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At last — PROGRESS!

7:03 pm in Uncategorized by Dubhaltach

Never let it be said that there is no progress in the war that America and a diminishing number of allies are waging in Afghanistan.

Definition of progress from Oxford Dictionaries Online:




[mass noun]

1 forward or onward movement towards a destination

To find the rate of progress of a Taliban sapper towards their goal we need use a very simple equation:

Let X = 360-metre tunnel.

Let Y = 150 days (approximately 5 months).


Taliban sappers dug a 360 metre long tunnel lit by electric light and ventilated with fans of sufficient height and diameter for the escaping prisoners to stand upright for most of their walk to freedom and their rate of progress was 2.4 metres a day.

One of the reasons they were able to achieve this rate of progress is that they were completely unhindered:

"The guards are always drunk. Either they smoke heroin or marijuana, and then they just fall asleep. During the whole process no one checked, there was no patrols, no shooting or anything."

Source: Afghanistan’s great escape: how 480 Taliban prisoners broke out of jail | World news | The Guardian

Not only were the sappers unhindered but so were the escapees:

The Taliban statement said it took four and a half hours for all the prisoners to clear the tunnel, with the final inmates emerging into the house at 3:30am. They then used a number of vehicles to shuttle the escaped convicts to secure locations.

Government officials corroborated parts of the Taliban account. They confirmed the tunnel was dug from the nearby house and the prisoners had somehow gotten out of their locked cells and disappeared into the warm Kandahar night.

Source: | Taliban help 480 flee Afghan jail

I love that bit about how the prisoners "somehow" got out of their "locked cells" don’t you? And what about that bit about "the warm Kandahar night". Plainly inside that reporter there’s a lyricist just panting to escape — just like those Taliban prisoners now that I think of it.

And before any Americans who happen to be reading this throw their eyes up to heaven and start muttering about corrupt and inept Afghan guards, can I just remind them that as the Taliban statement gloatingly pointed out, the guards at that prison "includes foreign invaders" you get no prizes whatsoever for guessing which country most of those "foreign invader" guards come from. Having now seen them in action in Irak, and Afghanistan all I can say about the performance of the inept and brutal buffoons in the US Forces and the government led by President Barack Obama which they serve, is that they and the Taliban fucking well deserve one another


A Confused And Self-Destructive Military Operation

6:38 am in Uncategorized by Dubhaltach

It’s well worth your while reading the full report on Norgrove’s death from The Independent  instead of just the first three paragraphs that I’ve given below.  I didn’t believe the original storyline from the moment I read it. From the original reports I suspected that the US special forces troops had gone in using the wrong weapons, the wrong tactics , and above all the wrong attitude. That, as usual, they’d indulged themselves in the excessive use of violence and that the very person they were supposed to be rescuing was dead as a result. Why? The giveaway was the claim that she’d been killed by one of her captors who was wearing a suicide belt.

I find that claim very difficult to believe. Suicide belts are put on just before their wearer goes to attack his target by blowing himself up in his target’s immediate vicinity. In this instance we were supposed to believe that somebody slept in a suicide belt and detonated it as the rescue took place.

What in God’s name were the Americans thinking of – chucking fragmentation grenades around in a confined space holding the hostage they were supposed to be rescuing? Then they lied about it. This is the sort of thing that loses you allies fast, and the British government is already under strong political pressure to get to hell out of Afghanistan.

There is a term of art in American military parlance, "Clusterfuck" it means a confused and self-destructive military operation.


The American and British governments’ account of the death of Linda Norgrove in Afghanistan fell apart yesterday, with the revelation that she may have been killed by the US forces sent to free her.

David Cameron was forced to retract his announcement that the 36-year-old aid worker had been murdered by one of her captors. Instead, the Prime Minister said, a grenade thrown by an American soldier may have killed her.

None of the US special forces taking part initially reported throwing fragmentation grenades near Ms Norgrove, and it only came to light after video footage from head cameras worn by members of the squad was examined.

