Category Archive 'Afghanistan'
24 Nov 2015

Good Rhetoric

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RemnantsofanArmy
Assistant Surgeon William Brydon arriving at the gates of Jalalabad as the only survivor of a 16,500 strong evacuation from Kabul in January 1842 in Lady Butler’s Remnants of an Army, 1879, Tate Gallery.

Philip Mason (writing as “Philip Woodruff”) in his The Men Who Ruled India: Volume One, The Founders praised generally quite fulsomely the courage, intelligence, and disinterested statesmanship of most Governors-General of British India, but George Eden, Lord Auckland, Governor-General 1836-1842, initiator of the First Afghan War, failed to come off, in Mason’s history, quite so well.

[Lord Auckland] had a reputation in England for ability. he had a mild preference for justice, a mild and amiable good nature. In India, however, he was bored. Invested with the empire of Tamerlane and Akbar, made suddenly heir-at-law to Kubla Khan and Prester John, he was bored. Charged with the destiny of millions, moving in magnificence at which he mildly chafed through a country-sidestriken by famine, among children dying of starvation, he was bored. ‘G. detests his tent, and his march and the whole business so activelythat he will not perceive how well he is’, wrote his sister. She took him one evening to see an interesting ruin, but poor G. was more wretchedly bored than ever. …

Lord Auckland was a humane man. It may be that he was appalled by the horrors of the famine and dismayed at hos ignorance, his impotence to take any effective steps. It may bethat he concealed his wretchedness behind an emotion that seemed more appropriate to his birth. That is an interpretation more charitable to the man and more in keeping with his character than to take his boredom at face value; it does not, however, raise his reputation as Governor-General. …

The famine was at least the result of the weather and cannot be attributed directly to Lord Auckland. Not so the Afghan War. Miss Eden has a pleasantry of a flying squirrel that sat on G.’s shoulder, apparently whispering to him, ‘and though G. said the squirrel was only pulling his ear I am convinced he had more to do with public affairs than people generally supposed.’ Some explanation of public affairs was certainly needed.”

28 Sep 2015

Special Forces To Change ‘Free The Oppressed’ Motto After Complaints From Afghans Holding Sex Slaves

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BachaBazi

Duffleblog (the military satire site) hits the nail on the head with this one.

op Army leaders have ordered its elite Special Forces unit to change its motto from the Latin “De Opresso Liber” (To liberate the oppressed) to something that would be more culturally sensitive, after a large number of Afghans holding child sex slaves have complained.

“We want to make sure we are not offending our coalition partners and not judging them based on our own biases,” said Col. Dwight S. Barry, a Pentagon spokesperson. “At the end of the day, we just have to respect that raping young boys and mutilating female genitals is just a part of their culture.”

Started in 1952, Army Special Forces chose its Latin motto of “De Opresso Liber” at a time when the U.S. was heavily focused on freeing people around the world from the chains of Soviet Communism. Now decades later, Army leaders want operators to be more aware of cultural differences they may not understand in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Berkeley, California.

The move comes in the wake of numerous complaints from Afghan men, who have chided U.S. military officials over previous run-ins with Special Forces soldiers unaware of the ancient Afghan custom of “bacha bazi.” The practice, which literally translates to “boy play,” consists of chaining children to beds, taking off their clothes, and then sexually assaulting them until they scream “bingo.”…

Officials are currently weighing a number of potential mottos as replacements, which include “Tolerate Iniustitia (Tolerate Injustice)” and “Ad Dissimulare (To Turn a Blind Eye).”

In addition to the change in motto, the Army band has also been directed to record a new version of the “Ballad of the Green Berets,” which was recorded during the Vietnam War. An initial draft of the lyrics include: “Silver wings upon their chest / These are men, America’s best / One hundred slaves get raped today / But all ignored by the Green Beret.”

22 Jun 2015

Interesting Fake

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A Khyber Pass Martini action pistol.

Lot 5278 came with a custom holster, and was sold in a lot of three handguns, along with a British Webley & Scott Mark V Double Action Revolver with Holster and a Japanese Type 26 Double Action Revolver for $977.50.

05 Jun 2014

Searching for Private Bergdahl

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BergdahlTaliban
Bowe Bergdahl with Taliban members at the time of his release.

In 2009, a fellow who uses the penname Raven-Wolf tells us that he was running networks in Afghanistan, and was asked by a senior officer to take a stab at finding the missing Bowe Bergdahl.

His story seems to have the ring of truth, and if it is on the up-and-up, provides a fascinating inside story.

“I will make you a bet I can locate this kid in a week.” He looked at me and said nothing. He knew how I worked and I walked out.

I began by walking into the office of an Afghan Intelligence Officer I knew. He greeted me as always; welcomed me in and offered me Chai. We had not seen each other for well over a month. We shared stories, we discussed insurgent tactics, new TTPs, his family, my travels. Then I asked him the question I had come for, “Colonel…where’s our boy?” He looked at me and just stared back. Then he said, “You don’t want to know.”

I was taken aback and frankly irritated. I had had enough of the games over this kid’s search. “What do you mean I don’t want to know! We are friends; we have been friends a long time. Your answer is not good enough.” The Colonel then went on to explain to me how he had offered his support to find Bergdahl. However, the American Army mentors told him they weren’t interested; that they had everything under control.

I reminded him I wasn’t them and that I could frankly give a shit what his Army mentors were or were not interested in. “Help me find him. You and I both know this cannot be done without Afghan intelligence. You and I know that regardless of how stupid this kid is, he needs to be brought home.”

