Posted by: Christian | April 29, 2009

Behind Closed Doors COIN Chatter on Afghanistan

The US Army Combined Arms Center Blogs are good. And the US Army and USMC Counterinsurgency Center Blog is one of the better ones. Although not as good as Bill and Bob’s Excellent Afghan Adventure or Afghanistan Shrugged as far as military blogs go, but good nonetheless. The Counterinsurgency Center blog pointed out an interesting series of articles…. that were behind some password protection. That calls for cryptome. I found it there and turned it into a PDF (there are no OPSEC or classified issues involved). This is it:

Cpt. Carl Thompson, “Winning in Afghanistan,” April 2009. Download PDF.

I’ve read some really bad military publications. Reeeeally bad. This one is not one of those. This guy has a clue, beyond the usually “COIN” knowledge (i.e., Malaysia, Galula, blah, blah, blah…) mainly from the ETT perspective. Meaning a lot of ground facts and anecdotes.

Anyways, excerpt time (I know: lazy. But I’m busy begging for money and permission for fieldwork). First up:

Corruption starts from the highest level official and goes to the lowest level private. A
few examples:

  • We had ANA and the Ford Rangers that were given to them were missing the
    spare tires and jacks. All spare tires and jacks were gone in every company.
  • New fuel pumps were taken off of the trucks and sold in downtown Kabul.
    An old fuel pump was brought back in and put on the truck.
  • The Battalion Maintenance Officer had failed to list 3 of the older Ford
    Rangers on the vehicle list. They were at his relatives houses.
  • Tools were taken from the maintenance shop out of the brand new #1
    Common tool set
  • The battalion S4 drove 3 hours out to the field to steal cases of MREs
  • Kickbacks were given from any project back to the local officials, ANP or
    the ANA. And who got them caused fights
  • Fuel trucks arrived with half of what fuel was bought. The Brigade
    Commander had relatives who owned gas stations
  • Soldiers would sell their TA50 (issue equipment) downtown for money
  • The BDE warehouses would load trucks full of equipment and sell it
  • Whole sections of Afghan National Police (ANP) were not paid because the
    sub-governor kept their pay for himself. After 3 month the ANP quit
  • ANP consistently shake down or extort the local people for money because that is all they really know
  • Citizens have to pay bribes to government officials for VISAs to travel

Good times. Fun with the ANA/ANP.

This part is crazy. File this under “F#@*!”:

Often the CERP officer is an untrained officer who is assigned with little skill, knowledge or experience. In one case, a young LT paid 20K for a mud hut that was supposed to function as a shower for the ANA. The contract was for far too much for the work initially. The contractor put up some rock walls and some plumbing and then left with the money. Intelligence later confirmed that the money was given to HiG forces that the contractor was working with.

HiG = The Gulbuddin Hekmatyar faction of Hizb-i Islami, who have killed more than few French and American soldiers. Cpt. Thompson goes on to say that “The Taliban will DEFINITELY try to shake-down any contractor for money.”

Pic: Hekmatyar says “thanks for the money, I’ll use it to kill you later.”

How are the “simple” Afghans able to manipulate the “sophisticated” Americans?:

The Afghans have multiple and divergent agendas whenever we deal with them. However, one thing they all see is that the Americans have more money and resources than they do. Many ambitious people in Afghanistan look at Americans and the American military as a large Automatic Teller Machine (ATM). Whether it’s getting a contract for someone’s relatives, acquiring equipment or delaying a project to drive up costs, the Afghans are masters at manipulating the Americans for their needs.

And the Cpt. has no time for political correctness:

The Americans tend to operate in the mindset of cooperation with direct action where we see ourselves working with other people toward a common goal. Once American military personnel start a project and move forward with it, they tend to agree on the goals, set milestones and handle the issue in a project management fashion.