Read in full: US grenade may have killed hostage, Cameron admits – Asia, World – The Independent

Related articles from The Independent :

Coverage from The Guardian:

Death Squads, Porn, Hashish And Killing For Kicks … It’s Not Just A Few “Bad Apples”

10:55 am in Uncategorized by Dubhaltach

Guess what? Having done the El Salvador option in El Salvador and in Irak it seems that the death squad option is now being well and truly being exercised by some American troops in Afghanistan. Surely you’re not surprised?


Screenshot: On the tape, obtained by ABC News, Morlock admits helping murder three Afghans:

Dressed in a t-shirt and Army shorts, a 22-year-old corporal from Wasilla, Alaska casually describes on a video tape made by military investigators how his unit’s "crazy" sergeant randomly chose three unarmed, innocent victims to be murdered in Afghanistan.

Snip … … …

On the tape, obtained by ABC News, Morlock admits his role in the deaths of three Afghans but claims the plan was organized by his unit’s sergeant, Calvin Gibbs, who is also charged with pre-meditated murder.

Snip … … …

"He pulled out one of his grenades, an American grenade, you know, popped it, throws it, tells me where to go to whack this guy, kill this guy, kill this guy," Morlock told the investigators.

Source: US Soldier Describes Thrill Kill of Innocent Civilians in Afghanistan – ABC News

In some ways there is no comment necessary on the video confessions obtained by ABC News why on earth would anybody be surprised that American troops in Afghanistan plant weapons on corpses to try to justify killing civilians? — They did it in Irak (and in Irak when they couldn’t get hold of a spare weapon they would plant a spade and pretend they’d murdered their victim while he was planting a bomb).

Why would anybody be surprised that American soldiers in Afghanistan behaved like a death squad? — They targeted civilians so often in Irak that it is common for Irakis to refer to them as a death squad in uniform.

Why would anybody be surprised that having committed attrocities in Irak that a sergeant in the American army death squad member would boast to his comrades in Afghanistan about getting away with "stuff". Why would anybody be surprised that he went on to discuss possible “scenarios” for killing civilians in Afghanistan? — He had every reason to suppose he was among like-minded people. He had every reason to suppose that his superiors would turn a blind eye just so long as he wasn’t too blatant:

The revelations have led to calls for a credible investigation to establish whether the command environment – which favours full-on engagement with the enemy – encouraged abuses, and what, if anything, senior officers knew about the killings and substance abuse on the base. There are also question marks over whether the army’s whistleblower system failed to act on reports of a death squad.

Source: Porn, hashish and killing for kicks … what fuelled a GI death squad in Afghanistan – Herald Scotland | News | World News

Perhaps cutting up the bodies of Afghan civilians, photographing them, keeping their bones, skulls, and fingers as ‘trophies’ of war was a little too blatant though.

Or maybe not.

Not only did sergeant death squad leader have reason to suppose he had a sympathetic audience amongst his immedaite comrades. He also had good reason to suppose that at the highest levels of the American command structure that there is at least one general office who publicly relishes killing people as "fun". Remember this?

General: It’s ‘fun to shoot some people’ – CNN:

Lt. Gen. James Mattis, who commanded Marine expeditions in Afghanistan and Iraq, made the comments Tuesday during a panel discussion in San Diego, California.

"Actually it’s quite fun to fight them, you know. It’s a hell of a hoot," Mattis said, prompting laughter from some military members in the audience. "It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right up there with you. I like brawling.

"You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil," Mattis said. "You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."

Read in full: General: It’s ‘fun to shoot some people’ – CNN:

I’ve seen far too much of various forms of types of cowardly and vicious behaviour towards innocent and unarmed civilians in Irak to have been even remotely surprised when I saw it in Afghanistan. And, no, it’s not just "a few bad apples".

