 more than last year and the total is slated to rise to 2,100 by summer. They are partnered with 850 U.S. military policemen — up from 170 MPs last summer.

The city is safer than it was, but it’s far from safe.

Read the rest at http://www.whptv.com/news/world/story/U-S-troops-see-progress-in-training-Afghan-police/tJFmw0kNUkuh3B40_taR5w.cspx


Corruption is creating our enemies

I have talked about corruption and the ANP many times on this blog. You can click HERE and see some of those postings where I talked about corruption and the ANP. The story below really addresses how corruption turns neutral locals against and and motivates them to help our enemies.

Corruption and the abuse of power among Afghan police have alienated local people and driven some to join the Taliban, British commanders returning from Helmand have warned.
Senior officers stressed that the police force was being urgently reformed and that new members were winning the trust of residents in areas recently recaptured from the insurgents. But Brigadier James Cowan, the last head of UK troops in Helmand, said some police had caused severe damage in the past.
He added: “The police in many ways were the cause of the problem as well as the solution… We have had cases so often when captured Taliban mention the police for them joining the insurgency in the first place.”
Five British soldiers were murdered by an Afghan policeman they were training at Nad-e-Ali, in Helmand, last November. Lieutenant Colonel Roley Walker, commander in the area, said people had “become disaffected” by the way the police had treated them.
Lt Col Walker, of the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, added that the insurgents had exploited the antipathy and fear felt by many local people towards the police. “We have had reports of the Taliban putting on police uniforms, setting up checkpoints, and then stealing money, phones, watches. Obviously they would have no way of knowing whether these people were genuine police or the Taliban.
“But we have also seen that when properly trained police are introduced the people welcome them. The Afghans are rather embarrassed about having outside forces defending them against the Taliban; they would rather have their own people do it.”
General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, recently warned that a lack of fully trained police in the retaken Taliban stronghold of Marjah was creating a “bleeding ulcer”.
The International Security Assistance Force is running a programme which aims to create 600 new police officers every eight weeks.
Greater screening of recruits and ensuring that the police are properly trained and paid have raised the level of the force, said Brigadier Cowan. The force was prepared to act as a “gendarmerie”, able to take on militants, he added. “Those who are coming through are as good if not better than the [Afghan] Army.”
Brigadier Cowan led 11 Light Brigade during Operation Moshtarak, the biggest Nato military offensive since the fall of the Taliban nine years ago. The forces were involved in heavy fighting, with 700 Taliban estimated to be have been killed in Nad-e-Ali and Sangin. About 30 senior insurgent commanders were killed, captured or forced to flee.
Improvised explosive devices have taken numerous British lives in Sangin. The 3 Rifles Battlegroup lost 30 members during the tour. Their commander, Lt Col Nick Kitson, said his troops had carried out a thousand patrols a month to meet and reassure local people and civilian casualties had fallen by more than 40 per cent in a year.


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.”

A Must Read, Journalist chased, Beaten and Threatened

If you read nothing else today, read the story below. My good friend PJ Tobia wrote a piece for The CSM about how he and other journalist were chased, beaten, and threatened multiple times by Afghan Police for reporting on violence in Kabul.

These are the same police that we and our coalition partners have been trying to train on things like human rights, crime scene evidence, questioning of suspects, etc. Apparently they still resort to the brutal ways they have seen in the past and don’t pay much attention to what we try to train them on.

“I was lying in the dirt and they were hitting me with the butts of their rifles and kicking me with their boots. I was seriously scared for my life. When he had that rifle in his hands and he was pointing it at me, I though that was it.”

 

http://features.csmonitor.com/globalnews/2009/08/20/police-crack-down-on-journalists-during-afghan-election/

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.