The Afghans are not thinking like this at all. They come to the table with more hidden agendas than David Copperfield has hidden rabbits. All of the bids for any project may well come from the same person under numerous front companies via relatives. Once a project is started the Afghan contractors may not show up at all to do the work. If they do, their workers won’t have the tools they need and will expect the Americans to supply them just so they can have the workers steal them. Poor performing workers will not be fired and there will definitely be hidden costs and work slow-downs.

Why would the Afghans take any of these actions? The village elders could be working with the Taliban, the Taliban could be holding hostages of the village, or there could be a warlord in the area who is dragging the project out to continue charging for the needed service. There are any number of reasons why this happens and the way the Americans conduct business encourages the locals to try to siphon off as much money as possible.

And some mandatory “command is inhabited by idiots” (partially true, I’m sure):

The terrain advantage would seem apparent, but this is not always the case. There were three firebases in one river valley that were put directly in the middle of the valley. The enemy couldn’t have placed them better themselves. The Taliban had phenomenal unobstructed views of the firebases and could see everything going inside and outside of the HESCOs. The combat posts were probably placed in their initial location because it was an open area that was easily accessible for logistics and convoys. There is a saying in the military that “You can always improve your position.”

However, sometimes improving your position is moving it. No one should have built those combat locations with so little protection. There were bullet holes in the roofs of the buildings and people were getting hit there all of the time. The mistake made with those positions wasn’t locating the firebases there to begin with, but rather improving them and leaving them there. It fits the definition of insanity perfectly — doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Soldiers just sat there day after day taking casualties. Just moving the location of the firebases a few meters uphill against a mountain wall completely changes the angle of the attacker and allows for vastly improved protection against enemy fire.

However, no one wanted to be the commander to say that the location was bad and admit a mistake. Consequently, the soldiers on the ground took incoming fire daily at the same locations and often took casualties. This problem would likely have been fixed if the battalion or brigade staff had to sleep in one of those locations for just a few days.

On the isolation of troops from the people:

The village is the most important piece of terrain that exists. The people in the village are who we need to win. Unfortunately, the village is often the least understood place for Americans. Often, regular force commanders station their soldiers outside of a village by 2-3 kms. This leaves the village vulnerable to the enemy at night and the soldiers unable to respond to a problem or support the local police quickly and effectively. Conventional American commanders tend to think of “battlespace” and kinetic operations as something to be planned on large and massive scales with large numbers of units coordinating movement. They are also concerned about risk assessments, packing lists and various other issues including force protection measures. This is a crippling mindset to us winning.

Some of that population-centric stuff:

The village is the battlefield where the people live. The most important piece of terrain is the people of the villages. If the lives of the villagers can be improved and the leadership shifted to backing the government, then that is success for us. There are several things that need to be considered when deciding what Courses of Action (CoA) need to be taken when dealing with an area:

– Who are the power players in a village?
– Who is on our side?
– Who is in the middle and can be turned?
– Who is on the enemy side and cannot be turned?
– What can we effectively get in terms of intelligence from the village?
– What actions can we take to improve our position with the villagers and turn
the village?

There needs to be an assessment of a village or area done by the Afghans and Americans with the objective being which villages are most important to be turned and which ones are easiest to turn (bang for your buck). […]

Turning a village can be ridiculously complex or relatively simple, depending on the conditions on the ground. Some villages may be tired of the Taliban coming in at night extorting money from the locals and threatening their people, but they are not strong enough to stop it. They will need a minimal amount of support from the government to kick out the insurgents. Conversely, the people may be tired of the government coming in and taking their money, so they welcome the insurgents. Each situation will be different.

Cpt. Thompson goes on to discuss gametheory, viagra and ghetto Ferraris. Read the whole articles here: Download PDF


  1. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 04/29/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  2. Thanks for letting the cat out of the bag, Christian!! I have loved this since the moment I read it, and while it was on BCKS couldn’t break it loose.

    I posted on it at my site, linked to yours. Thanks again, and thanks for a great post.