He sat down at his desk and made a call as he scribbled a few notes on a piece of white paper. He then got up from his desk, walked across the room and sat down in front of a dusty computer at the back. A few keystrokes later, he added a few more notes to the paper, walked over towards me and handed me what he had written.

“These are the names of the villages and GPS coordinates where your boy was the past three nights.”

I thanked him and took the information back to my Colonel. I told him what was on the paper. He took it with a bit of suspicion, but stated that he would be sending it up to the Special Operations Task Force 373. Later that night he called me into his office.

“I don’t know where you are getting your information but keep in coming. They like what you have.”

Over the next few days I expanded my information gathering to include NDS, Afghan CI, and locals. The Afghans continued to provide details on location, how Bergdahl was traveling, what he was wearing, and his state of mind. The picture continued to grow and the picture was one of a kid that had willingly left his post, deserted his brothers and his commitment to the US Army and our country. Bergdahl was described as dressed in local dress. He was riding around on the back of motorcycles hugging his Afghan captors. He was not in chains or in handcuffs, but willingly moving about to avoid detection. He needed to be retrieved…not to save him, but to punish him for his betrayal.

The details around Bergdahl’s decision to walk off of his FOB (Forward Operating Base) to explore the wilds of Afghanistan were locked down almost immediately. Even journalists were restricted from access; being denied interviews, field movement or access to anyone with any knowledge of Bergdahl or of his unit. Keeping the lid on the story was the number one command objective. But I dug and I found details. Though I still have this part of the story listed as “unconfirmed” this is what I put together:

Bergdahl was unstable the minute he arrived in country. He was unhappy, disconnected from the unit, and dissatisfied with the way his unit had dealt with several incidents. He had illusions of grandeur, talking about getting back to nature. He also had a romanticized ideal of himself as some sort of one man Rambo as well as a love affair with the Afghan indigenous fighter (aka Taliban). Rumors of what happened ranged from his unit running over a child to Bergdahl slowly coming unglued. He had all of the signs of being high risk. There was never any one story that was consistently told about the cause and effect. Both his unit and his command were protective and defensive… obvious signs of hiding something. What was more than clear is that Bergdahl, his unit and his command were a train wreck. As for Bergdahl specifically, his background should have been an early warning that something, anything, could easily set him off. Raised by a Northwest family that would be best described as off the grid, liberal tofu eaters, Bergdahl was homeschooled and raised to be a kind and sensitive child. He learned ballet, and enjoyed long walks in nature. He was almost a modern day young Emerson. When he turned of age he apparently felt he needed some adventure so he talked to a recruiter and fell in love with the “be all you can be” dream and joined the Army. Airborne was now his new meditation mantra and walks in the woods were replaced with forced marches and an 80-pound rucksack. To what should not have been a surprise to anyone, he did not work in well with his unit. Maybe it was the ballet, maybe it was his sensitive nature now imprisoned by his sworn duty to kill the bastards who celebrated the deaths of over 3000 Americans killed on 9-11. Whatever his reasons, when the moment arrived that he decided he was no longer interested in his obligation, his “free spirit”spoke as he grabbed his sketchbook and some water and walked off of the FOB. He was AWOL. Nothing more to it than that.

At the end of my seventh day or so of working this problem, I returned to the office of the Afghan Intelligence Colonel. Over another round of Chai and information exchange, I pressed him to leverage his network to set up a meet with the tribe that was holding Bergdahl. By this time the profile of Bergdahl’s captors was becoming clear. Where Bergdahl played out a version of a spoiled brat’s “walk about”, his captors saw opportunity. They had grievances with the local Governor. They wanted to use Bergdahl to get what they thought they deserved. This was the Afghan way.

During this time the rumors and reports from the US side were that Berdahl had been taken by Haqqani. That was not the case. His captors had sent out word to the Haqqani network asking for a reward, however the initial interest from Haqqani was cool to tepid at best. Their concern was that Bergdahl was mentally unstable; and even though Bergdahl had voluntarily converted to Islam, the Haqqani network was not willing to bring a mentally unstable Muslim convert over the border into Pakistan. We should have paid attention to Haqqani.

I sat with the Afghan Colonel and we went over the tape that had been released of Bergdahl. We watched it a half dozen times. Other Afghan intelligence types entered the room. They dissected the images…the weave on the bread that was shown in the video was only available in one particular village; the sound of the generators demonstrated a level of wealth; the pattern on the rugs provided insight into the owner and their taste; the food and the way it was served provided understanding of tribal habits and behaviors; the interviewer, his English intonation and his camera skills could only be of a select few people; and Bergdahl himself provided a wealth of clues from his dress, to his mannerisms, to his compliant attitude. The Colonel made some notes. The Afghan cadre discussed what they had seen. He felt sure he knew what village Bergdhal was in.

“I want to meet with the tribal leader who is holding him. Just me and my interpreter. I will travel in my own vehicle. No military. No guns. You can join me if you wish,” I told him.

The Colonel called a friend in Parliament. The discussion was brief. He hung up the phone and we waited. A few minutes later the phone rang; it was his Parliament friend again. The tribal leader had agreed to the meet. The location would be set the next day. The Afghan Colonel and I agreed to travel together. We parted, each of us setting about preparing our kit for the next morning.

The media blast that followed the Bergdahl video was what the RC-East Commander had hoped to avoid. The story was now out. Bergdahl who had been effectively a blip on the radar up to that point became an international star overnight. The elevation of status made him more valuable and Haqqani understood this. The following morning as I walked to the vehicle to meet up with the Afghan Colonel, he greeted me, still wearing his military dress. I knew something was off. He informed me that the meeting had been cancelled. Overnight Haqqani had dispatched a team with an undisclosed amount of cash and had taken control of Bergdahl. From that point forward the chances of getting him back were all but lost.

