Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Say it with JDAMs

According to this story, there was a recent incident in Khost where we offed five ACM (anti-coalition militia) after they launched rockets and mortars at our base there, and at three Afghan border checkpoints.

There are two points to take away from this. First, I suspect that the Taliban will be with us for the foreseeable future, as long as they continue to have safe havens inside western Pakistan, and as long as they continue to receive funding from Wahabbi extremists. Now, I understand the political realities around the Musharef government - he's doing a hell of a job keeping the Paki islamic nutcases from taking over the asylum, and any large scale incursion by the US military runs the risk of being the tipping point for Pakistan. If Musharef falls over anti-US sentiment, any other government that emerges would likely be worse, plus we'd have to worry about where the Paki nukes end up. And it's the calculations around the danger of internal unrest that also prevent Musharef from "grasping the nettle" and cleaning out the rat's nest of the tribal areas himself. I'm less sure of why we continue to tolerate the financial support for islamic terrorists that many of the richest and most powerful Saudis provide, but I at least understand the reasoning that we should let them deal with it internally rather than risk the fall of the kingdom of Saud. We may have to intervene militarily in Iran or Syria in the near future - better not to also risk having to intervene in Saudi Arabia.

However, if the Taliban continues to receive Saudi money to support their operations, and they continue to be able use Miram Shah (a city in western Pakistan) as a safe haven where they can stage operational and logistical support, they're not going to go away. The best we can hope to do is to marginalize their influence with the Afghan population, particularly the Pashtuns in the southeast and east of the country. That, coupled with strong intervention at the border, seems to be the best bet. And it appears to be working, but the best we can hope for is a reduction in the level of Taliban operations, and not the end of them. I suspect we're facing a long period of "an acceptable level of violence," as the British used to phrase it during the Northern Ireland conflict.

The second point is that, when you really, really want to get someone's attention, say it with warplanes. It's incredible how much difference in attitude a chain cannon, rockets, and a few 500 lb bombs can make. The A-camp we occupied when we first got to Afghanistan had been established less than two months earlier, and the team that was there before us was still working to get the local area under control. Rocket and mortar attacks were an almost nightly occurence. After a few of them, the team figured out that many of the attacks were being launched from either inside or right next to a local farmer's compound. The team questioned the farmer about it, but he claimed that while the Taliban might be using his fields to launch their attacks, he hadn't given them permission to, and no, neither he nor his family had seen or heard anything - they were always asleep inside his compound when the attacks occurred.

Since the farmer wasn't any help, the team decided to hide a few soldiers out near the compound every night to try to pick up on the attacks. A few nights before we took over, right around 2am, the outpost saw some men drive up to the farmer's fields, literally right outside his walls, and start to set up a mortar. The team called in an A-10, who responded by dropping a couple of 500 lb bombs on the would-be firing party.

The bombs had the effect of breaking up the mortar attack for the night. They also demolished one of the outside walls of the farmer's compound, and ruined a good bit of his orchard. The next morning the farmer showed up at the camp, complaining loudly about the bombing and demanding compensation for the damage. The team explained to him, correctly, that US policy is to pay for damage caused by accident or neglect (for example, if a bomb had inadvertently been unshackled from the plane as it flew overhead), but not to pay for damage that was a result of combat operations. They suggested that he apply to the Taliban for recompense, since it was their choice of firing position that led to his wall being knocked down. Finally, they flatly told him that if they were attacked from the same location again, they would drop bombs again, so if the farmer was really concerned about his family and property, he would help them find the Taliban that were using his field as a firing pit. The farmer left, not very happy.

As part of the turnover, the team that was leaving briefed us about what had happened. We filed it away in case we saw rockets coming from that area, but we didn't think it was very likely. We didn't think that anybody would be stupid enough to try to re-use a place that they had been bombed in. We were wrong. The second night after we took over the camp, at about 2:30 in the morning, we heard what sounded like a short but vigorous firefight coming from the direction of the farmer's compound. If we had been there for awhile, we would probably have rolled out to see what was going on, but with less than a week in country and with only two days out in the bush, we decided to give this one a pass.

The next morning, the local chief of police shows up with the farmer. This farmer had shown up at the police station early that morning to ask the chief to intervene with us on his behalf. Naturally enough, we wanted to know why - had he been helping the Taliban? Not helping, exactly, it turned out, but he had known the bad guys were using his field to fire at us. He didn't want to get involved, though, so he had ignored them. After his compound got bombed, he was a good bit less neutral, and, the night before, when men on motorcycles showed up and started setting up some rockets, he had leaned over the compound wall and told them to leave. They refused, so he opened fire on them. After a brief exchange of gunfire, the bad guys figured out that they were out in the open and he was behind a wall, so they decided to leave. The farmer was worried that we would be upset with him since he hadn't told us beforehand, and hadn't helped us capture the Taliban. We assured him that shooting at them worked just fine for us, and we parted friends. We got rocketed and mortared some after that, but never from that direction.


Blogger Major Mike said...

Great story...based on some recent stories from seems that given a reduced level of fear...Afghanis and Iraqis are pleased to take matters into their own hands...thank heavens for guns and those with the courage to use them in the right way. Oh, superior air-power never hurts either.MM

2:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No offense to whoever you are, but you clearly don't understand political reality. Or reality of any sort, as far as that goes.

If you're going to comment on how we're winning the hearts & minds of farmers in Afghanistan by bombing the hell out of them, you ought to start off by addressing the question of why we're bombing the hell out of Afghanistan and Iraq instead of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Seeing as how Iraq (at least) never posed a threat to the US, while Pakistan and Saudi Arabia do (as we've always known) it seems a pertinent question.

I'm amazed that anyone in the military can come out in support of our current military madness. At least in Vietnam the grunts in field knew they were fucked. Translate this whole anecdote into the Vietnam war and it's hard to imagine some grunt posting it to his weblog as "proof" that the war was righteous and smart.

I work in DC, and I come in contact with a fair number of officers in the course of my work. I don't discuss the war with all of them, but those that I have talked with hold a pretty consistent position: We've done some amazing things, but the military was sold a bill of goods and is in some deep shit. The ones that have had command positions are particularly troubled to be throwing away lives with little publicity or fanfare for objectives that cannot be met and will have no lasting impact upon our national security.

-- Scott

2:07 PM  
Blogger SMSgt Mac said...

Anonymous "Scott":

Your post reads like a little Troll-by. With your Vietnam! Vietnam! squawking it sounds like an OLD Troll-by at that. But I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and help you out a little....

Re: "I work in DC, and I come in contact with a fair number of officers in the course of my work. I don't discuss the war with all of them, but those that I have talked with hold a pretty consistent position:..."

Obviously, you're hanging with the wrong crowd. Might I suggest getting some new friends to broaden your horizons? Your statement reveals an obvious and common fallacy (biased sample). It is reminiscent of the northeast liberal woman who after the 2000 elections said something to the effect of "How is it possible Bush won? Nobody I know voted for him!"

10:33 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home