Is NATO that stupid?

I have to wonder what elementary school drop-out is up at NATO running things and making decision? It does not take even a High-school diploma to figure out this is not a good idea or will turn out well.

Taliban militants, who have shunned violence, are being provided monthly cash incentive of £100, besides being given amnesty for all crimes such as murdering children, beheadings and hanging women.

“Members of the Taliban who give up their fight are being paid £100 a month and will be allowed to keep their guns in a new initiative to end the insurgency,” the Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported.

Paying the Taliban not to fight is like giving a rapist free hookers so he doesn’t rape innocent women. Sure it will accomplish what you want in the short term, but over time it will become too expensive and you make them dependent on you.

Once we cut off the payments then they will go back to doing what they have to in order to survive, which means attacking us or the Government of Afghanistan. You cannot buy your way out of a problem like this.

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This is not good for our efforts in Afghanistan

Well it seems that NATO is coming clean on a raid that happened in Gardez back in February. It is not good for NATO and there is no doubt our enemies will use this in their propaganda and media campaign. It is one thing to make a mistake, it is something else to lie and attempt to cover it up and then have to confess.

I think NATO forces, and especially US forces have lost a lot of trust amongst the Afghan people over this one, or soon will.

NATO forces on Sunday have admitted killing five Afghan civilians, including three women, during a night raid on a home in the southeast of the country in February, after initially denying involvement.

The NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement Sunday that its troops were responsible for the women’s deaths in a village near Gardez, the capital of eastern Paktia province, on February 12.

Two newspapers — the New York Times and Britain’s The Times — said Monday that the foreign troops involved in the shooting were members of US special forces who tried to cover up the deaths by removing bullets from the bodies.

President Hamid Karzai has called for night raids to be banned.

NATO said its troops had entered the house on Feb. 12 in Gardez district of Paktia province, “believing an insurgent was inside”. They killed the two men because they carried weapons, although later learned they were not insurgents.

“We now understand that the men killed were only trying to protect their families,” Brigadier General Eric Tremblay, spokesman for NATO-led forces, said in the statement. The three women were killed during the shooting, NATO said.

ISAF said soon after the incident that the three women were found bound and gagged but the latest statement said the claim was based on a report by troops unfamiliar with Islamic burial customs.


McChrystal’s Afghanistan Authority Grows

It seems that our coalition partners in Afghanistan now see the value and experience of GEN McChrystal. I figure they must since they are allowing their troops to be put under his command.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, is being given expanded authority over U.S. and NATO forces in the country, a defense official said Thursday.
The move will put all but a small number of U.S. special operations forces and some support troops from other nations under the command of the American Army general.
McChrystal is already commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan but the additional authorities will give him greater control over the estimated 121,000 international troops in the country than any of his predecessors have had.
He “will have U.S. operational control of all U.S. forces less a small number of special operations forces,” an American defense official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
As the NATO commander, the only forces not under McChrystal’s control will be a special U.S. task force that handles detainees, the small number of special operations forces and some support troops from other nations, the official said.
McChrystal’s expanded authorities come amid a surge in U.S. forces to Afghanistan that will boost foreign troop levels in the country to 150,000 by August.
NATO officers, meanwhile, are planning a new U.S.-led military command in southern Afghanistan to prepare for a major offensive against the Taliban bastion of Kandahar, officials said Thursday.
The new command would oversee military operations in Helmand province, where an allied offensive has taken on Taliban forces in Marjah, while an existing NATO command under British leadership would be freed up to focus on the pivotal campaign planned for Kandahar, defense officials told AFP.


Nighttime Raid Rules tightened up

I was a little mixed when I first read this article a while back, but after a lot of consideration I think I can agree why they did this. If you balance what our forces achieve while doing these vs. the harm we do to ourselves, I am sure the hard far outweighs the achievements. When you are trying to execute successful COIN strategies and not alienate the people, then limiting the number of nighttime raids to the ones that are absolutely necessary is a pretty good move. Of course like with anything, orders can be misunderstood and not executed as ordered or too much. It takes a fair amount of common sense when trying to execute warfare at all levels. Lets just hope the Commanders between the top and the bottom don’t get overly conservative on this one.