Read the whole thing.

18 May 2014

What Would Obama’s Army Do If It Found the Contemporary Equivalent of Major Lawrence Enlisting the Tribes on its Side?

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JimGant

Answer: It would court martial him, reduce him in rank, and force him to retire.

Aaron MacLean, reviewing American Spartan by Ann Scott Tyson.

The indictment of Jim Gant, a major in the U.S. Army Special Forces until his reduction in rank and compulsory retirement as a captain in 2013, is as follows. While leading the American effort to mobilize Afghan tribes against the Taliban in the Konar valley during 2011 and 2012, he drank alcohol. He used prescription pain medication that was not, in fact, prescribed for him by a physician. He stored explosives in his room, rather than in an approved space. He kept inappropriate materials of a sexual nature in his room. He exchanged government funds, and his own personal money, with Afghans for goods and services in a series of transactions that were not approved by his chain of command. He provided the Afghan tribal militias he was training with U.S. government gasoline, again without authorization. He falsified numerous documents in support of these unapproved transactions.

Additionally—and notably—during his time living among the Konar tribes he also regularly cohabited with his now-wife, Washington Post reporter Ann Scott Tyson, who participated in operations with the tribes and was granted access to classified information pursuant to those operations. Finally, to quote from a memo by a Brig. Gen. Christopher Haas and sent to Gant in April of 2012:

    During your time in command, you purposely and repeatedly endangered the lives of your Soldiers. You taught, and ordered executed, [SIC] unconventional and unsafe ‘figure-8’ immediate actions in response to enemy contact. You painted inappropriate and unauthorized symbols on Government vehicles, painted the symbol on your vehicle a different color, then challenged the enemy to try and kill you without consideration to your Service Members’ lives or well being. [SIC] You sent ‘night letters’ to the enemy, further drawing dangerous attention to yourself and subordinates. These are the same Soldiers that you have the duty to properly train, mentor, lead, and most importantly, defend.

In March 2012, when the curtain finally descended on Major Gant’s operation in the Konar, his superiors sent a U.S. Army Special Forces team to seize his camp and to arrest him and his second-in-command. Yet Gant’s soldiers—young infantrymen from a regular battalion, earlier provided to Gant instead of the seasoned special operations team that he had been promised—wept openly. The Afghan tribesmen who maintained the position jointly with the soldiers warned the newly arrived team not to handcuff Maj. Gant. Things might get ugly. Shortly after his removal, several Konar tribes sent a deputation of dozens of elders to petition the provincial governor, Fazllulah Wahidi, to ask Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the U.S. Army to allow Gant to return to the valley.

With such an extensive list of charges against him, what had Jim Gant done to be so popular with his own soldiers, and with the Afghans among whom he lived?

He had won.

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But David Axe doesn’t care about Gant’s success. The man violated chickenshit Army regulations. He drank, used drugs, and armed his girlfriend. We can’t have our wars won by men capable of breaking rules.

Tyson took a leave of absence from The Washington Post and joined Gant in Kunar in late 2010, ostensibly in order to write American Spartan. But Tyson’s experiences with the Special Forces in Kunar were more intimate than a typical media embed—something Wood fails to point out.

Gant taught Tyson to use Special Forces’ weapons, presumably including, at a minimum, assault rifles and handguns. “On missions with Gant and his team, she wore U.S. military fatigues and tucked her hair up under a ballcap,” Wood writes. “Her job in a firefight was to pass ammunition to the turret gunner.”

I’ve embedded dozens of times with a dozen different armies—once even with Army Special Forces. My hosts never offered to train me on their weapons. In several firefights, no one ever assigned me the job of handing out ammo. I never wore military fatigues, in part because I didn’t want anyone to mistake me for a soldier.

Because I’m not one. It seems that in the company of a warrior she greatly admired—and was growing to love—Tyson forgot that she’s not a soldier, either.

The Pentagon doesn’t authorize journalists to participate in combat. When reporter Michael Yon, himself a former Green Beret, picked up a rifle and opened fire to help protect a wounded American soldier in Iraq in 2005, it whipped up a bureaucratic shitstorm inside the Pentagon—and what one news report described as “a stern reprimand from the Army” for Yon.

But Wood gives Gant a pass for more or less enlisting Tyson. “They argue in the book that her presence was a useful link to village women and helped cement ties between the Americans and the Afghans,” Wood writes.

It doesn’t occur to him that, in fact, the mere presence of an unmarried woman in a formal setting might be highly offensive to conservative Afghans.

Besides arming his girlfriend journalist, Gant broke lots of other Army rules in Kunar. He drank alcohol and took sleeping pills, painkillers and “other pharmaceuticals,” according to Wood. Gant kept classified documents in his room, in violation of specific government guidelines for securing secret information.

“Yes, I broke those rules and I never say I didn’t,” Gant told Wood. “But I mean, we’re not talking rape, murder, stealing property.” …

Most Green Berets don’t take their girlfriends, booze and drugs to war with them. They certainly don’t need lovers and gullible reporters to write elaborate defenses of their combat records.

Gant is no hero. His behavior in Afghanistan was unacceptable. And no hagiography… can redeem the man’s shameful legacy.

Hat tip to Sarah Jenislawski.

01 Apr 2014

Coldstream Guards Sniper Kills Six Taliban With One Shot

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The Telegraph reports belatedly-released news of an unusual feat of arms.

