Many of the smart troops realize and will tell you that we are hobbled by our “forcepro.” (Force Protection.) We are so busy with making sure nobody gets hurt that more people get hurt because we can’t get our work done. A credible source in another province told me that we are using a helicopter to ferry soldiers 400 meters from one base to another because it’s too much hassle to mount constant ground missions. We literally are shipping ice in from Saudi Arabia. (I saw the bags.) General Petraeus will be the first to tell you these things. It’s maddening for him and everyone else who wishes to succeed.
Recently a mission was launched to Nimroz Province. American Marines hovered in on two Osprey aircraft, secured the airfield (or at least brought a lot of guns), and later a British general landed in another Osprey and the meetings began. The bottom line of the meetings was that we are not going to do much to help Nimroz Province. It’s out of sight and out of mind. The American way of doing things, along with British moral support, is to give money to people who are blowing you up and to ignore those who are neutral or helping you. The meeting was as impressive as it was meaningless. Swoop in on the loud Opsreys, set up machine gun positions, make a show of how nice it is to take off your body armor, talk a lot with nice words, and leave in the loud Ospreys. Waste of time. And if you dare try to calculate the hard and soft costs of that mission, it had to have cost well over a million dollars. The funny thing is, traveling with Steve is easily as educational as travelling with a general. Information flows from the firehose, yet his model is lean and mean. You get in the car and drive, yet it’s far more dangerous for me to be with U.S. forces in those giant vehicles with body armor than it is to drive with Steve or others.
We visited a greenhouse project that he had going in 2006. Back then, Steve had farmers from Africa working here to help Afghan farmers, and he brought Afghans to Thailand to visit the Royal Project Foundation and to see his Thailand projects. In fact, it was just about at this very spot that I realized in 2006 that we were losing. That night, the base was in serious contact. We could hear the fighting. Yet we were staying out in the desert with Afghans with no problems. One of Steve’s people said to me that they had warned the U.S. battalion commander that year about an IED, but she had ignored the warning and a soldier was killed. Very few American or British officers will listen to contractors, despite that many of the contractors know the ground and the people far better than most military will ever know. They tend to view the contractors as dirty, conniving profiteers, and some are exactly that. But there are others who wish to make a profit while succeeding here, and they spend far more time here—quality time at that—than most soldiers. Most troops never actually leave a base, and only a small fraction have any meaningful interaction with Afghans. This is not the fault of the troops. The warrior class who understands this struggle wants to live in the villages, and some do.
We headed to one of Steve’s offices for briefings/talks/questions, and then an Afghan senator invited us to tea. Steve has known Senator Abdul Khaliq for some years and in fact it was Steve who got him on the ballot to be elected. Senator Abdul Khaliq would be a tribal influence with or without the nudge, but not a senator.
So we headed to Senator Khaliq’s home and sat down to tea and business. During the conversation, Senator Khaliq mentioned that he was about to head to Kabul for meetings and to take his kids to some school. Steve then said that one of his airplanes was coming in a few hours and could take him if he wants to go today. The Senator said thank you and agreed, so Steve hit the speed dial and confirmed the flight.
We then headed to lunch and after that met with a representative of USAID along with an American officer. The USAID man said what two other USAID people said in two other provinces. Steve is best implementing partner they have. He goes where no man goes. The American officer was from Special Forces. He’d done multiple tours, and though he was a young captain, was about the sharpest officer I’ve seen. His knowledge of Afghanistan was intimate. He was asking Steve to consider doing a certain very dangerous project. It would not be appropriate to discuss the project. I’ll let the Army do that, but Steve was interested. After a long, healthy talk, I was impressed with that Special Forces captain and when we shook hands and said goodbye, Steve said, “That guy is switched on. Impressive.” That’s big words from Steve. The Special Forces officer was dangerous. He studies his enemy in detail. Sitting there listening to this Special Forces man, I thought, “I wish he were my neighbor.” There would be no crime in our neighborhood. That’s part of what Afghan people want. He gets it. If the Taliban stomp down crime (and they do), people will accept them. When they see the government as delivering nothing but orders while shipping money to Dubai, they will resist!
In order for this project to go forward, you will either need a LOT of guns, or simply cooperation from the tribes. With tribal cooperation you don’t need guns because they have guns coming out their ears. If they like you, they will fight for you.
We headed to the airfield and Steve’s airplane landed, and Chief Ajaml Khan Zazai stepped out of the airplane along with Sara Persson who is reporting for the BBC. (Many journalists, including the big fish, silently use Steve’s infrastructure as a launch pad.)
And there it was, on Steve’s airplane flying from Tarin Kot to Gardez: Steve started working with Senator Khaliq to formulate an idea of how to make this Special Forces idea work. During this time, Chief Zazai discussed with Senator Khaliq other tribal matters.
I could tell another hundred “Steve stories,” but the bottom line is that this guy—who I admit is my close friend—is a winner. He can help win this war.