NATO spokesman Rear Adm. Gregory Smith told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview that a directive would be issued soon to set down the new rules.

Nighttime raids on private homes have emerged as the Afghans’ No. 1 complaint after Gen. Stanley McChrystal limited the use of airstrikes and other weaponry last year. The U.S. and allied nations have made protecting the population a priority over the use of massive firepower as they seek to undermine support for the Taliban.

“It addresses the issue that’s probably the most socially irritating thing that we do – and that is entering people’s homes at night,” Smith said Wednesday at his office in Kabul. He would not elaborate pending a formal announcement.

The U.S.-led force has become increasingly sensitive to complaints by Afghan civilians as part of a renewed effort to win support among the public and lure people away from the Taliban. Night operations risk offending Afghan sensitivity about men entering homes where women are sleeping.

Rafiullah Khiel, a Finance Ministry employee whose uncle was detained by NATO forces during a night raid last fall, said the distraught women and children in the compound were rounded up and locked in a watchtower for several hours while soldiers searched the dwellings. Khiel said the soldiers told the family that they had information that the uncle, a pharmacist, was treating Taliban fighters.

“This is just unacceptable to us, to our traditions,” Khiel said, holding back tears as he recounted the ordeal during an interview in a home on the outskirts of Kabul. “These kinds of actions, these wrong decisions, just make people turn against them.”
The inability of the Afghan government to stop what many of its constituents consider abuse in turn generates support for the militants.

Smith said complaints about civilian deaths from airstrikes had dropped sharply after McChrystal’s order last year, but Afghans are “not seeing enough difference in our nighttime operations.”

He acknowledged the possible tactical issues in limiting nighttime action, which gives troops with sophisticated night vision equipment an upper hand and provides an element of surprise. But he said the problem needed to be addressed in the effort to win the confidence of Afghan civilians and keep them from supporting the Taliban.

“We’re not going to be in a position to stop all that activity,” he said, suggesting more operations could be carried out during the day in less dangerous areas.

While the July order by McChrystal ranged from limiting airstrikes to insisting that international troops be accompanied by Afghan forces, Smith said the upcoming directive would deal specifically with night raids.

Regional officials welcomed the shift, saying it would help improve relations between the NATO forces, the government and civilians.

“In the past we had several complaints because of civilian casualties during night raids,” said the acting governor of the volatile Khost province that borders Pakistan, Tahir Khan Sabari. “If these things happen during the day, that won’t happen as much. It’s also good for relations between the government and the public.”

According to a recent U.N. report, 98 Afghan civilians were killed last year during search operations – 16 percent of those killed by pro-government forces. The U.N. said the overall percentage of deaths attributed to Afghan and NATO forces dropped last year. The report credited the decline to NATO’s new emphasis on protecting civilians and curbing airstrikes.
Still, the report singled out a late operation on Oct. 16 in Ghazni province in which a joint Afghan-international military force opened fire when entering house, killing an elderly couple, their 35-year-old son and a 10-year-old granddaughter.

“The conduct of pro-government forces during night raids and searches continues to be of concern, particularly regarding excessive use of force resulting in death and injury to civilians,” the U.N. said. “Concerns have ranged from allegations of ill-treatment, aggressive behavior and cultural insensitivity, particularly toward women.”

Ghazni, a volatile province southwest of Kabul, was the site of new allegations that civilians were mistakenly targeted on Thursday. NATO insisted the four people killed were insurgents, but villagers claimed they were civilians – a father, two sons and a neighbor.

About 500 angry demonstrators chanted slogans against the United States and the Afghan government as they carried wooden coffins holding the bodies to the provincial capital of the same name.

“They had no weapons, no grenades, not even one single bullet was found in their home,” Abdul Samad, the victims’ relative, told Associated Press Television News. “All those killed were innocent people … We are asking government officials to think about us all the time and not only today. If there is any matter of concern, they should discuss it with our elders.”