A British sniper in Afghanistan killed six insurgents with a single bullet after hitting the trigger switch of a suicide bomber whose device then exploded, The Telegraph has learnt.

The 20-year-old marksman, a Lance Corporal in the Coldstream Guards, hit his target from 930 yards (850 metres) away, killing the suicide bomber and five others around him caught in the blast.

The incident in Kakaran in southern Afghanistan happened in December but has only now been disclosed. …

Lt Col Richard Slack, commanding officer of 9/12 Royal Lancers, said the unnamed sharpshooter prevented a major attack by the Taliban, as a second suicide vest packed with 20kg (44lbs) of explosives was found nearby.

26 Mar 2014

Andrew Sullivan’s Blizzard of Lies, I

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When former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had the temerity to criticize the leadership of the chosen one for failing to secure a Status of Forces agreement, i.e. an official grant of permission for the US military to operate in Afghanistan, from what is essentially, in fact, a puppet regime which we installed into power in the first place, observing that “a trained ape” could have gotten one, Andrew Sullivan and his Dish came noisily to the Kenyan Caliban’s defense in their customary hair-pulling and nail-clawing vituperative fashion.

What’s truly striking and amazing about Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld is their persistent refusal/inability to reflect in any serious way on the immense moral, fiscal, and human costs of their failed wars. They are post-modern creatures – Rumsfeld never tackled an insurgency, he just “redefined” the word, just as he re-named torture – and you see this most graphically in Errol Morris’s small masterpiece, The Unknown Known. And so the very concept of personal accountability and responsibility is utterly absent. There was one flash of it: when Rumsfeld offered his resignation after the torture program’s reach and migration was revealed in the photos from Abu Ghraib. But even then, Rumsfeld was resigning because of the exposure – not because of the war crimes which he directly authorized.

What is truly striking and amazing about Andrew Sullivan, and his colleagues at the Dish, is their reliance on Big Lie repetition of mendacious left-wing talking points delivered in blizzard form, intentionally making any effort at refutation so time-consuming, lengthy and laborious as to be nearly impossible.

“immense moral, fiscal, and human costs of their failed wars” ?

The majority of Americans, existing outside the exquisite and morally précieux community of left-wing cranks, poseurs, and pseudo-intellectuals, as far as I can see, felt no moral cost whatsoever in taking military action against Saddam Hussein and the Baathist Iraqi regime which was hostile, firing on US planes on a daily basis, and which had flagrantly violated the cease-fire agreements ending the First Gulf War. Nor would anyone intellectually honest and sane feel the slightest iota of chagrin at the concept of invading barbarous Afghanistan, at the time host of the leadership of the 9/11 terrorist plot and their training camps. What gives me moral problems is the Bush Administration’s failure to initiate hostilities against, and to subjugate and civilize, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Significant elements of the military and intelligence leadership of Pakistan were obviously in cahoots with the jihadi terrorists of al Qaeda and the Taliban, which explains why it is that Osama bin Ladin, after fleeing Afghanistan, wound up living within a few hundred yards of Pakistan’s military academy in Abbotabad.

Terrorism costs money, and the money supporting the 9/11 plot and al Qaeda generally came principally from Saudi Arabia. 15 of 19 9/11 terrorists were Saudis.

Iran, no differently from Iraq, was (and is) a regime sponsor of international terrorism, a passionate adversary of America and the West in general, an odious tyranny, and a persistent developer (and potential disseminator) of WMDs, including nuclear weapons. Iran was no less worthy than Iraq as target of regime change.

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As to the allegedly immense fiscal costs, Andrew Sullivan would clearly be better informed if he regularly read my blog. Back in 2010, I quoted Randall Hoven who put the costs of the Iraq War into perspective. (I’m deliberately restricting the discussion to Iraq-related figures and arguments in the interests of brevity.)

If we look only at the Iraq War years in which Bush was President (2003-2008), spending on the war was $554B. Federal spending on education over that same time period was $574B.

Obama’s stimulus, passed in his first month in office, will cost more than the entire Iraq War—more than $100 billion
(15%) more.

Just the first two years of Obama’s stimulus cost more than the entire cost of the Iraq War under President Bush, or six years of that war.

Iraq War spending accounted for just 3.2% of all federal spending while it lasted.

Iraq War spending was not even one quarter of what we spent on Medicare in the same time frame.

Iraq War spending was not even 15% of the total deficit spending in that time frame. The cumulative deficit, 2003-2010, would have been four-point-something trillion dollars with or without the Iraq War.

The Iraq War accounts for less than 8% of the federal debt held by the public at the end of 2010 ($9.031 trillion).

During Bush’s Iraq years, 2003-2008, the federal government spent more on education that it did on the Iraq War. (State and local governments spent about ten times more.)

With respect to “human costs,” US casualties during the Iraq War were lower than casualties produced by accidents during peace-time twenty years earlier.

A. 1983-1986

YEAR//TOTAL MILITARY FTE//NBR OF U.S. Military Deaths

1983: 2,465

1984: 1,999

1985: 2,252

1986: 1,984

(a) FTE = Full Time Equivalent personnel, based on DoD fiscal year-end totals

Now, here are the comparable totals for the most recent, four-year period:

B. 2003-2006

2003: 1,228

2004: 1,874

2005: 1,942

2006: 1,858

Source: Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report for Congress, American War and Military Operations Casualties: Lists and Statistics, Updated June 29, 2007

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With respect to “failed wars,” Andrew & company are obviously wildly rhetorically over-reaching. Iraq may not have been transformed by the Bush Administration’s efforts into a perfect democracy and the peacable kingdom, enjoying perfect domestic comity and able to serve as a model of superb administration and happy Westernization, but neither is Iraq any longer a major regime sponsor of terrorism and regional troublemaker. Its government is infinitely more democratic than it used to be, and the people and leadership groups of Iraq have a decidedly greater opportunity to make their own choices, for good or ill, than they did under the national socialist tyranny of Baathism. The invasion and occupation of Iraq may have led to a less conclusively positive result than might be desired, but it certainly compares favorably to the results of previous American military efforts in Korea (which left the enemy isolated, but actively making mischief and building –and potentially disseminating– weapons of mass destruction ) and in Vietnam (where the enemy won and went on to occupy and enslave a US ally).