"A few bad apples" is a comforting lie that people like to tell themselves. I understand why some people might want to lie to themselves by saying that "it’s just a few bad apples" but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it is still a lie and that those telling it , even if it is only to themselves, are still liars. Nobody ever solved a problem by refusing to admit that there was a problem in the first place. It’s definitely not just "a few bad apples". From what I and other Gorilla’s Guides team members have seen day in day out for years I would have to contend that the organisational culture of the American armed forces make death squads and other warcrimes inevitable. To use another food related proverb "fish rot from the head down".

For as long as Americans continue to believe that their country is "the shining city on the hill" that they are the "good guys" and are entitled to do "whatever it takes" this sort of barbarity will take place and Americans, all of them will be associated with it in the minds of Muslims throughout the world. These attrocities are being committed by American troops, who come from American society, with American values and attitudes, amd who have been trained and indoctrinated in America by other American soldiers. The current wave of Islamophobia in America merely serves to underline to Muslims the world over that their suspicion that the soldier who actively demonstrates his hatred for "rag heads" and "muzzies" and "sand niggers" is just being a typical American is correct. That their suspicion that he is doing what other Americans would do if they had the chance is correct. And that the underlying attitude in America towards them is now and always has been that:

“The only thing these sand niggers understand is force and I’m about to introduce them to it.”

Unfortunately they have good reason for their suspicion, and that suspicion is spreading. There’s a reason why America’s allies pulled out of Irak leaving it to fight there alone. There’s a reason America’s allies are pulling out of Afghanistan leaving it to fight there alone. And it’s the same reason in both cases, both wars are being lost by America and for the same reason as America lost in Vietnam:

"So it wasn’t the press that was the problem. The problem was that we were in the wrong place with the wrong tactics."

Source: Robert McNamara: Vietnam war ‘wrong’: The Swamp

Wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time against the wrong people and using deeply wrong tactics. Some empires never learn.


If You’re Going to Tell a Pack of Lies Start with a Really Big One

4:46 am in Uncategorized by Dubhaltach

Since the Pakistan government reacted to the "pre-emptive"  attack on their troops by NATO  by closing the Torkham border crossing the situation in Afghanistan in general and on the border with Pakistan in particular has been attracting some attention.

Here on "The Seminal"  both of Jim White’s thoughtful and well-written postings Pakistan Retaliates for Troops Killed in Air Raid, Closes Key Supply Crossing and As Pakistan-US Tensions Mount, Tankers Burn and Obama Administration Suggests Coup have deservedly generated a lot of interest and comments.

I want to focus on a different aspect of this border crossing closure operation from those that Jim and others have highlighted. What interests me about this particular operation is how successfully the information stream was controlled and polluted by the Pakistani military.

When writing about Pakistan or Afghanistan anybody without direct access to reliable local sources is forced to rely on reports from news agencies such as AP, Reuters, or AFP.  The problem with that is that western news agencies have a horrible tendency to treat as gospel whatever some military spokesman or another will tell them without doing any investigation of their own. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the person in uniform is American, or Pakistani, or German, or British, or even Danish, all that matters is that they’re in a uniform. This tendency to believe anything that somebody in a uniform says to them is an aspect of the increasing militarisation of western societies and makes news agency editors and journalists open to manipulation by soldiers who want to pollute the information stream. 

The article from Reuters headlined "Militants set fire to NATO tankers in Pakistan" illustrates the problem neatly and is a perfect example of deliberate information stream pollution by military sources, I’ve emphasised the critical paragraph in the extract below:

Militants set fire to NATO tankers in Pakistan | Reuters:

(Reuters) – Suspected militants in Pakistan set fire to three dozen tankers carrying fuel for NATO troops in Afghanistan on Friday, officials said, a day after three soldiers were killed in a cross-border NATO air strike.

Angered by repeated incursions by NATO helicopters over the past week, Pakistan has blocked a supply route for coalition troops in Afghanistan.

[snip] … … …

Senior local officials blamed "extremists" for the attack on the tankers in the southern town of Shikarpur. About 12 people, their faces covered, opened fire with small arms into the air to scare away the drivers and then set fire to 35 tankers.