NATO Investigates Untimely Air Support

I wrote about this incident the other day right HERE. Now either NATO is feeling the heat from the bad press and they are saying they are investigating or they are truly concerned about this. Either way, ETTs have been left out hanging with little to no support long before Gen McChrystal ever came into country and implemented his new ROE policy.  

NATO forces are investigating a firefight that killed nine Afghans and four U.S. troops — including a Chesapeake native — on Tuesday, according to a Pentagon spokesman.

McClatchy News Service, which had a reporter with the troops (read his account) when they were ambushed, is reporting that the team of Marine trainers made repeated calls for air and artillery support after being pinned down by insurgents in the eastern Afghanistan province of Kunar. U.S. commanders rejected their calls, citing new rules to avoid civilian casualties, the news service reported, despite being told repeatedly that the troops were not near a village.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said that it did take "some time" for air support to arrive, but the delay was due to distance, not the rules of engagement.

He said the deaths are under investigation, adding, "We will hopefully get to the bottom and figure out if everything operated according to protocol."

Among the four Americans who died was 1st Lt. Michael Johnson, 25, a 2002 graduate of Hickory High School in Chesapeake. Johnson was assigned to the 7th Communications Battalion, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa, Japan. His current permanent address is in Virginia Beach, according to the Defense Department.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, established the stricter rules of engagement in July, arguing that civilian casualties must be avoided in order to win ordinary Afghans’ support in the battle against the Taliban.

The rules allow commanders to defend their troops with force where no other options are available.

But Tuesday’s incident sounds all too familiar to retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Chris Beam of Chesapeake, whose son, Army Sgt. Kevin Beam, is stationed in Afghanistan.

About four weeks ago, Beam said, his son’s unit was ambushed with small arms and rocket fire and a soldier was injured and could not be reached by medics. When his son called for artillery support, he was denied. After the battle, Beam said, his son was informed by his superiors that his call for support was denied because the rules of engagement prohibit artillery fire within 500 meters of possibly inhabited buildings.

After making sure his son was all right, Beam e-mailed U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes and Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb..

"I don’t want an insane policy, established by politicians, resulting in my son coming home in a body bag," Beam said in an e-mail.

It was unclear Friday what, if anything, came of Beam’s e-mails to Washington. Jessica Mancari, a spokeswoman for Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake, said that office does not comment on constituent casework because of privacy concerns.

Kevin Hall, a spokesman for Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said that office has no record of receiving Beam’s e-mail. The office of Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., did not respond to an inquiry about the matter.

Johnson’s brother and parents could not be reached for comment Friday.

Anmaree Miller and Jennifer McCarthy, high school classmates and friends of Johnson , said that there was never a dull moment with him.

Johnson’s house was the hang-out spot, said Miller, 25, who lived on the same street. All the neighborhood friends, including Johnson’s twin brother and younger brother, would gather and watch surfing videos, listen to music and be typical teens, she said.

He always knew how to make people laugh, McCarthy said.

After graduating from Oregon State University, Johnson went on to what Miller described as his dream career.

"When he was younger he talked about being a Marine," Miller said. "His grandfather was a Marine and it was just something he always wanted to do — especially after Sept. 11."

The last time Miller saw Johnson was about two years ago, when he came home on a visit with his wife, whom he married in 2007.

"He was really positive and he wanted to make a difference in his country," she said. "I think he definitely accomplished that."

Pilot writers Bill Sizemore and Lauren King contributed to this report.

Four days of Hell

That is what I am afraid of. Thursday is the Afghanistan National Election. An election that our Administration has said will be pivotal in determining the strategy and the amount of time we will remain in Afghanistan. An election that the Taliban has publically swore they will do whatever they can to disrupt. An election that is beleaguered with corruption allegations, back-door deals, and talks of run-offs already; long before the first ballot is cast.

This is also an election that the US and coalition forces have been working hard to secure so the Afghan people are free to vote in. As you have heard here before, Afghanistan is not Iraq. There are not major population centers that can be cleared of traffic and cleared for only foot traffic where people can put their fingers in purple ink. That is impossible in Afghanistan, so the level of security we witnessed in Iraq is not possible here.