Domestic traitors, like Andrew Sullivan and the democrat party, who opportunistically switched positions on the war and began enthusiastically lending aid and comfort to the enemy, undermining the morale of the American public, libeling the motives of our actions, and impugning the justice of our cause obviously had a great deal to do with the prolongation of the war and the American government’s cloture of the mission in Iraq without complete success at pacification and democratization.

The Dish preaching about “failed wars” is rather like Lord Haw-Haw or Tokyo Rose during WWII denouncing Allied efforts to maintain troop morale always at enthusiastic levels, after years of broadcasting Axis propaganda.

More later

08 Feb 2014

“These Guys Are Huns”

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An anonymous recon marine writes:

It’s freezing here. I’m sitting on hard cold dirt between rocks and shrubs at the base of the Hindu Kush Mountains, along the Dar’yoi Pomir River, watching a hole that leads to a tunnel that leads to a cave.

Stake out, my friend, and no pizza delivery for thousands of miles.

I also glance at the area around my ass every ten to fifteen seconds to avoid another scorpion sting. I’ve actually given up battling the chiggers and sand fleas, but the scorpions give a jolt like a cattle prod. Hurts like a bastard. The antidote tastes like transmission fluid, but God bless the Marine Corps for the five vials of it in my pack.

The one truth the Taliban cannot escape is that, believe it or not, they are human beings, which means they have to eat food and drink water. That requires couriers and that’s where an old bounty hunter like me comes in handy.

I track the couriers, locate the tunnel entrances and storage facilities, type the info into the handheld, and shoot the coordinates up to the satellite link that tells the air commanders where to drop the hardware. …

I’ve been living with these Tajiks and Uzbeks, and Turkmen and even a couple of Pushtuns, for over a month-and-a-half now, and this much I can say for sure:

These guys, all of ’em, are Huns . . . actual, living Huns . . . they LIVE to fight. It’s what they do. It’s ALL they do.

They have no respect for anything, not for their families, nor for each other, nor for themselves. They claw at one another as a way of life.

They play polo with dead calves and force their five-year-old sons into human cockfights to defend the family honor.

Huns, roaming packs of savage, heartless beasts who feed on each other’s barbarism. Cavemen with AK-47’s.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip to Vanderleun.

18 Jan 2014

Norwegian Soldiers’ War Chant

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You are the hunters!
You are the predators!
Taliban is the prey!

To Valhall!
To Valhall!
To Valhall!

11 Jun 2012

Not Even Illegal

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Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

Narco Polo reports that, in Afghanistan, motivated seekers of intoxication will resort to smoking the stingers of local scorpions.

[I]n Afghanistan even the ubiquitous scorpions can be used for intoxication. Tartars in Bamiyan province prepare scorpions by smashing them between stones and letting them dry. The main part of the tail, with the sting, is then crushed into a powder and smoked with tobacco and/or hashish (marijuana).

[A witness] in the Afghan town of Peshawar described the reaction:

    The effect was instantaneous with the man’s face and eyes becoming very red, “much more than a hashish smoker” …. He also seemed very intoxicated but awake and alert, although he stumbled and fell over when he tried to rise from a sitting position …. the smoke tasted “sweeter” than that of hashish, although … it smelled foul, and the intoxicating effect lasted much longer. (1, p. 247)

As with most drugs, anecdotal reports of scorpion’s effects vary widely. It is likely that the numerous Afghan scorpion species have divergent psychoactive properties. Scorpion has been reported to keep one awake, cause severe headaches, and rival the effects of a “strong mescaline trip.” (1, p. 248) One Kabul man who had smoked between 20 and 30 times reported the effects to last three days. During these periods he had difficulty opening his eyes, his head spun, and he had constant visual hallucinations.

Globally, scorpion smoking is still rare. The failure of the war on other drugs has not driven people to seek it out … yet. If drug war success sparking scorpion use sounds unbelievable, in India’s Western states police crackdowns on mainstream illicit drugs have already led to “sting sellers.” A police officer in the city of Bharuch said:

    Because of our successful drives against the sellers and addicts of alcohol, opium, cough syrup, and heroin in urban areas, young people are flocking on the highways to try the new craze of scorpion sting.

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The same practice was described as occurring in Pakistan in 2001. Reuters via Wired:

When they’re in season, Ghulam Raza smokes scorpions.

He says he dries their stingers in the sun and grinds them, then lights the powdery venom and sucks the smoke deep into his lungs.

“Oh yes,” he said when asked if the scorpions make him high. “When I smoke scorpion, then the heroin is like nothing to me.”

The place where Raza and other Pakistani junkies smoke dope or shoot up in the southwestern city of Quetta is a good place to find scorpions. It is the main cemetery, a dust-filled field of tombstones and corpse-sized mounds of rocks. …

In the cemetery, sometimes one of them will get very stoned and drop into an open grave.

27 Feb 2012

Apologizing to the Afghans

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You don’t apologize to these barbarians, you simply shoot them.