Read in full: Militants set fire to NATO tankers in Pakistan | Reuters

Reuters started their report by passing on uncritically and without comment a whopping big lie fed to them by Pakistani military sources. If you’re going to start with a lie start with a really big one:

"Suspected militants in Pakistan set fire to three dozen tankers … … …

What extremists would those be?

Take a look at a road map of Pakistan. Find the port of Karachi  and then going North trace the supply routes to Afghanistan. (You’re looking for two routes an eastern route and a western one) :

The Eastern leg goes through Quetta while the western leg the goes through the Kohat tunnel and the Khyber. As you trace the routes from Karachi you can see that they fork.  Shikarpur, which is the town in Sindh where the convoy was attacked is below the fork. — There aren’t any "militant" groups operating in that part of Pakistan. Shikarpur is very far away from the border and from the "tribal" areas.

(As a secondary question, where were the convoy’s armed guards while all this was going on?)

Then there’s the problem with the source:

"Senior local officials … … …

That "senior local official" is either a former member of a particular branch of the Pakistani military 1 , 2 or a civilian who reports to them. A "senior local official" may well be a civilian but they’re not part of a civilian civil service as the term is understood here in the west they’re part of a civilian civil service which defers to the military and often takes its orders from them.

The Pakistani government and military are rightly outraged at an attack on their troops by a supposedly friendly NATO (read America). In response they’ve launched an operation to show how much leverage over NATO/American logistics they have. Part of that operation is to control and if necessary pollute the information stream. I find it hard to believe that twelve "militants" conveniently turned up a hell of a long way from where they normally operate and torched a convoy without any opposition either from the convoy’s guards or the local paramilitary police or army. When I look at a map and consider the facts I find it very easy to believe that the Pakistani military thoroughly understand the concept of "plausible deniability".


Other useful sources:

  1. Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI] – Pakistan Intelligence Agencies
  2. Inter-Services Intelligence – Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia

An Enemy That Thinks

6:46 am in Uncategorized by Dubhaltach

taleban_flag_300x183_borderedWhen I heard that FOB Chapman had been attacked again I sat up and started paying a lot of attention. FOB Chapman (and its companion FOB, FOB Salerno), are interesting places, not least because of their CIA connection, their key role in American drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and because the Taliban attack them regularly. Probably the best known of these attacks is the one launched by a suicide bomber on December 30, 2009 in which 7 CIA agents and a Jordanian Military Intelligence office were killed together with 6 wounded. (See also: CIA director confirms that 7 agents died in suicide bombing by Taliban at US base in Afghanistan).

The BBC headlined the most recent attacks as follows —  "Taliban disguised as US troops attack Nato bases"

The attacks targeted the US military’s Forward Operating Base Chapman and Forward Operating Base Salerno in Khost province near the eastern border with Pakistan, where coalition forces have been stepping up operations against a resurgent Taliban.

Source: BBC News | "Taliban disguised as US troops attack Nato bases". | (Emphasis added), —  if you follow the link to BBC news page you will find a video report as well as the text report. 

In America The New York Times have a condensed AP report headlined "Insurgents Attack NATO Base and Camp in Afghanistan", a somewhat longer AP report headlined "Afghan militants in US uniforms storm 2 NATO bases" is hosted at Google News.

From the way the reports are written the casual observer could gain the impression that this operation was a severe failure for the Taliban and that they are on the way to being vanquished. For me as a professional military officer with several tours of duty in Afghanistan under my belt the key facts in the reports and the impression I gained from them are somewhat different:

  1. The attack was well timed, had several objectives, and lasted for several hours.
  2. The attack was a coup de main — that is it involved the use of surprise and simultaneous execution of supporting operations to achieve success.
  3. Following from 1 and 2 above the attack was complex:
    1. The attack was well organised and executed.
    2. The attacking forces used a variety of weapons systems including, inter alia, assault rifles, heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and heavy weapons such as rockets and mortars.
    3. The attack was coordinated.
    4. The attackers successfully executed the most difficult of all military operations — they withdraw from the battlefield in an organized fashion while under heavy fire. According to the AP report, the bodies of only 21 attackers were recovered by the defending forces in the aftermath of the attack.
  4. The attack very nearly succeeded the use of US uniforms by the attackers meant that some of the attackers got close enough to have a chance to get into the compounds, from the reports at least two of the attackers succeeded in breaching the perimeter of FOB Salerno.
  5. The attacks are part of a series of attacks exploiting weaknesses caused by the American strategy of concentrating in Marja and Kandahar.
  6. The conclusion to be drawn from 1 — 5 above is that, allowing for local variations, the Taliban are an adaptive foe, capable of altering their strategy to adapt to new circumstance and capabled of exploiting spotting and exploiting their oponents’ weaknesses at short notice to execute complex attacks.

This is an undefeated enemy. This is a flexible and consistently underestimated enemy. This is an enemy that thinks.


Afghanistan’s women

12:00 pm in Uncategorized by Dubhaltach

Maghferat Samimi, the local head of AHRO, documents her cases in a photo album. It contains images of infant girls and boys, mug shots of rapists and a picture of a naked body burnt salmon pink around the breasts.

“It’s getting worse because there is no law. There are rules, but no one is following them,” she said.

“People were 100 per cent happier under the Taliban. Okay, there was some fighting and people were poor, but they accepted the law.”

Source: Afghanistan’s women – Le Monde diplomatique – English edition

The article in "diplo" and it’s accompanying photogallery are well worth your while reading.

Exactly the same process – albeit to a lesser degree took place and continues to take place in Irak. When you invade a country and kick over it’s laws vulnerable groups such as women and children get it in the neck.

Note to all you nice feminist liberal intervenionists out there. Spare us the self-serving hypocritical garbage about how the troops need to stay to liberate Afghan women.


Taliban make ‘undetectable’ bombs out of wood

6:20 am in Uncategorized by Dubhaltach

"Taliban fighters have developed a deadly new generation of their most lethal weapon, the improvised explosive device, or IED, which is almost undetectable because it has no metal or electronic parts, military experts said last week.

… … …

‘The expertise for this new generation of bombs is likely to be coming from foreign fighters from places such as Chechnya," he said. "But they are being mass produced in Pakistan and are being wheeled out on an industrial level. You see them everywhere.’

… … … "

Read in full:Taliban make ‘undetectable’ bombs out of wood | The Independent.

Andrew Johnson’s article is well worth reading in full either at The Independent or over at our place. He packs a lot of information into comparatively little space.

Here are some significant points arising from the article’s subject matter:

  • These bombs are anything but improvised – it’s a very cleverly designed mass produced bomb.
  • At present 60% of all coalition fatalities in Afghanistan are as a result of bombs such as these1 .
  • I expect that percentage of that total and the total itself to rise considerably over the forseeable future as direct result of the development of these very difficult to detect bombs and mines.
  • "IED-shy" is a lovely euphemism.
  • A slow moving convoy is a very vulnerable convoy. This is very bad news for a force already experiencing severe logistical difficulties.
  • I also expect to see bombs such as this to become common in the Middle East. In particular in:
    • Irak
    • Southern Lebanon
    • Yemen — if President Obama commits troops there.
  • You can be very certain indeed that Iran, (which has a very sophisticated armaments industry), is keenly aware of how easily these things can be manufactured and also of how to ensure a greater kill ratio than that produced by the current models.

Those of you who’ve been around FDL for a while know that I earn my living as a bomb disposal officer. I am, if I say so myself, good at it. The fact that these things are so difficult to detect means that my job has just got a lot more difficult.