We have seen over the last several weeks that the Taliban is capable of striking major government centers. We have seen them strike Khost, Gardez, Jalalabad, and this last Saturday we saw them hit Kabul for the 2nd time in two weeks. Of course this last Saturday’s attack on the NATO HQ sent a strong message. Not only did they attack Kabul, they attacked the headquarters of the NATO force that is charged with securing the election.

I have said it before, the Taliban are masters at managing the IO campaign and can get their message to the local people very effectively. They know the fears of the people so they can play to them with precision.

Over the last 6 weeks we have seen coalition forces launch major operations to secure polling places. We have seen the Taliban publish a “code of conduct” that was supposed to direct them not to kill innocent civilians. We have also heard some of them say they would not disrupt the elections and then we have heard them say that is their main goal. Now we have Karzai saying he is working a truce with them in order to observe a day of cease-fire for the elections. Good luck with that.

We have seen the Taliban kill dozens of civilians, from overturned an truck that exploded in the middle of a bazaar to the attack this last weekend where they blew up a huge car-bomb far enough out from the NATO HQ to inflict very little damage. However they did kill 7 Afghans and wound around 100. They blew this bomb at the front gate where kids gather to sell their wares to the soldiers for a buck or two. My good friend Old Blue was in that exact spot a few weeks ago and had made a purchase from a little Afghan boy.

These next four days are going to be pivotal, and they could very well be history making. However I am also fearful that they could be Four Days of Hell.

A Path we need to take to Win in Afghanistan

Sometimes I get ideas for blog posts, I talk them over with people, formulate how I would write the blog in my head and then sometimes start a draft of them with plans to finish them later. Well on this occasion I have been passionately talking about how the approach should be in regards to fighting the drug problem in Afghanistan, and I waited a few days too long.

Back in April I started reading the book “Seeds of Terror” after it was sent to me by the publisher for review. This book along with my own insight and and experiences started shaping my opinion on the right way to deal with the opium cultivation in Afghanistan.

About a week after starting this book I was offered the opportunity to take part in a BBC round-table with the NATO Secretary-General at the time. This was on the BBC show, “World Have Your Say”. During the show, I had an opportunity to ask the Secretary-General about how NATO is dealing with the opium problem in Afghanistan. You can listen to the segment below, but the jest of what he said was “Not our job”. He then asked me what I would do about it, and I referred him to the fact that US Army is deploying the National Guard Agricultural Development Teams (ADT) into Afghanistan to help farmers with how they grow crops and show them alternatives to growing poppy. The Secretary-General then told me how he ran into one of the teams when he was in Ghazni and how he was impressed by them.

Click Below to listen to BBC Interview

BBC World Have your Way discussion between Bouhammer and the NATO Secretary-General

Needless to say I did not get the answer I wanted from him, which was for NATO to step up and do more in this area since they are not that involved in the kinetic fight. I mean if they aren’t going to chase down and kill bad guys then they could at least go after the drugs.

Since that time I have had repeated conversations with friends like Mike T, Clayton (The Hero Maker) Merwin, and many others about this issue. In fact my good friend Scott Kesterson and I have had several conversations about the way forward in Afghanistan and even though we agree on most approaches, we don’t necessarily agree 100% on dealing with the drug issue.

The main points of my argument in dealing with the drugs is not to go after the farmers, who are just trying to make a living and provide for their family. They will grow whatever they can that brings in the most money, and unfortunately that is poppy and always has been. If Coalition forces go into a farmer’s property and wipe out his crops, then it will just piss off the farmer and turn him to the enemy. There are also other farmers waiting for the chance to replace the farmer who was just taken out by the poppy eradication. So going after the farmer is not the silver bullet answer. However deploying ADT teams and using them to empower the farmer and show him alternative crops is part of the answer.