The Obama Administration has chagrined and embarrassed rational Americans once again by issuing all sorts of apologies (including one at a Virginia mosque) for the confiscation and destruction of copies of the Koran used by detainees to forward covert communications encouraging extremism.

Let’s try imagining the Roosevelt Administration, during WWII, apologizing to the German Reich for confiscating and burning copies of Mein Kampf used by members of the SS detained as prisoners of war to forward communications of National Socialist ideology.

Government today in Western democracies is terribly liable to falling into the hands of members of our contemporary establishment intelligentsia, a group of pantywaists and imbeciles so infatuated with wishful thinking, sanctimony, and cant that they are capable of operating in a continual state of self-hypnosis in which enemy regimes and populations are transformed into friends and allies and Islam, the insolent superstition which licenses limitless bloodshed and aggression, is turned into “the Religion of Peace.”

Compare the puerile drivel emanating from the Obama White House or the New York Times these days with a much older, but still perfectly accurate description of the culture and the mores of the Afghan.

Winston Churchill, in 1897, describes the inhabitants of Afghanistan in terms which remain accurate and appropriate over a century later.

The inhabitants of these wild but wealthy valleys are of many tribes, but of similar character and condition. The abundant crops which a warm sun and copious rains raise from a fertile soil, support a numerous population in a state of warlike leisure. Except at the times of sowing and of harvest, a continual state of feud and strife prevails throughout the land. Tribe wars with tribe. The people of one valley fight with those of the next. To the quarrels of communities are added the combats of individuals. Khan assails khan, each supported by his retainers. Every tribesman has a blood feud with his neighbor. Every man’s hand is against the other, and all against the stranger.

Nor are these struggles conducted with the weapons which usually belong to the races of such development. To the ferocity of the Zulu are added the craft of the Redskin and the marksmanship of the Boer. The world is presented with that grim spectacle, “the strength of civilisation without its mercy.” At a thousand yards the traveller falls wounded by the well-aimed bullet of a breech-loading rifle. His assailant, approaching, hacks him to death with the ferocity of a South-Sea Islander. The weapons of the nineteenth century are in the hands of the savages of the Stone Age.

Every influence, every motive, that provokes the spirit of murder among men, impels these mountaineers to deeds of treachery and violence. The strong aboriginal propensity to kill, inherited in all human beings, has in these valleys been preserved in unexampled strength and vigour. That religion, which above all others was founded and propagated by the sword—the tenets and principles of which are instinct with incentives to slaughter and which in three continents has produced fighting breeds of men—stimulates a wild and merciless fanaticism. The love of plunder, always a characteristic of hill tribes, is fostered by the spectacle of opulence and luxury which, to their eyes, the cities and plains of the south display. A code of honour not less punctilious than that of old Spain, is supported by vendettas as implacable as those of Corsica.

In such a state of society, all property is held directly by main force. Every man is a soldier. Either he is the retainer of some khan—the man-at-arms of some feudal baron as it were—or he is a unit in the armed force of his village—the burgher of mediaeval history. In such surroundings we may without difficulty trace the rise and fall of an ambitious Pathan. At first he toils with zeal and thrift as an agriculturist on that plot of ground which his family have held since they expelled some former owner. He accumulates in secret a sum of money. With this he buys a rifle from some daring thief, who has risked his life to snatch it from a frontier guard-house. He becomes a man to be feared. Then he builds a tower to his house and overawes those around him in the village. Gradually they submit to his authority. He might now rule the village; but he aspires still higher. He persuades or compels his neighbors to join him in an attack on the castle of a local khan. The attack succeeds. The khan flies or is killed; the castle captured. The retainers make terms with the conqueror. The land tenure is feudal. In return for their acres they follow their new chief to war. Were he to treat them worse than the other khans treated their servants, they would sell their strong arms elsewhere. He treats them well. Others resort to him. He buys more rifles. He conquers two or three neighboring khans. He has now become a power.

Many, perhaps all, states have been founded in a similar way, and it is by such steps that civilisation painfully stumbles through her earlier stages. But in these valleys the warlike nature of the people and their hatred of control, arrest the further progress of development. We have watched a man, able, thrifty, brave, fighting his way to power, absorbing, amalgamating, laying the foundations of a more complex and interdependent state of society. He has so far succeeded. But his success is now his ruin. A combination is formed against him. The surrounding chiefs and their adherents are assisted by the village populations. The ambitious Pathan, oppressed by numbers, is destroyed. The victors quarrel over the spoil, and the story closes, as it began, in bloodshed and strife.

The conditions of existence, that have been thus indicated, have naturally led to the dwelling-places of these tribes being fortified. If they are in the valley, they are protected by towers and walls loopholed for musketry. If in the hollows of the hills, they are strong by their natural position. In either case they are guarded by a hardy and martial people, well armed, brave, and trained by constant war.

This state of continual tumult has produced a habit of mind which recks little of injuries, holds life cheap and embarks on war with careless levity, and the tribesmen of the Afghan border afford the spectacle of a people, who fight without passion, and kill one another without loss of temper. Such a disposition, combined with an absolute lack of reverence for all forms of law and authority, and a complete assurance of equality, is the cause of their frequent quarrels with the British power. A trifle rouses their animosity. They make a sudden attack on some frontier post. They are repulsed. From their point of view the incident is closed. There has been a fair fight in which they have had the worst fortune. What puzzles them is that “the Sirkar” should regard so small an affair in a serious light. Thus the Mohmands cross the frontier and the action of Shabkadr is fought. They are surprised and aggrieved that the Government are not content with the victory, but must needs invade their territories, and impose punishment. Or again, the Mamunds, because a village has been burnt, assail the camp of the Second Brigade by night. It is a drawn game. They are astounded that the troops do not take it in good part.