1 By "bombs such as these" I mean roadside bombs and APMs.


Well Is It Or Isn’t It

11:06 am in Uncategorized by Dubhaltach

If you couldn’t find the time to read Siun’s posting "Did US Forces Use White Phosphorus in the Afghan Bombings?" about the use of White Phosporus in Afghanistan and Irak it’s well worth your while doing so today. If he had done so David Swanson would probably be less confused about what can be done to brown people that is harsh enough. David understands that crushing their testicles is fine, according to John Yoo, (if POTUS orders it) . He understands that it’s not torture to actually kill scarey frightening brown Muslim people by going a little too far when you’re waterboarding them — it’s murder. But he’s confused about the whole white phosphorous situation, he wants to know whether melting the skin off children qualifies as torture.

if we drop white phosphorous on people in Iraq and now possibly in Afghanistan too, and we melt the skin off men, women, and children, but we aren’t "interrogating" them, is it still potentially a not-nice thing to do?

Source: Does Melting the Skin Off Children Qualify As Torture? |

That’s a damn good question wouldn’t you say?


Afghanistan: Lots of Luck with That

2:13 pm in Uncategorized by Dubhaltach

In 1747 the Durrani Pushtun lords of the south elected Ahmed Shah as their king. This event was the modern foundation of what we call “Afghanistan”. Ahmed Shah controlled Kandahar, Herat and Kabul. The lords were independent in their home areas but followed their king and provided him with troops in return for which he gave them gifts of land and money. In other words their allegiance was highly conditional and was retained by Ahmed Shah paying them out of the spoils of his conquests of:

* Peshawar
* Sindh
* Kashmir

These areas are in what is now Pakistan and India. Peshawar and Sindh are both very fertile plains. Kahmir is quite remarkably lush. Between the three of them they provided the surplus needed to maintain the Afghan State.

Every king (every central government) has needed such a surplus. Every king (every central government) has had to feed, arm and pay an army. Without such an army or the khans there would be no Afghan state. It is very simple without money, no arms, no army and no khans. No king (no central government) has ever been able to raise sufficient revenue within Afghanistan, for that would be to attack the khans. So customs dues and revenues from the plain supported the state.

However as overland trade declined so did customs revenues. Dynastic wars tore the state apart and the rising power of the Sikhs meant the loss of Kashmir and Peshawar, the Amirs of Sindh declared independence. Thus when Amir Dost Mohammed emerged as the ruler of Kabul and Kandahar he lacked the surplus needed to hold the kingdom together. He asked the British to help him reconquer Peshawar. The British who were nervous of taking on the Sikhs said “no”, he turned to the Russians which caused the British to panic and invade.

The British invasion of 1838 was a walk-over. Amir Dost Mohammed had been cutting back the Khans’ subsidies and raising their taxes in an attempt to hold the state together (and incidentally stay both in power and alive). When the British started (literally) flinging bags of gold at the Khans their opposition to invasion evaporated and Amir Dost Mohammed’s army deserted.

At that time there was no such thing as Afghan nationalism. The closest thing to a nationalist resistance was a few mullahs who managed to raise small groups of armed men for jihad. They were at most only a few dozen and were easily defeated. At the start Afghans were not in general reflexively opposed to the British. But they rapidly became so. Read the rest of this entry →

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains

6:08 pm in Uncategorized by Dubhaltach

If you follow this link you will see the inimitable Steve Bell’s cartoon quoting Kipling’s The Young British Soldier on President Obama’s Afghanistan “surge”. Like most, I suppose, I had written off Kipling as hopelessly old-fashioned, an imperialist, and a racist. Moreover he used dialect a lot in his writings. I grew up speaking two languages, neither of them English, and I tend to dislike the use of dialect in writing in any language. Using dialect has always seemed to me to be used as a means of condescension on the author’s part. Between the imperialism and the dialects I could never understand my hardline Irish Republican father’s enthusiasm for this poem. I didn’t really start to understand it until I became a cadet.

A few months into my training we went to the U.K. to train against some of our British counterparts (we won). I’d arranged a short leave both to attend some of the events at the book festival in Hay-On-Wye and to both bankrupt myself and rick my back as a result of visiting some of the town’s bookshops. In one of these I came across the foxed and severely battered remains of both books of the Read the rest of this entry →