The real answer and focus in my opinion is to go after the middle-man, the buyer, the guy who pays the farmer, puts the poppies into a jingle-truck and moves them to a opium factory which turns the poppy into black-tar heroin. If we take out the man with the cash and he doesn’t show up anymore to buy the poppies from the farmer then the farmer will not be as motivated to grow it anymore. He will be m ore apt to switch to other positive crops. The middle-man (the drug trafficker)  is also the one who is moving the heroin by the tons across the borders of Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and other bordering countries. This movement by vehicle is what gets “taxed” by the Taliban and is where they make a lot of their money.

Since we can’t go into Pakistan, Iran and the other countries and take out the labs that are turning this drug into a human-usable product, then we must get them before they cross the border. We must also get the “most bang for our buck”, by using our resources (soldiers, technologies, etc.) to get the largest amounts of opium and heroin at one time. These large amounts are going to be the jingle trucks loaded with pure opium or black-tar heroin that are being moved to the border.

This is the main-stay of my argument. Don’t go after the poor farmer who is just trying to get a little scratch like everyone else in that country, go after the guys that are paying him. Go after the guys who are collecting it (opium) all up, go after the guys who are being taxed by the Taliban and is providing our enemies the funds to continue their fight.

In my humble opinion there is no one way to winning the war in Afghanistan, but instead there are several main paths we should take and going after the source of funds that our enemies enjoy is one of those main paths. Many of the fighters we engage in the country are not Al-Qaeda or hardcode Taliban, they are people trying to make a buck and right now the enemy pays pretty well. The poor fighters that try to attack us, plant the IEDs, and are usually killed by us are not going to do it for an I.O.U.

So at the start of this long blog I talked about how I get ideas and when I decide to write a blog post. On this topic I had been procrastinating and had just not sat down to do it yet, and because of that I came up a day late, and a dollar short. Two days ago the US Government announced a new policy in dealing with the opium problem in Afghanistan and when I read it I thought “dammit, that is what I have been saying for months, why didn’t I write that back then”.

The quote below came from the story here, www.csmonitor.com/2009/0628/p99s01-duts.html

The United States is changing course on anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan, a senior official said Saturday, shifting its focus from the destruction of opium poppies to fighting drug traffickers and promoting non-narcotic crops among Afghan farmers who depend on the poppy harvest for survival.

Many analysts criticized the old policy for ignoring the economic logic that draws Afghan farmers to opium production, and said destroying their crops was no way to win their hearts and minds.

Opium is used to make heroin, and although Afghan production has dropped 19 percent in the past year, it still produces 93 percent of the world supply, according to the Associated Press. Most of that production happens in the south, where support for the Taliban is highest, generating between $50 and $70 million annually for the group, according to UN estimates.

Poppy eradication has been a tenet of US policy in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001. But speaking to reporters at a G8 summit on Afghanistan in Italy on Saturday, US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke called it “a waste of money,” says the AP.

This new strategy is all over the MSM and I could just kick myself for not having my opinion out there sooner. Either way, I know what I have been saying and so do those who’s ears I have been bending about the topic. I truly feel this is the right way, now I just hope our government provides the right tools, resources, and guidance to our military so they can do it correctly.

Why Afghanistan Matters

Joint Forces Command HQ in Brunssum, Netherlands is sponsoring a video contest called “Why Afghanistan Matters”. The intent is to provide a "boots on the ground" perspective of the military mission in Afghanistan from the point of view of those most closely involved.

They will not edit clips for content, but will exclude contest submissions that jeopardize troop security, or show objectionable, disturbing or offensive material.

The contest is open to military personnel who are serving, or have served the mission in Afghanistan. You can follow progress by subscribing to RSS updates. or checking out our Twitter feed.

The contest will be open for submissions during June, July and August. They will post your videos once approved as a qualifying submission. From 1 to 30 September, they will allow further video rating, and winners will be selected on 1 October.

Winners determined by highest average rating. One (1) winner will receive a digital camcorder, valued at approximately $600 US; three (3) winners will receive digital camcorders valued at approximately $150 US each.

So make your video, upload it and tell NATO and the World, why Afghanistan Matters. Go to their website at contest.afghanistanmatters.com/ to learn more, see the official rules and upload your video.