  3. […] Ghosts of Alexander – The US Army Combined Arms Center Blogs are good. And the US Army and USMC Counterinsurgency Center Blog is one of the better ones. Although not as good as Bill and Bob’s Excellent Afghan Adventure or Afghanistan Shrugged as far as military blogs go, but good nonetheless. The Counterinsurgency Center blog pointed out an interesting series of articles. […]

  4. Christian,

    We are pleased that you find our blog useful.

    More than any similar organization we know of, we try and keep as much in the public domain as possible, as we realize the effort to improve our skills in COIN involves not just the US Military but also foreign militaries, foreign governments, and civilians. Our openness hopefully helps us all address irregular challenges better. Our knowledge center at contains a great deal of open source classes, articles, and materials.

    When we identify a useful document on BCKS, AKO, or another restricted access site, we attempt to highlight that so those with appropriate access could benefit. However, we do not publish content that lies behind AKO/BCKS firewalls unless we originate it or have the author’s express permission.

    The challenge in revealing BCKS discussions lies in the willingness of members to candidly participate if their comments will be aired outside those forums without permission. It is not so much an issue of classification as it is of ensuring frankness. A good example lies in the well respected forum “Company Command”, which once was open source but forced to move behind firewalls after some of the commenter’s were quoted in the Washington Post in 2003 posting to their peers about equipment failures and discipline issues in OIF 1. The comments were meant for fellow commanders and took on lives of their own in the press, with the resulting political implications the authors did not intend.

    CPT Thompson asked that his article stay behind BCKS, so we respected that. If you need his contact info, send an email to coin (at) and we can place him in contact with you.

    In any case, nice blog and thank you for your interest.

    Major Niel Smith
    Ops Officer, USA & USMC COIN Center
    Combined Arms Center
    Fort Leavenworth, KS

  5. […] If you’re new here, you may want to subscribe to my RSS feed. Thanks for visiting!This Captain is getting ready for his fourth tour in Afghanistan and knows the ground truth very well. If you care about what is happening in Afghanistan and a God-honest truth of what it is like on the ground there and what it will take to even remotely win, check out […]

  6. Major Smith,

    Thanks for the note. I totally understand the reasons for having a password-protected forum.

    And I wouldn’t have distributed it if it wasn’t for the fact that I already found it on cryptome and on an anti-war blog weeks ago. Once something is on Cryptome or Wikileaks or other blogs (or the Washington Post) I figure it is fair game to discuss.

  7. Gentlemen,

    I want to thank you for everything that you do. You are saving lives everyday while you disseminate this vital yet overlooked material.

    Thank you and regards,
    The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles.
    The Range Reviews: Tactical.
    Proud Member of Outdoor Bloggers Summit.

  8. […] Behind Closed Doors COIN Chatter on Afghanistan I know many people here at WAB frequent Ghosts of Alexander, but if you haven’t been there in a while its high time you checked in. The following article by CPT Carl Thompson was posted recently and its a stunning account of COIN operations in Afghanistan. Behind Closed Doors COIN Chatter on Afghanistan Ghosts of Alexander […]

  9. […] on Afghanistan Found this while browsing some other forums, and am posting some excerpts: Behind Closed Doors COIN Chatter on Afghanistan Ghosts of Alexander Corruption starts from the highest level official and goes to the lowest level private. A few […]

  10. […] If the chatter behind creating an American or UN-funded coast guard (of course, this coast guard would be manned by Somalis) materializes, the end result will be interesting unpredictable. The creation of such a force would lead to yet another coercive and contentious non-state actor (CCNA) in Somalia. Empowering a group with the means to engage in Tillian terms of stateness (warmaking, statemaking, protection, and resource extraction) can lead to the same complications that are occurring in Afghanistan. Christian Bleuer highlights some of the problems of empowering a group in a foreign country especially when one has little knowledge of local conditions: […]


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