They, when they fight among themselves, bear little malice, and the combatants not infrequently make friends over the corpses of their comrades or suspend operations for a festival or a horse race. At the end of the contest cordial relations are at once re-established. And yet so full of contradictions is their character, that all this is without prejudice to what has been written of their family vendettas and private blood feuds. Their system of ethics, which regards treachery and violence as virtues rather than vices, has produced a code of honour so strange and inconsistent, that it is incomprehensible to a logical mind. I have been told that if a white man could grasp it fully, and were to understand their mental impulses—if he knew, when it was their honour to stand by him, and when it was their honour to betray him; when they were bound to protect and when to kill him—he might, by judging his times and opportunities, pass safely from one end of the mountains to the other. But a civilised European is as little able to accomplish this, as to appreciate the feelings of those strange creatures, which, when a drop of water is examined under a microscope, are revealed amiably gobbling each other up, and being themselves complacently devoured.

I remark with pleasure, as an agreeable trait in the character of the Pathans, the immunity, dictated by a rude spirit of chivalry, which in their ceaseless brawling, their women enjoy. Many forts are built at some distance from any pool or spring. When these are besieged, the women are allowed by the assailants to carry water to the foot of the walls by night. In the morning the defenders come out and fetch it—of course under fire—and are enabled to continue their resistance. But passing from the military to the social aspect of their lives, the picture assumes an even darker shade, and is unrelieved by any redeeming virtue. We see them in their squalid, loopholed hovels, amid dirt and ignorance, as degraded a race as any on the fringe of humanity: fierce as the tiger, but less cleanly; as dangerous, not so graceful. Those simple family virtues, which idealists usually ascribe to primitive peoples, are conspicuously absent. Their wives and their womenkind generally, have no position but that of animals. They are freely bought and sold, and are not infrequently bartered for rifles. Truth is unknown among them. A single typical incident displays the standpoint from which they regard an oath. In any dispute about a field boundary, it is customary for both claimants to walk round the boundary he claims, with a Koran in his hand, swearing that all the time he is walking on his own land. To meet the difficulty of a false oath, while he is walking over his neighbor’s land, he puts a little dust from his own field into his shoes. As both sides are acquainted with the trick, the dismal farce of swearing is usually soon abandoned, in favor of an appeal to force.

All are held in the grip of miserable superstition. The power of the ziarat, or sacred tomb, is wonderful. Sick children are carried on the backs of buffaloes, sometimes sixty or seventy miles, to be deposited in front of such a shrine, after which they are carried back—if they survive the journey—in the same way. It is painful even to think of what the wretched child suffers in being thus jolted over the cattle tracks. But the tribesmen consider the treatment much more efficacious than any infidel prescription. To go to a ziarat and put a stick in the ground is sufficient to ensure the fulfillment of a wish. To sit swinging a stone or coloured glass ball, suspended by a string from a tree, and tied there by some fakir, is a sure method of securing a fine male heir. To make a cow give good milk, a little should be plastered on some favorite stone near the tomb of a holy man. These are but a few instances; but they may suffice to reveal a state of mental development at which civilisation hardly knows whether to laugh or weep.

Their superstition exposes them to the rapacity and tyranny of a numerous priesthood—”Mullahs,” “Sahibzadas,” “Akhundzadas,” “Fakirs,”—and a host of wandering Talib-ul-ilms, who correspond with the theological students in Turkey, and live free at the expense of the people. More than this, they enjoy a sort of “droit du seigneur,” and no man’s wife or daughter is safe from them. Of some of their manners and morals it is impossible to write. As Macaulay has said of Wycherley’s plays, “they are protected against the critics as a skunk is protected against the hunters.” They are “safe, because they are too filthy to handle, and too noisome even to approach.”

Yet the life even of these barbarous people is not without moments when the lover of the picturesque might sympathise with their hopes and fears. In the cool of the evening, when the sun has sunk behind the mountains of Afghanistan, and the valleys are filled with a delicious twilight, the elders of the village lead the way to the chenar trees by the water’s side, and there, while the men are cleaning their rifles, or smoking their hookas, and the women are making rude ornaments from beads, and cloves, and nuts, the Mullah drones the evening prayer. Few white men have seen, and returned to tell the tale. But we may imagine the conversation passing from the prices of arms and cattle, the prospects of the harvest, or the village gossip, to the great Power, that lies to the southward, and comes nearer year by year. Perhaps some former Sepoy, of Beluchis or Pathans, will recount his adventures in the bazaars of Peshawar, or tell of the white officers he has followed and fought for in the past. He will speak of their careless bravery and their strange sports; of the far-reaching power of the Government, that never forgets to send his pension regularly as the months pass by; and he may even predict to the listening circle the day when their valleys will be involved in the comprehensive grasp of that great machine, and judges, collectors and commissioners shall ride to sessions at Ambeyla, or value the land tax on the soil of Nawagai. Then the Mullah will raise his voice and remind them of other days when the sons of the prophet drove the infidel from the plains of India, and ruled at Delhi, as wide an Empire as the Kafir holds to-day: when the true religion strode proudly through the earth and scorned to lie hidden and neglected among the hills: when mighty princes ruled in Bagdad, and all men knew that there was one God, and Mahomet was His prophet. And the young men hearing these things will grip their Martinis, and pray to Allah, that one day He will bring some Sahib—best prize of all—across their line of sight at seven hundred yards so that, at least, they may strike a blow for insulted and threatened Islam.


“Apologies!”

12 Jan 2012

Remember the Kandahar Cougar?

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NYM last September linked reports of sightings by US forces in Afghanistan of a mysterious large wild cat.

Michael Yon (who I’m reluctantly linking, despite his being on my shit list these days for devoting so much of his blogging recently to narcissistic attempts to play crusading journalist taking on the American military high command) has fresh photos from someone in the field today.

The pictures (taken from a helipcopter north of Kandahar) are clearly of a Jungle Cat (Felix chaus), an Asian critter a bit larger than a lynx or bobcat (20-24″ — 48 to 61 centimeters) running 22-37″ — 55 to 94 centimeters in length. The body color and tail markings are pretty distinctive. Try Google Images for comparable pictures.

16 Oct 2011

Memorial Planned For US Mounted Special Forces

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A memorial to mounted US troops who accompanied Northern Alliance forces in the conquest of Afghanistan, providing direction and support to fighters allied with the US in avenging the 9/11 attacks, will be installed in the vicinity of Ground Zero on Veteran’s Day.

Afghanistan demonstrated that the world features plenty of terrain impracticable for motorized transportation, proving that the age of horse-mounted military operations will never really be over. The closing of the US Army Cavalry School at Fort Riley in 1947 was proven in 2001 to have been premature.

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

06 Sep 2011

Mystery of the Kandahar Cougar

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Brody thought this infrared image might be a caracal.

Michael Yon mixes a front-lines combat story into his report of American sightings of an unidentified large cat in Kandahar province, Aghanistan.

There is much talk about “jaguars” or “cougars” among the troops here. At least a dozen American Soldiers claim they have seen gigantic cats in these flatlands. “Gigantic” being defined as roughly the size of a German Shepherd. During a mission, I asked about these mysterious big cats. Several US Soldiers insisted—completely insisted—they were eyewitnesses. The Afghan soldiers chuckled, saying their American counterparts were hallucinating. The Americans remained adamant. The inevitable follow-up questions came. “How do you know what a cougar even looks like? Have you ever seen one before?” An Afghan commander said to a particularly persistent American, “You saw a sheep.”

“No, it was a big cat!” replied the American.
“You maybe saw a donkey,” conceded the Afghan.
Everyone laughed.

We know there are big cats in Afghanistan. This is widely accepted as fact, yet big cats are not reported living in the Zhari District of Kandahar Province. We know there are polar bears in the United States. But if you find yourself stumbling out of the Florida Everglades, ripping moss from your hair while mumbling that you saw a polar bear, locals might ask you to sit under a shade tree and enjoy an iced tea and a nap. A polar bear in Florida is as likely as an alligator in Alaska.

Snow Leopards have been photographed this year in Afghanistan, but the climate and geography in the Wakhan Corridor is extremely dissimilar, and far less populated than Zhari. We are in hot, dry country, just a short drive from the Dasht-i-Margo or “The Desert of Death.” I visited this desert in the spring of 2006 and dozens of times since.

The Afghan Soldiers refute any suggestion that there are big cats here in Kandahar. “No way,” they say, “impossible.” American Soldiers insist they have seen them by naked eye, by weapon optics, and by thermal optics that can zoom with amazing clarity. I look through these kinds of optics almost every day, and to be sure, they are so precise it’s hard to conceive anyone mistaking a sheep or donkey for a big cat. But even when Soldiers agree another Soldier may have seen a big cat, the discussion turns to, “How long did you see it? A second? Ten seconds? A minute?” Sometimes they see it for minutes at a time. Two Soldiers in separate locations claimed they saw large cats jump over high walls. One Soldier told me he saw two cats at the same time. Troops in different outfits who are miles apart are reporting seeing these cats from around Panjwai and Zhari. …

I asked TJ what color is the cat he’s been seeing. He sees the cat almost every morning, and it’s brown and has spots or stripes. He said it stays about 300 or 400 meters away, and sometimes hangs out for up to twenty minutes. I asked if he’d stake it out with me if I came back, because with my camera gear we can practically get its eye color from 400 meters. He said sure, come back and we’ll stake it out.

It might not be long until we settle the question of the Kandahar Cougar.

———————————————-

Ben Brody, another embedded reporter working in the same area wrote a similar report back in June.

Last summer when I spent two weeks at Combat Outpost Lakokhel in Zhari District, a few soldiers there swore they had seen a mountain lion-sized cat stalking around their guard towers at night. While I believed they thought they had seen such an animal, I privately felt they were probably seeing a big, sneaky stray dog.

Now I am embedded with soldiers at Combat Outpost Sangsar, just a couple miles from Lakokhel, and the sightings persist. Last night the patrol I was out with spotted two of the cats circling them in the dusty gloom, using their thermal imagers. I don’t have high-tech equipment like that so I couldn’t see them firsthand.

One of the soldiers managed to capture a few photos of the cats on his imager, and I in turn photographed its eyepiece. The thermal images, while a bit indistinct, appear to show two adult Caracals walking 40 meters from an American infantry squad.

The cats followed us for several hours, always keeping their distance but occasionally uttering a low growl, casting a shadow of dread over the dark fields. As we passed a farm compound a lonely hound howled at the column of soldiers, likely unaware of the great cats slinking through the shadows who could easily make a meal of him.

Despite soldiers’ hyperbolic reports that the cats are “seven feet long and around 300 pounds,” Caracals weigh about 40 pounds.

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The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) says: Afghanistan has nine species of wild cats (snow leopard, leopard, lynx, caracal, leopard cat, jungle cat, wild cat, Pallas’s cat, and sand cat.).

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